In Memoriam - Jay Evetts


I don’t recall when I first met Jay Evetts.  He was a fixture in the dealer scene when I first became involved in the 1980s, and over the years, there were many exchanges, mostly down the alley in the ‘office’ where he and Bob Vandenberg did business.  There was always more jewelry there than anywhere else, and I always marveled (still do!) how they could keep track of it.

I was always struck by Jay’s kindness.  Not always apparent because he was so quiet, but it shone through as you got to know him more. And his shy smile. What follows is a short remembrance from one of his friends as well as an interview Susan Swift conducted with Jay in 2004.  Susan took thephoto at the time of the interview.

Happy trails, my friend, until we meet again.

-John Molloy

Harold (Jay) Evetts

Harold (Jay) Evetts passed away November 24, 2016 in Santa Fe, New Mexico at age 70. Jay had been living at the Casa Real nursing facility for the past two years.

He was born June 6, 1946 (he liked to say two years to the date of D-Day, 1944) in Boise City, Oklahoma, but early in his life the family moved to Eastern Colorado to become farmers/ranchers. Jay’s parents were educators and encouraged him to graduate from Colorado State University, which he did in 1968.  In his youth, Jay would discover arrowheads every year when the fields were plowed, and from that point on, he became fascinated with Native American culture.

In the mid-1980s Jay started his trading career, buying and selling Navajo rugs. Soon he started packing those rugs into his Olds 88 to head to Santa Fe and the surrounding areas to sell and trade. His quiet demeanor won over all whom he met. Jay formed a friendship with Bob Vandenberg that developed into a 40-year successful business partnership. Prior to his stroke, Jay designed and built a home in Gallup, New Mexico. He spent many hours collecting the rocks for the exterior and objects for the interior. Jay loved history and was an avid reader.  

Jay will always be remembered as a man of few words, but from collectors to dealers, he will be missed by all.

+ Click here to read Susan Swift's 2004 Interview Jay Evetts

SS: This is Susan Swift interviewing Jay Evetts, in October of 2004, and we’re mainly going to talk about how he became an Indian trader.
JE: Well when I was 18 years old I decided to collect rugs and went down to Crown Point, rug auction, had 500 dollars to spend, bought two or three rugs, I think, 350 dollars or so, but I realized I didn’t have enough money to collect very good things, or very much, so decided to sell some and maybe keep one or two or three. So that’s kinda how I got started but I didn’t do much until after I went to college in the 70’s.

SS: What did you study in college?
JE: Agriculture and economics and basic anthropology courses.

SS: So did you put those into use in some way?
JE: Oh, a bit for my personal use, hunting arrowheads, and background for buying and selling stuff.

SS: What were you doing for a living in 1964 when you decided you might like to buy some Navajo rugs?
JE: I was just out of high school. I was farming and ranching, I had cows, dry land farming. Farmed for my Dad. Getting ready to go to college.

SS: So you made your first “buy” before you even entered University?
JE: Yeah.

SS: Were you trading throughout your university days, or just studying?
JE: No, just...I might have bought a few little odds and ends, probably some jewelry, a few rugs. But I didn’t do anything much until I went to Ashton’s show in Denver, in ’71. Really saw lots of quality and quantity of things.

SS: You went there as a spectator?
JE: Yes.

SS: Did you know anybody in the business then?
JE: No, I didn’t know a soul.

SS: But you got inspired.
JE: Yeah, I got inspired. You know, spent alot of money, for me, at that show. Couple thousand or three thousand or something.

SS: What did you buy?
JE: Ah, mostly rugs. Bought four or five rugs, I think.

SS: Must’ve been good ones.
JE: Well, yeah, they were OK. They weren’t great. Through the years I did well with those.

SS: So then did you proceed to start buying more in earnest in order to sell?
JE: Yeah, then I started buying at antique auctions, and I’d go to a few shows. Ron Milam at that time was having lots of auctions in Colorado, He always had pretty good stuff. I started buying jewelry more, too.

SS: So you were probably in your early 20’s then?
JE: Yeah, early 20’s. Well, mid 20’s.

SS: Still living in Colorado?
JE: Yes, still living in Colorado, farming and ranching.

SS: So how did one sort of take precedence over the other?
JE: Well the Indian trading just kind of every year got more involving, you know involved more money and more items. More travel. I think that I had lots of rugs, twenty or thirty, and I think I did a show in Albuquerque in ‘75 or ‘76. Wasn’t very successful. But anyway, it kept growing more and more. Finally, ranching got worse and worse, so I could see the day when I was going to do this full time.

SS: At what point in time did you move to New Mexico?
JE: I moved there in ‘86 after I quit farming and ranching.

SS: To Gallup?
JE: To Gallup.Me and Bob Vandenberg and Rick Rosenthal bought a place in Gallup, and I moved down there. Well, that was full time then. Started buying and selling. Old stuff and also new stuff.

SS: Were you and Bob Vandenberg partners from that time on?
JE: Yeah, me and Bob were partners from about ‘83, probably, when we bought a house, an old house in Colorado Springs that was an antique shop. Started running that.

SS: As an antiques store?
JE: Yes.

SS: How many years did that go on?
JE: Well, we sold it about ‘97 or ‘98 probably.

SS: What was it called?
JE: Antique Brokers. It was on East Colorado Avenue, Colorado Springs.

SS: So Jay, would you tell us a little bit about your early life? Who your parents were and what it was like?
JE: Well, my parents were from Oklahoma. I was born in Elk City, Oklahoma in ‘46. In ‘46 they moved to Monument, Colorado, near Colorado Springs and Denver, and taught school. Then in ‘48, my parents had two twin sisters, or twin babies, my sisters. And my folks moved to Ramah, Colorado. Dad taught there like ten years. And he farmed and ranched and I started school in Ramah. That was ‘53 I guess. Then he moved south to Miami, Yoder, a small country school, taught there like twelve years, farmed and ranched at the same time. That’s where I started high school, and farming and ranching. And then did that until ‘86 when I moved to Gallup.

SS: Were you the only male child in your family?
JE: Yeah, I have the twin sisters, and I had an older sister who passed away when she was four.

SS: I understand that you read a lot of books.
JE: Well I have lots of books, and I read some of them.

SS: Did you start reading really early?
JE: Yeah, I started buying Indian books, probably when I was sixteen. Every year I’d buy all the current books. Still do.

SS: You’ve probably even read them.
JE: Oh, I’ve read alot of ‘em. I haven’t read them all, but they come in handy when you need to look something up.

SS: I understand you’ve made a little silver jewelry yourself.
JE: Yeah, in the 70’s, probably ‘74, I wanted to know more about Indian jewelry, so I decided to learn how to make jewelry. I took a night class from the high school teacher in Colorado Springs. Just learning, you know, basic silversmithing. And I made a few things, for a few years, but nothing really... and not much quantity. But I learned how things were made, what to look for.

SS: Was that the main impetus behind your wanting to make silver jewelry?
JE: Yeah, learning how it was made was the main reason to do it. I didn’t want to become a craftsman or anything. But I made a few pieces I really liked and quite a few pieces I didn’t like.

SS: There’s a few still floating around...
JE: I still have a few pieces that I actually wear that I made.

SS: We’re looking at your ring collection here and there are 52 rings, and I was wondering, over what period of time were they collected?
JE: Oh, probably from the late 70’s up until the last few years. About a twenty year time span, twenty-five maybe.

SS: And what was the criterion for a keeper?
JE: Age was one of the main criteria. Aesthetics, if they looked good. I tend to like turquoise maybe better than plain silver. I always tried to keep interesting stone rings. This is the last of my collection. Fifteen years ago, I sorted out probably twenty or thirty rings and about five years ago I sold another thirty or forty. I consider these the best ones.

SS: The ones you’ve held onto the longest.
JE: Yes.

SS: If you had to pick out a couple of favorites here, what would they be?
JE: Well, I kinda like big rings and I like these early three stone type rings that probably date from 1910. Here’s a real big ring, square stone ring from the 20’s or 30’s. That’s probably the one I’d wear if I wore any of these.

SS: What’s the story on the ones with the garnet? I see three here that have garnet or garnet-like material.
JE: Well they were just...Way back in the 1890’s and 1900, turquoise was very scarce. They would use glass, or native garnets once in a while. So that’s where that comes from. A lot of turquoise was pretty low grade at that time. Persian turquoise was available too. I think glass was available and relatively cheap compared to turquoise.

SS: But we’d have to say that their love of blue, or the turquoise color, took over.
JE: Yeah, I think they liked the blue the best, so if they could come up with blue turquoise, they used it. Most of the glass is either red, or blue.

SS: When did turquoise begin being mined, or prolifically?
JE: Oh, I’d say after the turn of the century. A lot of it was associated with copper, and Persian turquoise was shipped in here pretty early, 1880’s and 90’s probably. I think it was pre-cut, over in Persia.

SS: Who was requesting it?
JE: Well it was like a Victorian gemstone, and then, Indians always liked turquoise. They had prehistoric turquoise available to them, and most of the known deposits were mined in prehistoric times. But I don’t think the Navajos actually mined any turquoise. They just got it through trade or found it in ruins.

SS: Do you think the mined turquoise was kind of a bonus that was found when they were mining copper?
JE: Yeah, most of the miners were looking for copper. Looking for gold and silver and then copper was secondary. So, there were probably a few individuals who went for turquoise, like the Cerrillos mine was mined just for turquoise. Apparently Tiffany, or I’m not sure if the Tiffany Company owned it or some New York people owned it. They called one of the mines Tiffany and they mined it mainly for Victorian use, I think.

SS: About what period of time did that start, the mining for turquoise in earnest?
JE: Probably 1890’s, and I don’t know what happened after, like World War I, there probably wasn’t much going on with mining, except copper. Same way with World War II; the emphasis was on copper and not turquoise.

SS: So is it fair to say that some of the fancier turquoise that we see now, and that we enjoy now, was discovered after World War II?
JE: Yeah, I’d say that Blue Gem, No. 8, Lone Mountain, all that is kind of 40’s and 50’s stuff. Bisbee I think is even later, as a rule. I think Wallace had alot to do with mining turquoise because back in the 30’s and definitely the 40’s he was encouraging alot of jewelry manufacture, and jewelry making. And I think he even developed his own mines.

SS: This is Mr. Wallace who had the trading post at Zuni?
JE: Yeah.

SS: Well is there anything else you’d like to tell us?
JE: Ah, maybe when I think about it a little bit.

Share your memories

All those who knew Jay are welcome to add their memories in the comments below.