It is with a very, very heavy heart that I write this special edition of the Newsletter.
A wonderful man, and an incredibly talented jeweler, Albert Lee, has passed away.
Albert was born in 1980, making him a very young 41 years old. He passed away on the evening of April 12 in his hometown of Farmington, NM at a park where he often went to relax, meditate, and enjoy the splendid scenery.
I will always remember Albert as someone who cared deeply about those around him. He often met me with a huge smile and a big hug at art markets, and I always made a specific point of knowing where his booth was and making a beeline there when the market opened. Usually he was accompanied by his mother Velma, a constant source of assistance and support for Albert. Generally we focused on how we were doing since the last time we had chatted, and Albert was all too eager to show me the lovely jewelry he had made since then.
One of the most humble people I know, Albert tended to downplay his amazing talents. I, on the other hand, am very willing to discuss them. He had several generations of teaching behind him, particularly the skills and tools from his father, Alfred. Albert was an exacting technician when it came to both silversmithing and stone placement, and his bezels were always perfectly centered, aligned, and sized. The stones he selected were of the highest quality he could acquire, and he and his older brother Chuck carefully cut them to present the most amazing colors possible. When mounted on the heavy silver base, the stones took on a life of their own, and I sighed audibly when he showed me his newest works.
And let it be known that I am not the only one who sighed at the beauty of his works. Albert has a large, dedicated following of galleries, collectors, and even notables (discriminating jewelry wearers) such as former First Lady Laura Bush and her daughter Jenna Bush Hager.
Many years ago, Michael and I were going through the Navajo Nation to pick up some orders we had placed with different Navajo artists. As part of our journey, we stopped in Farmington to see Albert. We invited Albert and Chuck to join us for lunch, as we would be arriving around 1o in the morning. When we arrived, Albert and Chuck had set a huge spread of fruits, pastries, and other assorted goodies “to tide us over until lunch.” So typical of Albert and his big, loving heart. Yes, we did indulge, and yes, we did acquire some lovely pieces of jewelry that he had just finished, and then we went to lunch with Albert, Chuck, and his parents.
While we were visiting Albert in his home, he delighted in showing us some of the museum-quality works of Native American art that he had collected over the years. Albert was very proud of his Navajo heritage, but also a strong supporter of Native American artists and their expressions of their culture in general. His excellent eye for detail was obvious, and I do not hesitate to believe that he would have been an outstanding judge at the highest level of juried competitions. Of course, Albert would likely have a built-in conflict of interest if he judged jewelry, if any of his magnificent pieces were entered. But knowing Albert, his integrity and humble nature would award the ribbons to other deserving artists. He was just that way.
Earlier this month, I had a large “surprise” birthday party at our home in Santa Fe, and Michael invited our neighbors, local friends, and nearby Native American artists to join us in this party. To our great pleasure, Albert and Chuck drove down from Farmington the night before and came over to the party. Albert told me of their travel plans, and of course I asked them to stop by early so we could have a visit before the other 70 or so guests arrived. They agreed, and we had several wonderful hours to chat in our living room.
So this is a very sad time for me. A giant has fallen. His time here with us on Mother Earth ended all too soon. In passing, Albert follows his older brother Vince, and he is survived by his parents Alfred and Velma, and his older brother Chuck, and many related family members. It is a very sad time for them as well, and I ask that you keep them all in your prayers. We will say our farewells to Albert on Saturday at his services in Farmington and celebrate his life. And I will miss him so.
We are all diminished by the loss of Albert, and I grieve that I will no longer see his smiling face except in my pictures and memories. In my memory, I see Albert’s huge smile, his warm hug, and his radiant personality. That is how I will always see him. A giant has fallen, and a dear friend is no longer with me.
Oh, this is so sad and a loss indeed. Albert was such a highly talented jeweler, but what made his pieces special was his warm personality. I always looked forward to seeing him at the Santa Fe Indian market or the Heard Museum Fair, and stopping in to say hi, sporting my favorite Albert Lee coral necklace. The markets somehow won’t be the same without him. Thank you for letting us know.
Two years ago I found some turquoise jewelry on a website that looked nothing like the rest of the turquoise jewelry there. There happened to be a name and a phone number attached to it. I was shocked to see the phone number and not an email address. So I called — not thinking the human being who made this astounding jewelry would actually say “Hello!” Albert Lee said Hello. We talked for 30 minutes. By the time I hung up the phone we were friends and family. We called and texted each other for the next two years. I bought several pieces from him during that time and he shipped them from his studio in New Mexico — always including a loving handwritten joy-filled Albert note card. I loved Sugilite and Albert had some amazing old fantastic Sugilite that I was always trying to get him to make into something for me. We were designing a new necklace — by text messages! We stopped designing it right before he went to the 2021 Santa Fe Indian Market. He was working around the clock to get all his work ready for it. I was going to attend. My first SFIM –. We talked incessantly about family and art and the world. He always spoke so lovingly of is mother and his father and his oldest brother. I cancelled my trip because of COVID so we never got to meet in person. The last text I received from him was New Years Eve. He was full of hope and joy and new ideas for new jewelry. I never “met” a kinder nor more generous person. I had not heard from Albert and had planned to send him a text just this week and somehow this message from Dancing Rabbit showed up and took my breath away. I had not heard that Albert had passed away in April. Thank you for letting us know. I will forever treasure every alphabet and phone call and handwritten note that I shared with this man who was made of the very best materials that a human being could ever be made of. We miss your kindness, Albert! We miss your artistry. We miss your jubilation at life itself. Oh my. I was not expecting to find this sad heartbreaking news today.