Published on June 21, 2014 by Carol
I’m James Fendenheim, a fine jewelry silversmith and graduate of the Santa Fe Institute of American Indian Art. I was born in Tucson, Arizona and spent my formative years in Canal Fulton, Ohio. My ancestry is German from my father’s side and Tohono O’odham from my mother’s side.
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I graduated from Northwest High School in 1976 and moved back to Tucson, Arizona where my art career began. I started working at Asarco Mission Mines and realized I wanted to further my education. In 1982 I attended Haskell Indian Jr. College in Lawrence, Kansas. I started studying computers. In the four semesters I attended Haskell, I became president of the art club. The art teacher, Clint Leon, told me I should think about pursuing a career in art, specifically, American Indian art.
I then applied and was accepted to the Institute of American Indian Art, so I moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico where I attended school for two years. Both Haskell and IAIA were BIA run schools for American Indians. I had an enriching experience at one of the best art schools in the America, under the direction of many prestigious instructors and artists; some Indian and some were not.
After finishing my studies, I began my career in Native American Jewelry of the Southwest. To this day, I am still mastering my skills in this art form. My techniques are hand-wrought overlay in silver and gold. Each piece is one-of-a-kind. Examples include my “Story Teller” concho belts, bracelets, buckles, bolo ties, necklaces, chains, earrings, rings, along with silver spurs, including “King’s” crowns, memorial staffs, “Story Telling” bridals, silver boxes and sculpture. My designs include precious stones, turquoise, exotic material such as woolly mammoth tusk, Ivory and iron wood. My unique style captures the desert and stories of my tribe. It can be best described as Rococo-Baroque meets the Southwest Indian.
The Tohono O’odham Nation is where I spent my influential years. The traditional role of the eldest grandson is to live with and learn form the grandparents. Frances Manuel, my Hu’ul (grandmother), is my artistic mentor and foremost inspiration. She is a mastered basket-weaver who is the subject of a biographical book titled “Desert Indian Woman.” It is about her life as an award winning artisan elder of the Tohono O’odham Nation. Together, we have participated in art showings and demonstrations. Our work expresses the Sonoran Desert biota, landscapes and culture as we walk through the beautiful mysteries of Southern Arizona’s desert lands and people.
My annual showcases include the Santa Fe Indian Market, Heard Museum Guild Indian Fair & Market, Arizona State Museum Southwest Indian Art Fair, and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian Holiday Art Market. All these are the highest standard, juried American Indian markets in the United States. These markets demand the highest quality and craftsmanship of today’s modern world.
For the past 25 years, I have been professionally involved in the competitive open market of fine art and Southwest Indian jewelry. At this time I have had shows at galleries in Soho, New York (Alex Streeter) and Ortegas in Overland Park, Kansas, among others. I also have special collections at Mt. Clair College in New Jersey; Walse Idyllwild School of Music and Art in Idyllwild, California; Southwest Museum of the American Indian in Los Angeles, California; Heard Museum gift shop in Phoenix, Arizona; Arizona State Museum in Tucson, Arizona; and Bahti Indian Art in Tucson, Arizona. I presently have work displayed at the Casino Arizona-Masters Collection in Scottsdale, Arizona. I also have had displays at the Desert Diamond Casino. Both casinos have permanent collections and feature my work in their gift shops. My work is also in many private collections around the world.