Leaving Flagstaff, we headed to the heart of the Navajo Nation, stopping for lunch in Chinle and then slowly driving over the snow-covered Buffalo pass. There was about four feet of snow piled on each side of the narrow highway, with numerous switchbacks taking us up and over the mountain. I kept looking for deer and small animal tracks in the snow, and Michael kept looking for clear patches of road on which to drive. All in all, I am glad our respective roles worked out.
After safely departing the snowy mountain, we stopped at the home of Albert Lee in Farmington, New Mexico. Albert and his parents, Alfred and Thelma, welcomed us with a lovely light refreshment, and then we sat and chatted for a couple of hours. We admired Albert’s museum quality pottery, rugs, and other forms of art from the Southwest – it was almost a gallery in and of itself.
When Albert’s older brother Chuck arrived, the six of us headed to a local restaurant, Si Senor, for a delicious lunch and amazing hospitality from the owner, Anita. Green chile enchiladas – that is all this happy girl will say about that. You have to try this place when you are in Farmington.
A sixth-generation jeweler, Albert gets his skills both through his genes and through painstaking hard work. He is known for his top-quality stones, his carefully wrought bezels, and the substantial heft of his jewelry. Carried in major jewelry stores around the world, Albert’s work also is worn by former First Lady Laura Bush and her daughter Jenna Bush Hager. Albert showed us his work area and carefully arranged and cleaned tools – he is meticulous to a fault, which also shows up in his elegant work.
We have gotten to know Albert over the past few years, and have always found him to be a delightful person with which to chat. We mentioned, for example, that Michael’s favorite Navajo tea company had just gone out of business, and Albert immediately shared with us the back story on harvesting certain plants and preparing them so that we could make our own Navajo tea. He then invited us to join him at the family ranch to harvest our own plants. Albert doesn’t make these invitations glibly, but is very serious in wanting to be helpful and kind.
We got a chance to know more about Albert’s parents, Alfred and Thelma. Alfred had just recently retired from the local coal mine after 37 years, where he operated very large earth scraping machines to uncover anthracite coal patches for mining. He was also a jeweler, but never took up the profession full time due to the need to support his family. His lovely wife Thelma often accompanies Albert to shows, which is where we have primarily gotten to know her, until now. As with all moms, she is one of Albert’s biggest fans.
When Chuck joined us right before lunch, we learned more about his jewelry making as well. He tends to focus more on stones and has recently begun exploring the use of dinosaur bones, which over many millennia absorb nearby minerals and change to brilliant shades of colors. The two brothers are often found in nearby Shiprock galleries, though I must admit that I have managed to acquire my fair share of their work for the Gallery as well.
Albert has pictures throughout his home of his younger brother, who they lost last year, and it is still a tearful memory for Thelma in particular. In every person’s life, there are victories and challenges, and the challenges serve to show us how to appreciate the victories. Albert’s work is beautiful, and I am so proud to be showcasing his work in my Gallery, but I am even more happy to be able to get to know more of this wonderful young man. It is not just a piece of shiny silver and a polished stone – it is who he is that matters. And in this case, Alfred and Thelma should be very proud, as Albert is a true gem.