Bow & Arrow 00:00
I get it, it’s cool-but these designs and techniques were made by the Native Americans and that should be credited to them. That’s a big part of why I’m trying to give back.

Leslie O’Kelly is an original CONVICT. This past summer, the model-turned-art-curator undertook a mission to the Four Corners region to explore the aesthetic heritage of Native American art and culture. Along the way, she began weaving her own thread into the region’s cultural tapestry.

CONVICTS

Hey Leslie. Tell us how you got interested in the southwestern aesthetic?

LESLIE
My mother is from a place in the southwest of Colorado, called Cortez. its called the gateway to Navajo Nation and my grandparents lived there so, naturally, I travelled there all the time as a kid. That was the first time I came across Native American culture. My grandmother would take us to the city center, and the Native Americans would do powwows and sing and dance and sell their goods. You got to experience it for an hour at sunset-that was my favorite part of the day. I was always the first one to raise my hand when they asked if anyone in the audience wanted to join in in the circle dance.

CONVICTS
So with the southwestern roots, how did you end up in NYC?

LESLIE

I came to New York when I was fifteen to model, but I took a hiatus from New York and went to Colorado to study business. I came back when i was twenty-two and have been here since.

CONVICTS

Was there a moment when you knew you were going to get serious about curating jewelry?

LESLIE
I was at a photoshoot wearing a bracelet and the make up artist was like ‘I want that. How much would you want for it?’ i remember saying an insane number like three hundred dollars $ and she’s like i’ll take it . During our lunch break she went to the ATM and got three hundred dollars and gave it to me. I remember being like ‘that’s crazy, if she only knew I bought this for twenty five dollars off the side of the road when i was twelve.’ But she appreciated it for what it was-there wasn’t a dollar amount that would have changed her mind. She was so into where it came from, what the story behind it was-and that was really cool.

I don’t look at it as a clothing accessory retail business. I look at it as an artform that i’m helping curate.
CONVICTS

What draws you to jewelry? Specifically, the aesthetically southwestern jewelry that you’ve been working on?

LESLIE

The story behind it. The funny thing is, is that I’m not really the type of girl who goes out and buys the trendiest jewelry. What really interests me is the culture and history and traditions that lie behind the jewelry making.

CONVICTS
Is there a political component to your work, or a statement that you’re trying to make?

LESLIE

It’s one thing to be inspired by Native American art, but it’s another to copy it completely. Right now there’s a big southwestern, boho trend that embraces being country and being on the road. I get it, it’s cool-but these designs and techniques were made by the Native Americans and that should be credited to them. That’s a big part of why I’m trying to give back.

CONVICTS

Do you consider jewelry art, or fashion, or somewhere in between?

LESLIE

To me, jewelry is art. I don’t look at it as a clothing accessory retail business. I look at it as an artform that i’m helping curate.

CONVICTS

Tell me about the silver and turqouise you curate is there a traditional reason for that?

LESLIE

The Spanish came in and started trading with chunks of silver. So the Native Americans figured out how to melt it down and make use out of it. That evolved into jewelry making, and that evolved into a trade. I find it pretty interesting that a skilled trade developed out of something that was given to them as essentially trash. Turquoise is often seen in Native American cultures as a stone of the sky.

CONVICTS

How important is jewelry making in terms of cultural history and storytelling?

LESLIE

It was a generational trade, historically. So even nowadays it’s often that you will find a son, a father and a grandfather all working together. Its important to my brand and the artists I work with that the art is being passed down through the generations and carried on in the families.

If you have good intentions, good will come your way. That was a big thing we learned on the road.
CONVICTS

Tell me about the trip you went on? Where were you guys?

LESLIE

We started in Colorado and we went to Utah, Arizona and ended in New Mexico. Those four states hold the Navajo Nation which is the largest Native American reservation in the United States.

CONVICTS

What did you hope to accomplish?

LESLIE

To find new artists and fully immerse myself in the culture. Just learn more, meet more people and build the relationships that I’ve been wanting to build.

CONVICTS

Were there building relationships with these traditional jewelry smiths?

LESLIE

Ethnicity wise, I’m not Native American. They can be kind of bewildered when they find out I want to work with them. Also, that trust factor isn’t there. You have to build those relationships-just like any kind of business. I wanted to do this trip so I could start making those relationships credible.

CONVICTS

How did that go?

LESLIE

Good. Every artist we met along the way was very supportive of what I’m trying to do. And vice versa.

CONVICTS
Tell us about Ricky, we heard he was quite a character.

LESLIE

icky was somebody who I met earlier in the summer in Cheyenne, Wyoming. He is an interesting character. Ricky does not believe in technology modern technology. He cancelled his email. He sees when people call him, but if he doesn’t know your number he wont pick it up. Even if you leave 7 voicemails. I don’t know if he quite liked me in the beginning, but he warmed up. His work is very traditional, which I love.

CONVICTS

Was most of the art you encountered more traditional, or contemporary? Where is the intersection of those two modes in this field?

LESLIE

A lot of the artists we met on this trip leaned towards the contemporary side. That is something new to me, but something i’m open to because eventually everything does change.

CONVICTS

What are you hoping for future?

LESLIE

The biggest thing for me is being authentic. That means working directly with the artists, working with a Native American artist who carries the same values that I do.

CONVICTS

What are you taking away from this trip?

LESLIE

If you have good intentions, good will come your way. That was a big thing we learned on the road.