Artist Connects With The Earth

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True to his name, artist Jeff Storey tells tales of historical and cultural significance with his mixed-media creations.

Storey discovered many components of his life-sized sculptures while hiking in Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico.

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Artist Jeff Storey stands with "Crazy Quill," one of his mixed-media sculptures. The 1920s shawl is made of rabbit fur and ermine tails, while the white necklace is carved from cow bones.

"I've been finding things my whole life," said Storey, who as a young child collected arrowheads on his family's farm in Missouri. "It is part of my destiny of being a person of the earth."

"The Spirit of Fort Bowie" focuses on a carved face from the 1830s that Storey picked up in an arroyo.

Near the face, he found the hinge to an old trunk and an ivory piano key. Storey theorized pioneers threw out the objects to lighten their wagons as American Indians pursued the travelers on their way to Arizona's Fort Bowie.

"You piece all this together, and it actually tells a story of what they threw out," said Storey, who engraved the account on a sterling silver book chained around the sculpture's neck. "The whole thing revolves around the face being reused in the sculpture to bring her back to life."

With detachable pendants and hidden treasures, Storey invites the buyer to become actively involved in a similar process of discovery.

"Crazy Quill" features a pot from 1400 A.D., found on a ranch in Casa Grande. Storey acquired it through trade 30 years ago.

"As a surprise, you can reach inside, and there is an old bracelet from 1920, engraved with a story," said Storey, pointing to a village, an American Indian chief and a man in a canoe.

A removable turquoise pendant sits atop porcupine quills from New Guinea.

"There are so many things that are wearable on my sculptures," said Storey, who learned silversmithing from a tribal elder on the Taos reservation of New Mexico.

Storey has had several mining claims and prides himself on finishing all steps of the process of making turquoise art.

"I hunt the turquoise, dig it out, drill it, polish it, set it in silver and then sell it," Storey said. "I do everything myself and get to complete that sacred circle."

In "Last of the Mohicans," Storey used bear claws and silver coins he unearthed while digging in Congress.

"The centerpiece, an 1876 half dollar, is the oldest," Storey said. "Everything is soldered onto sterling silver caps that cover the bear claws."

Storey, who is part Cherokee, said he tried to capture the famous cliché in the sculpture.

"Every tribe in America has dwindled," Storey said. "If I was to envision what the last Mohican looked like, it would be a proud Indian in all his regalia standing before the gods, doing his ceremony."

Wild turkey feathers adorn the sculpture's carved face.

"I use a lot of feathers, but nothing endangered or against the law," said Storey, who fashioned the Mochican's mohawk with hair from his own horse.

Feathers form large wings on "Spirit of Flight." It depicts "Spotted Face," a young American Indian warrior learning how to fashion tools for battle.

"The title has nothing to do with the wings, but deals with the flight of an arrow or spear," Storey said. "How true the flight is determines how good you eat while hunting or how well you live in battle."

The boy is decorated with beadwork from the Plains Indians.

"A vest was burned badly in a fire, but I cut it up and used the beadwork in several sculptures," Storey said. He also drapes 80- to 200-year-old blankets over the sterling silver framework of certain sculptures.

"I like them when they're tattered and worn, so there's a piece of history to begin with," said Storey, gesturing to one Navajo blanket made with vegetable dyes. "It gives it authenticity."

Storey further displays American Indian traditions with "The Corn Maiden."

Corn shucks in her hair depict her role as blesser of corn seeds, which are held in a corn medicine bag.

"Corn is a sign of prosperity," Storey said. "Corn enables families of all Indian tribes to flourish."

Storey said he continues to find objects discarded by both man and nature.

"Sometimes you pick something up just to hold it, so you feel you're touching a spiritual piece," Storey said. "You may be the first in hundreds of years to pick it up and connect with it again. It's really meaningful to me and my art."

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