Lester Abeyta is a talented lapidary artist from the Santo Domingo Pueblo in New Mexico. He follows the traditional techniques of Santo Domingo Pueblo people as he creates his fine stone and shell jewelry. The skillful artist is best known for his beaded necklaces, which consist of several materials including melon shell, clam shell, pipestone, turquoise, apple coral, and other colorful stones and shells that compliment each other. Lester is also known for his colorful and lightweight traditional tab-style earrings.
Lester learned his lapidary skills from his father, Richard, who also learned it from his own father. When Richard started making jewelry, all the beads were made only with traditional tools and natural resources including being hand shaped on sandstone and polished with beeswax and animal hides. Although Lester’s jewelry-making method today has evolved some since his father and grandfather’s time, this old process of jewelry-making still influences Lester in creating genuine and time-honored jewelry.
First, Lester slices the stones and shells for his necklaces, drills the pieces, and then strings them on wire. Lester then meticulously grinds the stone or shell parts to shape them into round beads, and finishes off by polishing the beads. The process is long, but Lester works alongside his father and sister, which he says makes him enjoy the time. He expresses that working together as a family is an important aspect to their culture.
Lester believes jewelry is a form of communication and a link between humans and the earth around us, and thus it is very important to continue creating traditional jewelry. He expresses that each piece of jewelry has its own distinct spirit and life. This uniqueness to each piece can be clearly seen in Lester’s timeless work.