Veronica started carving stone in 1965 at age 14. She was encouragedby Joe Tanner, a gallery owner in Gallup New Mexico. He gave her stones and encouraged her to carve whatever she wanted. In the 60's and 70' she earned extra income by carving small animal figures, including "the sassiest roadrunner" Joe Tanner had ever seen. Veronica carved Disney figures through the 70's. She gained a following and a reputation for the popular little figures, earning enough to buy the things she wanted anda little extra for savings.
When her mother died in 1987, Veronica and her two small children, left Zuni to live in California. She was divorced, both her parents had passed away, and she had enough saved to escape the day to day monotony of pueblo life in the isolated outskirts of Zuni.
Veronica rented an apartment in Solano Beach, near San Diego, California. She worked part time as a hairdresser and began to spend more and more time designing and creating jewelry. When the children left for school she enjoyed reading on the porch and jogging with her dog on the beach. She says that in spite of the difficulty of caring and providing for two children and herself she freed her mind of her problems and allowed herself to expandon her own ideas and imagination.
Veronica made applications to participate in art and craft shows throughout California, and soon was developing a following for her highly stylized earrings pendants and bracelets. Jewelry sales quickly eclipsed hairdressing as a source of income.
A dispute over the property rights of her parents land in Zuni required her abrupt return to the village. Reluctantly, she and her children moved back to Zuni in 1992 to address the family issues. Hearings and testimony before the Tribal Council, over many months, resulted in her retention of ownership of a portion of her parents property.
Upon return to Zuni, Veronica's jewelry making began in full force. She applied for, and was accepted to many prestigious shows. Even if not profitable, her work was exposed to many collectors who encouraged and collected her unique designs and styles. In 1994, she connected with a Japanese buyer who purchased all she had for a one-of-a-kind gallery opening in Tokyo. Veronica recalls that she had enough money after that one sale to go to the gem show and to buy anything she wanted. She followed her fathers advice and sought only the best materials.
Over the years, Veronica has gotten smarter in her selection of materials. She is willing to pay the price for better stones and she has learned where to go to find them. She goes early to the larger gem shows in order to get first choice of materials that are available. She keeps the cards and records of whom she buys. Sometimes, when out of a certain stone, she will call one of the vendors to re-stock certain colors or stones as needed.
Generally materials are purchased by the pound. Sugilite, from Afghanistan, and Mediterranean Red Coral is expensive. It is sold by the gram because of its high cost. Coral for example is selected branch by branch. Experience guided her selection by evaluating the proportionate weight/volume to avoid light stems that may be porous and full of holes. The better coral feels heavy. Experience in cutting and polishing also guides her choice of color and form.
Today the best corals cost between $100 and $150 per ounce. Veronica generally purchases 3 ounces of coral at a time. All stones used by Veronica are purchased in the rough. Her earlier studies in beauty school of the color wheel guide her selection and combination of colors.
Veronica's father used a hand crank stone grinder in the fabrication of his early fetish carvings. She recalls those early days when she would work frantically with her sister to finish fetish carvings before 6:00 p.m.(closing time) to trade them at the local trading post for dinner groceries. Together they would alternate at the crank while the other would grind, carve, and buff the animal figures.
In the 1950's her father purchased a lapidary motor for grinding stone fetish carvings. At that time he made his own belts of sandpaper for finishing. Her father even devised a system to drip water on his grinding stone to keep it wet. Today water pumps are movable to any one of the six grinding stones on her system ranging from coarse to fine.
In 1993, Veronica was awarded a SWAI fellowship. She received a grant from the organization which she used to purchase a motorized lapidary system, the one that she uses to this day. It was "a dream come true" because it allows her to work quickly and more efficiently in the cutting and grinding of the gemstones that she inlays in her jewelry.
Veronica has sold her designs to Kevin Costner, Michael Horse, Lou Diamond Phillips, Robby William's, & John boy from the Waltons.
She was written about in a 1993 issue of Indian Artist Magazine.
Veronica supports and sponsors:
- Futures for children
- World Vision
- Armando Pena Scholarship
Veronica believes her richest reward for her efforts has been her ability to give back to the community. She has participated with SWAIA in Ft Worth, TX teaching Deaf mute children and demonstrating how she works.
Her ideal is to open a shelter for the less fortunate children. She feels that her mother and father were not always there for her when she needed them, and she would like to be one children can turn to with confidence and trust in a time of need.