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Interview with Vernon Haskie, Navajo jeweler, Lukachukai, Navajo Nation Reservation, AZ, USA, October 27, 2000

Entretien avec Vernon Haskie, Navajo, artiste joaillier, Lukachukai, réserve de la nation navajo, AZ, Etats-Unis
Gérard Selbach
p. 91-94

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20th century / XXe siècle
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1Vernon Haskie (born in 1968) became a full-time jeweler in 1998 after resigning from a job at the tribe’s phone company. What was a hobby for years is now a thriving career with numerous awards at the major Native arts exhibitions within a few years: the Best of Class at the 1999 and 2000 Santa Fe Indian Market, the Best of Show at the 2000 Heard Museum Guild Indian Fair and Market, the Best of Classification at the 2002 Heard Museum Guild Indian Fair and Market and a dozen others. Some of his works (buckles, necklaces, earrings, rings) reach several thousands of dollars and orders are mounting up. His parents made and sold jewelry in Farmington, NM, for a time when he was six or seven, and it was then that Vernon Haskie caught the idea. But before turning to jewel-making, he went to Navajo Community College and obtained an associate degree in life sciences and to the University of New Mexico where he graduated in 1996 with a major in biology. While studying he would make and sell jewels to raise money for books, rent and other expenses. Like most Native artists, V. Haskie has a very deep feeling for his culture and spirituality that are part of his life and reflected in every creation.

Gérard Selbach (GS): I have been told that you have won several important prizes or awards at art fairs recently…

Vernon Haskie (VH): Yes, that’s right, and it is very satisfying. But, when I am at a show, I do not put out all my ribbons. I just put out the last one I won. Sometimes I put them on the side or would cover them because some artists could get very envious.

GS: How did it all start? Did you take art classes?

VH: No, except one at college, but I was encouraged to take painting. I have never taken any metal classes. Only practice, trial and errors, conversations with others, they let out a secret. Essentially I figured out how to do it. I now feel pretty well established but I am still learning.

GS: Do you have a degree?

VH: Yes, a degree in biology at the University of New Mexico. That formal education helped me and will help me shape my cultural and spiritual identity.

GS: I am particularly interested in the designs you create. Do they have a cultural connotation?

VH: Sometimes they have more than one. Most often they are spiritual as in geometrical abstract designs. A curve like in this buckle piece can represent water or a cloud design. It can also be a plant design.

GS: But you would not do deities.

VH: No, I wouldn’t do deities, although I did some at the beginning, but I was told not to do them. Well, in fact, at times, I do some for special ceremonies like initiations.

GS: So, what you have here, you wouldn’t call them “sacred”?

VH: No, but every artist is their own judge. They may get very negative comments. For me, I don’t do that, although they have a spiritual feeling or link. From a spiritual point of view, as an artist, I take materials from Mother Earth like silver, turquoise, coral and so on, and what you take, you have to take back. To keep that cycle going, every other year I have a ceremony. I give tobacco and other things so as to bring me, as a whole person, back into harmony with Mother Earth … because, if I was not in harmony with Mother Earth, my mind would no longer be effective, or my body, as it is linked to earth, could be pushed towards alcoholism or other bad things. Some artists don’t do as well as they should because of that.

GS: Every Navajo I’ve talked to has referred to ceremonies as being essential to their balance.

VH: Art and religion go hand in hand. They work together. I give them names like Harmony in Silver and Coral, We are all Related, or Peace through Strength. When I have finished a piece, I do become attached to it. I feel it hard to let some pieces go. There is an intimacy with them. It helps because I reminisce: “When I was setting these stones, what was I thinking? How was I feeling?” It brings a kind of healing or a therapy for myself. I remember what I felt as I was handling this stone. If you don’t feel well, thinking of that brings something positive back to you.

GS: These pieces are so much part of you, are there some people you would not like to sell to?

VH: That’s true, but I couldn’t say anymore. If I do this work, I want to express myself. I give my spirituality to the people who purchase my work. Some people told me they feel good when they are wearing my necklace or my bracelet. They may feel better because of the color of the stone. The color pink has a psychological effect. They feel more optimistic. I use a lot of that stone: in our culture, it means “protection in harmony.” They have protection and at the same time blessing. I also incorporate traditional designs: the cornstock, the turtle, the white or yellow corn. And I inlay coral. Items tell different stories.

GS: You have referred to “positive art.” What do you mean?

VH: I’d like to give a positive image of the Navajo. I have thought of doing a long scene like a scene of the Long Walk. That would have a strong enough image and bring people to think about it. I like thinking of the more positive things that educate people, and they are then more inclined to be educated, take on a positive message with them and educate other people about Native Americans. I remember having German visitors and this couple told me that some of their friends went as far as Gallup and saw drunks, and went back to Germany and said: “Navajo are all drunks.” I told them to visit the reservation, to go to Chinle, to Window Rock. Outsiders may have stereotypes. Positive art breaks down stereotypes, instills a pride in our younger generation and encourages them to see they have a blessing in them. I would like to get more monumental, but that requires more engineering than I have to reach 1,400 degrees all along the silver bar you work on.

GS: Where do you sell your jewelry?

VH: Mostly at art shows. I do several of them every year. I get very busy during the two or three weeks before the art shows, putting in 18 hours of work a day. Then, at art shows, I get fair-goers, clients and collectors. I then have orders, and I hope to work only through orders soon. And I keep thinking of new designs, new combinations of silver and stones, coral, turquoise, lapis or opals … traditional or modern designs. I like the mix.

GS: Do you copyright your work?

VH: No, I don’t, but I should. I am too busy and don’t take time to do it, and it is costly.

GS: My main field of research is art museums and tribal museums, and in particular how Native curators collect and display artifacts. How would you see your jewels displayed?

VH: As far as display of jewels is concerned, I would not use stuffed animals as in some galleries. Some put jewels on a deer for example. I think it is not appropriate on a cultural point of view. To enhance the display, it is a good idea to put a bracelet beside the raw material like turquoise or coral, or beads spread beside pottery or old grass. One can also think of works in progress, showing how it is made, what a particular item looks like at each stage. One must put a nameplate of the artist who made it, when it was made. You can also put a short biography of the artist with a picture or a series of pictures of the artist working on a series of items, so the visitors can see how an item is made. The process is important, it shows how the item came to life. A jewel is alive, it is made of materials from Mother-Earth, and it is like a piece of the mind and spirit of the artist who made it.

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Gérard Selbach, « Interview with Vernon Haskie, Navajo jeweler, Lukachukai, Navajo Nation Reservation, AZ, USA, October 27, 2000 »Revue LISA/LISA e-journal, Vol. II - n°6 | 2004, 91-94.

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Gérard Selbach, « Interview with Vernon Haskie, Navajo jeweler, Lukachukai, Navajo Nation Reservation, AZ, USA, October 27, 2000 »Revue LISA/LISA e-journal [En ligne], Vol. II - n°6 | 2004, mis en ligne le 30 octobre 2009, consulté le 10 décembre 2023. URL :

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Gérard Selbach

Dr. (Paris V, France)
Gérard Selbach, assistant professor at the University of Paris 5, France, and researcher at the CERLIS-Paris 5 and the National Scientific Research Center (CNRS), has as a main field of research American art, art museums, Native American museums and museology. Beside publishing articles and contributing to conferences, he has published Les Musées d’art américains: une industrie culturelle (Paris: L’Harmattan, 2000) and is about to release Les Musées amérindiens: du vol du sacré à la métaphore identitaire (Paris: L’Harmattan, 2004). He is also a contemporary art critic with <>

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