Dan Simplicio Sr. was a relative of Bruceâ€™s and they sometimes collaborated.Â Â Some of the Zuniesâ€™ patterns have survived, though most are lost.Â Dorothy says that some of the sketches were done for them by another great Zuni artist, Anthony Edaaki, including the one for the magnificent eagle dancer.
Older jewelers in the village donâ€™t think Leekity made anywhere near all the pieces attributed to him and similar pieces have been attributed to everyone from Old Man Leekya, to Dan Simplicio
, to several modern stone workers.
Wayne Russell said Lookout Point was once owned by the Kelseys of Zuni, then his mother Alma Sue Watson and her husband Dan
ran the place until Dan
hit the road.Â Leroy Atkinson picked up the place for a song and had Alma Sue and her son run it for him.
Zuni Silversmith Dan Simplicio Sr.: Challenging Tradition
Dan Simplicio Sr. with casting
came of age in an era when there were many innovators.Â Zuni jewelry was still feeling its way, and creative juices were flowing.Â Leekya Deyuse was experimenting with setting carved stone in silver jewelry; Leo Poblano was creating fine mosaic inlay; Bryant Waatsa was popularizing a style of needlepoint that would become â€œZuni Jewelryâ€ to the outside world; and Juan De Dios was perfecting technique for his generation.
The De Dios style involves silver-mounted stones cantilevered out from the bracelet base, which gives his
work a very distinctive look and makes the turquoise the leading element.Â De Dios apprenticed his
along with others who would become famous jewelers of the period.
began silversmithing with primitive techniques and limited tools, factors his
son thinks contributed to his
creativity.Â â€œHe made his
own plate, drew his
own wire, everything was done by hand,â€ says Dan Jr. who is also a metalworker and fine fetish carver.
carved and tempered his
own stamps from scrap steel.Â There were swaging troughs cut into his
hand-made anvil to make triangle and half-round wire.Â One of his
leaf stamps became almost a signature element of his
said later he
got the idea for the distinctive leaf from his
time in Europe during the war.Â He
was fascinated by the Roman laurel leaf wreaths given to heroes of battles.
To make wire he
beat a lump of silver into a thick pencil â€" annealed it to make it soft, and then drew it through a steel plate with a series of graduated holes.Â The silver had to be softened again for each step of the drawing process.Â Every piece he
created was the result of many, many hours of labor.
combined the red with quality nuggets and his distinctive silver leaves.Â The result was pure Dan Simplicio
and is still easily recognized.Â Other Zunis like Robert Leekya and Chester Mahooty were influenced by this technique.Â Leekya is still known for his large nugget sets.
is best known for these free-form pieces, but he
worked in pretty much every technique of his
was an influential tufa caster and some of his
best jewelry had a cast base.Â Though he
own tufa â€" a fine-grained volcanic ash stone â€" near the village of Zuni, he
would put more than one design on a block, or carve both sides.
â€œHe had a mine on the north edge of the reservation,â€ says his
son.Â â€œIt was small and it was destroyed when they built the new road up the hill.â€Â There are several places south of Gallup where good tufa is found.
Though casting heavy silver is considered a Navajo thing, Simplicioâ€™s work was distinctively Zuni for the most part.Â Many of his
existing molds show variations of a lacy flower design found on pottery.Â He
also used some prehistoric forms taken from rock art.Â Dan Jr. has a charming piece that is either a frog or horny toad.
Like many Native Americans of his generation, Simplicio
had at least two birthdays of record:Â Aug 10, 1911, or maybe 1917.Â His father was known as Old Man Simplicio and Dan doesnâ€™t know his grandmotherâ€™s name.Â Danielâ€™s sister, Ruth Calavaza was photographed by Burton Frasher and one of her iconic images, distributed as photo postcards, shows her working on jewelry.Â Another shows her in traditional costume, taking bread from an outdoor oven.
Dan Simplicio in World War II
enlisted in World War II, he
was inducted with a lot of Gallup men, including a number of Slavs.Â They bonded in the service and he
wrote letters home for the men who were not literate in English.Â He
won a bronze star with oak cluster for rescuing a number of fellow soldiers under heavy fire, dragging them back to safety one at a time.
suffered a terrific wound to his
thigh.Â The Germans were experimenting with metal-clad wooden bullets.Â It might have been a lead-saving move, but there was also the element of fragmentation.Â The wooden bullets splintered on impact, creating a messy, dirty wound â€" an early form of biological warfare.
sat alone in a foxhole for three days with nothing to eat or drink.Â Though it started to rain, the water he
was lying in was too muddy and contaminated with his
blood for him to drink.Â He
said later he
just kept reciting Hail Marys and Our Fathers.
was pretty well out of blood when he
was finally picked up.
built himself a stone house in Zuni.Â â€œAway from the restrictions of living with the wifeâ€™s family, many Zunis found the freedom seductive,â€ says his
son.Â The Simplicio house became a party zone.Â Dan Jr. believes the switch to the Anglo type of family unit contributed to alcohol use among the Zuni and other Southwestern tribes.Â The war had also been a large factor.
Weirdly, the leg kept bothering Dan, reinfecting often.Â â€œI remember seeing him lance the wound himself.Â I was just a kid and it was terrible,â€Â Â recalls his son.Â In 1970 the bullet hole took a hard blow in a scuffle.Â Dan was taken to the hospital but a blood clot ended his life.Â Dan Jr. was only thirteen.Â His mother, Esther Romancito survived her husband by just one year.Â Dan Jr. and his siblings spent the next years in Albuquerque.
has carved his
niche in the history of Southwestern Native jewelry and his
contribution isnâ€™t likely to be forgotten.Â Fortunately, his
distinctive work has found its way into museum collections across America and Europe.