By Dottie Indyke
On the way to California to celebrate their honeymoon, Vernon C. Haskie and his new bride stopped off in New Mexico just long enough to drop off a gold ring and bracelet that Haskie made for exhibition at the Gallup Intertribal Ceremonial. When the couple returned, a bright red first-place ribbon awaited them.
It was 1991, only a year after the Navajo artist had started making gold and silver jewelry in earnest. In the 10 years since, his bolos, belts, buckles, and bracelets have earned him many honors. But even today, Haskie shows his works without expectations, talking to his pieces as he arranges them for judging. “I’ll be back later,” he says to them silently. “Hopefully you guys will win something but if not, that’s okay, too.”
The 30-something artist likes to tell the story of his first Santa Fe Indian Market in 1998. Not satisfied with the three ribbons he won that year, he challenged himself to do better. “One of my friends won a best-of-division award, and I thought, ‘I want one of those orange ribbons,’” he recalls, with a self-deprecating laugh.
To nab his coveted prize, he designed a concho belt of silver and red coral. The next year, all thoughts of the orange ribbon disappeared as Haskie garnered the even more prestigious best-of-classification award and was selected as one of an elite group of artists to receive a fellowship from the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts, sponsor of Indian Market. “That was a building block of my self-esteem, my courage, and faith in my work,” the artist acknowledges.
Vernon Haskie was born in Riverside, CA, but spent most of his childhood on the Navajo reservation in the town of Lukachukai, AZ, where he lives today with his wife and three children. His father occasionally made jewelry but more importantly taught his son the traditional prayers and stories that inspire Haskie’s artwork.
“Excerpts stick in my mind, and with those thoughts I design pieces,” Haskie says. For example, he pays respect to the leaders of his tribe by decorating his bolo ties with an eagle at the top, which represents a leader, and an arrowhead at the bottom, which represents his protection. “Sometimes I put a corn design, which represents the ceremonies we call the blessing way,” he adds.
His first piece of jewelry, made when he was a precocious 9-year-old, was a waterbird pendant. Later, he replicated his high school’s scorpion mascot and sold the pieces to friends and teachers. However, jewelry was a sideline for Haskie, who had his sights set on medicine. But one day he passed out from the odor inside a veterinarian’s office—a sure sign that doctoring was not for him.
With the encouragement of his wife and parents, Haskie enrolled at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, where he earned a bachelor of science degree in biology. Nearly every weekend he made the 400-mile trip home to visit his family and make jewelry, but he refused to take any studio art classes. “I didn’t want to credit anyone for teaching me other than my father and myself,” Haskie says. “I like to learn on my own.”
After a brief period spent honing his technical skills, Haskie exhibited for the first time at a small show in Colorado and discovered the joy of selling his work and visiting with customers. He credits his success to his God-given talent, his family, and the many artist friends who have helped him along the way.
“My father once said that art can heal people,” says Haskie. “Maybe they’re not having a good day and they look at the vibrant color of one of my bracelets. Maybe it goes into their soul and they become vibrant themselves. I look at things that way. My work is not based on monetary value. It’s based on respect and trying to communicate.”
Vernon Haskie’s work may be seen at Elk Ridge Art Company, Golden, CO; Tanner-Chaney Gallery, Albuquerque, NM; Garland’s Indian Jewelry, Sedona, AZ; and Perry Null Trading, Gallup, NM.
Featured in “Native Arts” June 2001