Lyndon Tsosie found his inspiration in a book. The book was Dexter Cirillo’s Southwest Indian Jewelry and Lyndon says the pictures opened his eyes to a world of possibilities. “It blew me away because at that point in my life, I’d never seen any Native American art like that.” He was down to his last seventy-five dollars and the book cost sixty-five, but he gave in to the struggle and bought it. It was, according to him, his first investment in his own art: “I looked at that book every day.”
It had been a rough journey to that day at the bookstore. Nearly thirty years ago, he found himself in need of a job, so he took work as a production stamper in Gallup. The owners would give him pre-cut silver and a Xerox copy of the design they wanted on it. He learned how to stamp it before sending it on to others for finishing. This was his introduction to the work that he would build his own art on.
Although, as he puts it, “I fell in love with the art,” the job didn’t pay well. Leaving Gallup behind, Lyndon, his wife and daughter moved to Albuquerque, where his wife attended UNM. It was there he continued the stamp work he’d learned, only this time for himself. Learning additional skills from others he met, Lyndon produced pieces and wholesaled them. The artistic drive behind this attempt to build his own business was kicked into high gear when he walked into the bookstore with his daughter and saw Cirillo’s book. The pictures he saw in that work opened his eyes to new ideas. They “sparked the artistic arc in my soul”, Lyndon says, adding with a laugh, “I wanted to be famous.”
At the time he was attempting to start his business producing his stamp work, Lyndon was also struggling with alcoholism. His marriage crumbled, and Lyndon and his daughter moved to Many Farms, Arizona, on the Navajo reservation. He had thirty dollars’ worth of silver, a few tools and twenty dollars in cash. But he also had his art.
Lyndon continued to create pieces. His work caught the eye of Jerry Spiegel, who owned a gallery back east. In the summer of 1995, Spiegel drove from Manhattan to Many Farms and knocked on Lyndon’s door. Together the two men drove to Chinle, where Lyndon was introduced to artist and jeweler Teddy Draper, Jr.
For Lyndon, it was to be an important contact. Draper offered him a chance to come to his gallery and create some inlay pieces for him. At the time Lyndon was still drinking heavily, so, after selling some of the pieces to Jerry, he headed to the Gathering of Nations to sell the rest. His time there turned into a week-long drinking binge. At last he arrived back at Draper’s gallery. His new mentor talked with him about their culture, about who the Navajo were. He also spoke of his own sobriety, something that resonated deeply with Lyndon. Their conversation sparked the desire in Lyndon to change his life. It was the beginning of his own sobriety.
Today, Lyndon’s business is thriving. He owns a gallery, a tool company, and the House of Stamps, one of the largest Navajo stamp companies in the world. “We sell to twenty-five countries,” Lyndon says. Through House of Stamps, he has helped stamp makers establish a better deal and better prices for their work. They have customers all over the world and hold “stamp retreats” where they do workshops.
One place that had become important to Lyndon’s own work is Japan. The connection came from a story on his work done for a Japanese magazine. Native American art is popular there, and after the story appeared, a Japanese company began to purchase Lyndon’s work for sale in Japan. Sales went so well that today Lyndon has a shop in Tokyo, where he holds workshops.
Lyndon Tsosie has achieved a great deal since picking up that book. He laughs when he talks of that desire to be famous, and how it has come about in an interesting way. When an updated edition of Southwest Jewelry came out, Lyndon was one of the artists in the book. He contacted the author to tell him of the inspiration he’d gained from the first book. Cirillo responded by sending Lyndon a first edition copy of the original. It’s a fitting end to the circle of inspiration that spawned an amazing art career.