Contemporary Spotlight: Liz Wallace


Liz: “Thank you for your patience, I finally woke up, LOL. I am so happy to be featured today! I was born in Sacramento and grew up in Auburn, about 30 miles north of Sac. I am Nisenan/Washo on my paternal side and Navajo on my maternal side. So about 3/4 Native. I am also descended from and named after Lizzie Enos, a well known basket artist who was one of the few of her family members to survive a smallpox clothing/blanket attack when she was a child. She was half Swedish from an affluent immigrant family named Johnson, but her father did not treat his Native family well so she eschewed White culture and embraced Nisenan ways. Several ethnologists have recorded her and she is in some early ethnology books. She had a book published about her called “Ooti” in 1969, I think.

Unfortunately for me, both my parents were highly abusive and I have few positive memories. We did live next door to my Grandma Nina, and she was the only adult who was kind and loving towards my brother Jeremy Wallace and myself. She also taught me to sew when I was 5 or so and gave me a box w/ her fabric scraps in it. Grandma loved to take us on long drives to the Japanese Tea Garden in SF, the mountains, to craft shows, etc. She is the main reason I am still alive, as I am sure I would have commited suicide or drank myself to death by now from CPTSD and depression. Both my parents also did silver jewelry and I have been coming to Indian Market since I was tiny – I recall waking up on a blanket on the asphalt looking at peoples feet shuffling around in front of our booth. While my parents did not teach us much directly, I loved to read Oscar Branson’s books on how to make Indian Jewelry, as well as his Turquoise book. As a teen I was able to sell beadwork in school for pocket money and some watercolors at my father’s booth at IM. But I never planned on becoming a jeweler.

When I was 17, I saw one of the most influential books in my life, “The Master Jewelers” by Kenneth Snow. It featured plique a jour enamel, along with other Art Nouveau and Art Deco jewelers. That was the first time I thought it might be cool to be a jeweler. After high school, I lived in Davis, CA for a year w/ my mother where I stagnated and moved to Santa Fe at 19 to work for an artist. That lasted a year as she had some MEGA personality issues, and through her I met a slimy, opportunistic, yet charismatic, 49 year old man who took me “under his wing”. He initially had me apprenticing rug restorers, but when I took my first formal silversmithing class at SFCC he decided to push me into jewelry and repair of jewelry instead. Ironically, when I saw the class titled Metalsmithing I thought it was welding and making tool-boxes. I was really surprised when it was jewelry, but it was familiar so I went along with it and made the same spider pin the rest of the class did. Because of my childhood I was very used to being dominated, controlled, and manipulated, so that slimy older antique dealer controlled my life, mind, and body for some years. My worst recurring nightmare is that he is still alive. I did LOTS of repair, setting of stones and Zuni inlay, being his step and fetch it/arm candy, selling of antiques, etc etc etc for years.

I did start doing my own designs which were ultra sleek and modern but did not sell, so I asked myself, “what can I do that will sell right away?”  Well, at antique shows some of the most sought after pieces that sold and resold before the public was let in were all turquoise Zuni butterflies, which I had the materials and the skill sets to create. So I did an all #8 big butterfly in secret and when I showed up to work at a show I pinned it to my dress. Jabba saw it and freaked out, “You didn’t make that! Your good, but not that good!” I just smirked. He snatched it off me, ran off, and sold it right away. I did get to keep all the money from that, even though he sold it without my permission and set the price. I had also been commissioned by Jay Evetts to set lots paired up stones into Classic style earrings, which is how I got into doing those. Butterflies, bracelets, and earrings helped me to not only survive but to emancipate myself from that slimy dealer who ended up self-destructing. I will always be grateful to butterflies for that, and plant lots of flowers that they love in my garden. They represent freedom and self determination to me. The rest of my story has been covered by Kim and Pat Messier quite adequately.”

DY: “Thank you for sharing your story, and your work. I have a few questions: I know as a designer, I am constantly looking for ways to make things “New”, and how to breathe new life into my creations. What do you think the future holds for your work? and is there any new specific type of jewelry process you are looking to try?”

LW: “Good question! I have dozens of designs that will keep me busy for years, most of which are Nature themed. Lots of chased Creature Cuffs, more plique a jour tiaras (I have done 3 so far), and a line of self defense jewels n hair ornaments.  I do want to make more CA basket themes pieces. I am planning a line inspired by Lizzie Enos baskets, but those will only be sold to other descendants of hers. But lots of oak and acorn items are on the way!”

DY: “i love the idea of Oak & Acorn!”

LW: “They were our staple starch, but were later eradicated by the Forest Service and agriculture.”

DY: “ there are videos on how to make acorn bread on Youtube, it’s a very lengthy process!”

LW: “LOL, tell me about it! My grandma liked to grind n leach it on her lawn.”

DY: “the soaking to get out the toxins was shocking to me – the fact that squirrels can digest it, and we can’t is a strange concept.”

LW: “Right???? But when they fall into rivers they get leached, and deer & other critters can eat them.”

DY: “What piece, or pieces have you sold that you wish you would have held onto? or do you let yourself get close to your jewelry?”

LW: “Hmmmm….. not many. I do get really intimate w/ the pieces while creating them, so when they are finished I am more concerned w/ selling rather than keeping them. I do still have my Water Goddess bellydance set, and keep it priced pretty high. Sooooo much work went into that!!!”

DY: “When I was in art school, I was given some good advice… Make up your mind on what you are going to keep, and what you want to sell – it gives your mind the ability to let it go, and not get to close/intimate with your art.”

LW: “Plus knowing they go to a good home where they will be appreciated helps let go.”

DY: “So another question, what do you do to get inspired? to flex your creative muscle? and do you have moments that you are just “not feeling it”?”

LW: “LOL, I have a constant stream of inspiration going at all times!!! Especially now that I have my own home w/ a garden I can really invest in. I also learned a great exercise from Miriam Sagan, a writing teacher from SFCC. It is called free writing and really gets the creativity flowing. If anything it is tough to decide on only a few designs n projects before each show. This last year I really had to narrow it down, as I usually ended up w a dozen half finished projects n 6 finished ones before the Heard n Indian Market. But w social media I can show what I am working on to hundreds of people, so it is OK.”

DY: “that is a good point, what has social media done for your business and craft? Is it a good thing? or is it a point of annoyance?”

LW: “It has been mostly an amazing tool. Before I had to quickly explain my involved processes face to face at shows, but now I can show progress pics in real time. I get lots of positive feedback & sell a lot of pieces before they are finished.”

DY: “I noticed a lot of your jewelry is focused around nature, bugs, snakes, sea-creatures. What is the connection?”

LW: “My phone decided to be squirrelly about Messenger so I cannot see what u just sent about a forum. Nature was an escape for me as a child. Home life was really nightmarish; I never knew when I would get raged at, hit w/ a belt etc. So being out in Nature & getting absorbed in bugs & sea life books was a life saver.”

DY: “Next to your work, whose work do you admire? any other current artists that you love?”

LW: “McKee Platero, Kathy Whitman, Robin Waynee, Leah Mata Fragua, Gomeo Zacharias Bobelu, Colin Coonsis, Jolene Eustace, Glenda Loretto, Shaax’ Saani, Char Holy Bear, and so many more. I am hoping to get an elk antler hair pick from Billyhawk Enos, too. I MUCH prefer hand made work to lost wax, machine made, n CAD pieces. Although I adored Stefani Courtois s work, even what she did in wax. And I am looking forward to what Adrian Standing Elk Pinnecoose does w CAD. Of course I am also inspired by Renee Lalique and Wallace Chan, a Chinese jeweler.”

DY: “Renee Lalique goes without saying, so amazing….. I could just stare at his work all day!”

LW: “I hope to make it to the Gulbenkian one day to drool in person.”

DY: “In your opinion, what role does an artist have in society? and how do you work to achieve it?”

LW: “Artist are the storytellers, interpreters, etc. Art can be the quickest way to communicate issues and history, too. My goal is to get people to see the beauty in oaks, insects, marine life, etc. in hopes that we will work harder to be responsible and compassionate stewards of Nature.”

DY: “ Liz Wallace agreed…. every culture communicates through food, music and art, it’s the common thread. Great job Liz.”

DY: “What Memorable responses have you had to your work? what keeps you going…. I’m so curious to ask questions while you are here tonight.”

LW: “My fave responses are big fat sales!!!! But one Heard show an older Native man in a Vietnam Vet hat parked in front of my table and read aaaall of my haiku/tanka earrings. He looked and smelled like an alcoholic, but seemed like nice guy overall. He then asked how much for a haiku pendant, which I did not have. He picked out a tanka poem about an ex-lover I had run into. The last lines were, “I forgot how beautiful I felt when you looked at me.” I could tell he really wanted it, so I told him I could twist the ear wire into a bail n gave him a good deal if he had cash. A Vietnam Vet price. He claimed it & ran off to get $$$. I had pliers w/ me & twisted it into a bail as best I could. When he came back he told me it was for his daughter. “I was not around when she was little, but now she has let me back in her life and I wanted to get her something.” That poem seemed to resonate with how it felt to be reunited w/ her. Another show, I had poetry earrings out about my adopted dad, Vanja Aljinovic. He was a Croatian film teacher that was the first healthy father figure I had ever had. He had passed away a year or so prior, and his widow & daughter visited me at my booth. Mina wanted to buy the daughter something, and she gravitated right to a pendant that ended w/ “I did not want to bother you. Now I wish I had.” When I told her it was about Vanja she broke down in tears. Those were probably my most touching sales.”

Liz Wallace

For more on this interview, and to read additional comments click HERE


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Just an average guy with a passion for Vintage, Travel, Good Food & Sturdy Shoes.

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