Published on June 8, 2013 by Amy
Zuni artists Tony and Ola Eriacho have been creating beautiful jewelry for over 30 years – first on their own as individual jewelers, and then together as a couple. “Our styles were very different. Over the years, they’ve blended together.”
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Tony specialized in silver and turquoise work. “I started with what some call Navajo-style work, making jewelry with large nuggets of turquoise and clusters of stones. I also made sandcast pieces and liked to use the shadowbox technique.”
Ola has always specialized in working with stones, cutting and inlaying them in the classic Zuni styles. “I first learned about jewelry-making from my mother, who was known for her beautiful needlepoint. Later, I learned how to inlay the stones on my own.”
It’s the precision inlay and dramatic designs that distinguish Tony and Ola’s work. “I mostly use the traditional materials that the Zuni are known for — shell, turquoise, coral and jet,” says Ola. “Occasionally, I’ll try something in one of the more exotic stones, like lapis, sugelite, opal or gaspeite.” The stones are inlaid in silver and gold, resulting in stunning necklaces, earrings, bracelets and pins. When creating new designs, the Eriacho’s often make a complete set with matching stones and designs.
The sunface and sunburst designs are two favorite motifs in the Eriacho jewelry. The sunface is the mask of the sun – a stylized face with geometric eyes and mouth. The sunburst has rays of silver or gold emanating from the face. Some of the faces are so small, jet dust is used to make the eyes.
“The sun is important to our People,” says Ola. “And, even more to me because I am from the Sun Clan. We even use the sunface in our hallmark.”
The Eriachos live at the Zuni Pueblo, which borders western New Mexico. In addition to being fine jewelers, they are strong advocates of Native-made art. In the early 1990s, Tony started to work with other Zuni artists, travelling across the country representing their work. Today, Tony spends much of his time on the road marketing fetish carvings, paintings, beadwork and pottery from a number of Zuni artists, including three of their five children.
Tony works tirelessly educating the public on authenticity of Indian arts and crafts and has been an impetus for a trademark program for Zuni artists. Tony serves on the Boards of the Indian Art and Crafts Association (IACA) and the Council of Indigenous Arts and Culture (CIAC). His one-year appointment as President of the independent Zuni Cultural Arts Council has expanded to eight years.