My sculptures grow out of 45 years of silversmithing rings, bracelets, and the usual jewelry line that all silversmiths start with. To be recognized in the jewelry world, like anything else, you had to build things that had never been seen. This was in the 1970s, so new ideas weren't as hard to come up with as it is today. I was of that time, the time of Hula-Hoops, Pet Rocks, Skate Boards, Rotary Phones, station wagons and even black and white TV’s were just coming about. So my designs in jewelry were some of the first.
Art is always a form of expression, my jewelry was no different, it was already a part of the west, so when I started my sculptures, it was a real expression of the west. I always admired John Wayne, the Lone Ranger, Tonto, and Geronimo. I liked how the Indians told their stories of the past, it had romance and history; it seemed magical. I think it was the folklore quality that captured me. I’m especially touched by the reverence they have for the planet that call Mother Earth, and all living things. You know, if we had paid more attention to that, our planet might be in better shape I think. One of the other things that grab my attention is how colorful they were with painted faces, decorated with tons of feathers and fur, bear claws, buffalo horns and even painted horses.
While traveling, I would stop at swap meets, yard sales, and estate sales, I would find artifacts for sale and I would buy everything I could and hoarded them for years. There's something magic about owning and holding historical items in your hand, it has a power thing of energy with it I think. So when I combined it with my artwork, there seemed to be a different type of energy to my sculpture, not only did I like it, but people that liked things I liked ate it up.
It all came together for me when I bought all these 150 to 200-year-old blankets and made a steel rack for one. It suddenly looked like a person sort of standing there. When I made a clay face to go with it, POW! It just happened and I kept adding things, feathers, furs, beads, shells, leather, jewelry, etc. They came alive and nearly walked out of my studio.
Now there was a reason why I had bought and hoarded all the artifacts for so long. People laughed at me for buying old blankets that were math eaten or even nibbled by a mouse or burned just a bit. Blankets in good shape didn’t have the authenticity that a battered one had and that made such a big difference in pulling off the work I was after. These were not life-size and made you stop and look at all the parts and pieces it took to put one of the chiefs together. Each part had a story, and with all the parts in the right place, it created a chapter in the story I had to tell.
I was a big hit at the all the art shows. I won awards at the Tucson Gem Show and in Quartzite. I even had a Native American stop and shake my hand. It felt really good to have such an original idea take off the way it did.
Another thing that excites me is the way they’re named, they’re "Chiefs." Not simple names like Smith, Jones or McDonald, but vivid colorful names like Black Kettle, Crazy Horse, Loved by the Buffalo, Paints His Shirt Red, Rain in the Face, Setting Bull; WOW! What names? Each one of my life-sized sculptures has its own name, like Flute in the Forest, Ten Bears, Gives Till He’s Blue in the Face. It helps keep the past alive and pass honor to ones that cleared the path. People that come west to visit, want to feel these feeling of the west, they expect to. So I did my part to give them that, you could even own it and take it home with you.
I have Native American in my bloodline, along with cowboy and mountain man too. I’m proud of that and try to portray it in my work. What I can’t show in my sculptures, I try to in my watercolors. I’ve donated thousands of painting to the Veterans Administration personally, to the Wounded Warriors, Missing Arms or Legs and donated to fundraisers everywhere like ASPCA, horse rescues, FFA, Farm Aid, community gardens, school fund etc. I’m not saying that my watercolors are anything special, I’m saying that they make a lot of people laugh or smile, and in today's tough times, how much is that worth?
If you would like to contact Jeff Storey, please call 505-470-7077
(Typed from handwritten notes submitted by the artist.)