Published on January 1, 2015 by Amy
For over thirty-five years jeweler Leo Feeney has developed his singular style of Southwestern fine jewelry. He has, without doubt, mastered his craft, though this humble master jeweler notes that he will always evolve, improve and fine-tune his skills.
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Feeney, the son of a Navy dad, traveled the country as a child, spending most of his childhood in Key West, Florida before graduating high school in Pennsylvania. It was a silversmith teacher at a community college who developed Feeney’s interest in making fine jewelry. As the teacher’s apprentice Feeney learned to master the techniques that would later serve him well in a life-long career as a successful fine jeweler. A trip to the Southwest set him on his path, both personal and professional: Feeney met his wife at Havasupai Village deep in the Grand Canyon while both were passing through and the many shops in Flagstaff introduced him to the styles and stones of Southwestern jewelry.
The rich history of Native American designs, in particular Zuñi Pueblo jewelry designs, greatly influenced the growth of Feeney’s personal style. It is the frequent mixture of opaque, semi-precious and precious stones that creates Feeney’s signature style. While turquoise, both blue and green, frequently figures in his intricate cluster designs set in sterling silver, a Leo Feeney piece may be composed of gaspeite, spiny oyster, red coral and/or peridot, garnet, amethyst, citrine, topaz, or any number of other stones.
“I begin at the center and work out,” Feeney says, describing his creative process for beginning a new design. “There is such variation in individual stones that when you get them laid out, certain stones are just drawn together. Once you get the right blend of stones to work with, once you determine the size of the design, you can begin the silver work.” Feeney generally builds several of one design at a time, altering the stone combinations, to make the most efficient cuts from his sheets of sterling silver. Every piece is touched with the smallest of fine details. And Feeney works seven days a week (with some breaks to fuel his passion for cars, the artist owns a ’53 Cadillac Coupe de Ville), but, by and large, “If I’m home and it’s daylight, I’m in the shop,” he says – a devotion that goes a long way in explaining the artistry represented in every Leo Feeney piece.