Calvin and Pilar Lovato have been creating handmade jewelry together since they first got married in their early 20’s. Both Lovatos come from multi-generational families of Heishi makers and remain deeply aware of the tradition of their craft. Together the couple has received numerous SWAIA awards for their traditional Heishi bracelets and necklaces.
Keeping the long tradition of Heishi in mind, Calvin says “Our people, from Santo Domingo, used to go down to the Gulf of Mexico and trade for seashells. [The shells] were personal adornment for our traditional dancing. We had turquoise near here, and when you mix that with seashells you get the two natural elements of sea and land. That’s how shells got into this region and into our artwork.”
Their Heishi Artistry is a slow process, which involves 9-10 steps. Beginning with slicing raw materials, into strips, the pieces are then drilled out individually. Following this the design stringing begins by putting each piece on wire so that grinding, sanding, and polishing can begin. When it’s all polished then the whole piece is transferred onto 3-ply nylon string, or sometimes onto Beadalon wire, and the work is finished off with Sterling Silver findings.
Calvin and Pilar place a square melon shell near the end of their necklaces and bracelets, this is their hallmark.
Calvin explains, “With this work you have to have an eye for the stone or shell itself. You can see if it’s fragile, the fissures in the rock, you know, you start to slice into that and it just breaks… We tell our customers that the pieces [shells, stones etc] that get into the final product, that’s the cream of the crop.”
Calvin and Pilar share their combined years of experience and always welcome a new challenge. Calvin explains, “Some [materials] just won’t work.”
For Calvin and Pilar what is most important is that their customers know that their traditional Native American jewelry is not mass produced. A single completed piece often takes them several days of working side by side to complete. Their Heishi bracelets, necklaces, and earrings hold so much history, knowledge, and experience that it’s a wonder they are so delicate and light and colorful to wear. But working together and drawing on the craft, experience, and traditions of their ancestors Calvin and Pilar manage to make every piece feel that it is imbued with the same amount of love that they have for one another, for their parents, and for their ancestral stories and crafts.