By Wolf Schneider
In this day of mass merchandising and computerized social networking, Jeff Storey chooses instead to sell his storyteller sculptures to clients he knows. He doesn’t have a website for his one-of-a-kind artworks, nor does he want one.
“I like to meet the people who see my work,” explains Storey, who is half Cherokee. “I like the personal touch. If you put it on the Internet, it’s there for infinity. I don’t like that. I want my pieces to stay very special. It may limit how many pieces I sell, but that’s fine with me.”
|JEFF STOREY WITH HIS SCULPTURE TITLED EDWARD LAUGHING HORSE, MIXED MEDIA, 6 FEET TALL.|
His sculptures stand 6 feet tall, so Storey can create only about 10 a year. He specializes in mixed-media figurative artworks with Native American themes: He’s made several corn maidens, which represent the spirit of the harvest, and many Indian chiefs. “Most of the figures are based on historical Indian chiefs throughout the tribes,” Storey says.
These figurative sculptures are built on a base of steel on which stands a sterling silver body. The figure is usually draped with a Navajo rug for ceremonial effect, or sometimes with leather or antique furs. Storey carves the faces out of sculptor’s clay. Then he adds wild turkey or macaw feathers, porcupine quills, and historical objects he’s collected over the years. He finishes the sculpture with several handmade necklaces, bracelets, and pendants—which he creates to be detachable and wearable. The jewelry almost always contains green turquoise from Storey’s own mine in Cerrillos, NM.
Born in 1946 in Mansfield, MO, to parents who were farmers, Storey spent his early teens in Texas, then moved to San Diego, CA, where he was a professional surfer and collage artist in the ’60s. “Then I bought a piece of turquoise and drilled a hole in it and wore it around my neck on a leather lace, and every surfer had to have one. And that was the start of my business,” he happily recalls. He wasn’t even 20.
He moved to California’s Sequoia National Forest, and then in the ’70s to the mountain town of Cripple Creek, CO. “I heard you could find turquoise in the streets, and I moved there immediately. And you could see turquoise in the streets—on the dirt roads after it rained,” he recalls.
In Colorado, he would spend weeks at a time up in the mountains finding gold, silver, coins, guns, and quartz crystals. He’d sell his treasures at flea markets and to antiques dealers in Colorado Springs. When times were lean, he worked underground in the gold mines. He continued to deal in turquoise and traded it to Indians at Taos Pueblo, which is where he learned to silversmith and make jewelry. And he began crafting small storyteller sculptures.
Relocating in the ’90s to Taos, NM, and then to Santa Fe, Storey bought a turquoise mine in Cerrillos, NM. He still spends several months a year there. “I like the serenity of Cerrillos. It’s such a small town; you have to be careful of what you say because everyone knows it,” he confides. “And the turquoise is right there.”
|CHIEF MEDICINE FOX, MIXED MEDIA, 6 FEET TALL.|
His home base the rest of the time is Payson, AZ. “I like the coolness of the ponderosa pines, and there are rivers here so you can swim. It’s green!” he says. “Plus the Apaches are here, and I do a lot of work with Native people.”
Nowadays, most of Storey’s sculptures are life-size. “That makes a real statement,” he points out. ‰ He says he’s been influenced by the works of Southwest artists Frank Howell and JD Challenger. “They both do Native American chiefs,” he explains.
On the road much of the time in his RV, behind which he pulls a mobile studio in a 30-foot trailer, Storey often shows his work at campgrounds and in national parks. He frequently hand-delivers his sculptures to buyers, setting the pieces up and sharing stories of their derivation.
He considers himself part of a tradition of mountain men and Indians, and over the years his artwork and lifestyle have become inseparable. “I’m very 1800s mountain man-ish,” he says. “I lived in the mountains of California and Colorado and New Mexico. When you’re out there, you’re amongst the gods of the world. It’s not buildings and streets and streetlights. It’s pure survival.” Much of his artwork finds its genesis in the spiritual beliefs of the Native Americans who lived in those same mountains.
“Someone once wrote that nobody ever really owns a piece of my work,” says the artist, “because it is on loan from the earth.” He couldn’t agree more.
He is represented by Western Village, Payson, AZ.
Featured in “Native Arts” December 2008