Zane Bennett Contemporary Art

Yazzie Johnson & Gail Bird: Jewelry

Yazzie Johnson & Gail Bird: Jewelry

Santa Fe, NM, USA Friday, August 17, 2012Friday, August 17, 2012

Santa Fe, NM, USA
Friday, August 17, 2012Friday, August 17, 2012

Opening reception on Friday, August 17, 2012 from 4:00-6:00 pm

Zane Bennett Contemporary Art is pleased to present an exhibition of new contemporary fine art jewelry by Yazzie Johnson and Gail Bird, who together are recognized for their innovations in the native Southwestern jewelry tradition. Their distinctive designs use the complexity of pattern in a variety of stones, with metalwork that follows the stone's pattern, line or texture. Johnson and Bird's newest designs will be featured at Zane Bennett Contemporary starting Friday, August 17. The public reception is on Friday, August 17 at the gallery, 435 South Guadalupe Street, from 4:00-6:00 pm. The artists will be present.


Gail Bird (Santo Domingo and Laguna Pueblo) was born and raised in Oakland, CA. Yazzie Johnson (Navajo) was born in Winslow, AZ and raised in Utah, where they met in 1960 at the Inter-Mountain Indian School in Brigham City. Johnson was 14 years old, Bird was 12. Johnson pursued painting and sculpture when he attended the University of Colorado. He also took classes in geology which provided a basic knowledge of the properties of stones. Bird attended the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Colorado where she studied literature and liberal arts. Both are self-taught as jewelry artists.

Instead of using materials that early silversmiths had used such as turquoise and silver, Johnson and Bird distinguished their work by the use of unusual stones, materials and designs. Johnson and Bird adapted Hopi Charles Loloma's "inner gems" concept initially using silver overlay (underlay) rather than stones on the reverse of buckles and later on the reverse of necklace clasps and earrings. These designs may contain subtle messages or themes which can be based on tradition but carried further as symbols or narratives expanding on traditional symbols or stories.

The use of pearls in the 1980s made Johnson and Bird's designs more sophisticated and more distinctive. Pearls in exotic shapes, sizes, and natural colors, all with exquisite luster were incorporated into their designs. They have also included agates, jaspers and a wide variety of stones combining precious and semiprecious materials in a bold way.

Bird says, "I think what I like most about working is surprising myself and others with what Yazzie and I do and why we do it. Most people have a preconceived idea of what Indian jewelry is and when they see our work, they're not sure if it's Indian or not. I like that. I also like working with Yazzie, sharing ideas, growth and credit. Our jewelry is a collaborative effort. Even though Yazzie is the silversmith and I am the designer, our individual efforts become the work of one."

Johnson and Bird have exhibited and are collected nationally and internationally. They have been awarded top prizes at the annual SWAIA Indian Market in Santa Fe. In 1994 they reviewed jewelry in the Fred Harvey Company collection. That information was used in the development of an exhibition about the company's collection of American Indian art. In 2001-02 they served as guest curators for the exhibit Be Dazzled! Masterworks of Jewelry from the Heard Museum Collection and the book, Shared Images, the Innovative Jewelry of Yazzie Johnson and Gail Bird, was published in 2007 about their exhibition at the Heard Museum. Their pieces are included in the permanent collections of such prestigious institutions as the British Museum; the National Museum, Scotland; Smithsonian Institution and the Museum of Arts and Design.

For further information & high resolution images, please contact:
Meg Hachmann, Special Projects Coordinator, Zane Bennett Contemporary Art:
505-982-8111;, available W-Sat, 10am - 5pm