Nicole Lawe and Her Mineral & Meridian Jewelry
● By Melissa Mendonca
Story by Melissa Mendonca
Photos courtesy of Mineral & Meridian
IT WAS A LONG, circuitous road that brought 29-year-old Redding native Nicole Lawe to her jewelry booth under the portico at the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts during the annual Indian Market in Santa Fe, NM, this past August. As she sold exquisitely wire-wrapped pieces of labradorite, chrysocolla and mookaite, her hands kept moving, weaving pliers around new gems, setting them just so in homage to the grandmother in California who inspired her to create and start a business in jewelry.
Lawe was part of a special exhibit of current and former students of the Institute of American Indian Arts, a Santa Fe art school that attracts students from across the globe. “There are a lot of international students there,” she says. “You’re not just getting a Native perspective, you’re getting perspectives from all over the world.” She graduated from the institute in 2017 after receiving her associate’s degree in liberal studies from Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kan.
“When I was a senior in high school I was looking into art schools,” says Lawe, who earned her GED two months ahead of what would have been her graduation date from Foothill High School. The death of her father, Jackson Lawe, Jr., a Karuk native, at the hands of a drunk driver in Sonora that year set her into a tailspin of anger and frustration, as she traveled between Redding and Sonora dealing with the legal fallout of the event.
The early death of her father, combined with the fact that “I don’t really know a lot about my tribe,” caused Lawe to pay close attention to the route her older sister had taken to Haskell. “It was very helpful, feeling like I belong in the community,” she says of her experience there. “Some of my best friends are from Haskell.”
While Haskell immersed her in an exploration of heritage, the Institute of American Indian Arts combined that cultural immersion with the path she’d felt a calling to, but hadn’t fully explored yet, a serious study of the arts. Since high school, she says, “I always made sure I had an art class every semester and those were the only ones I was motivated to get up and go to.” Still, she completed a certificate program in phlebotomy, taking two years to explore that path.
When phlebotomy proved unsuccessful and uninspiring, she found her way to Santa Fe. “It was very much on a whim,” she says with a laugh. Once there, she applied to the Institute of American Indian Arts and immersed herself in the study of photography.
Her senior project was a series of graffiti photos called Urban Petroglyphs. “It was about finding graffiti and how it changed a place. A lot of the places were in L.A. Some in Albuquerque, some in Denver. Another thing I like to do is find abandoned buildings.”
As she sold her jewelry at Indian Market, many of her friends from school were puzzled by her medium, thinking she was primarily a photographer. “That’s the thing about being an artist,” she says. “You just have to create. It doesn’t even matter what you’re doing.” Jewelry making is an art she learned at age 10 from her maternal grandmother. “I grew up visiting her every summer and helping her at craft fairs,” she adds. She would visit the big Tucson Gem Show with her grandparents and now attends on her own to stock her business.
Today, settled into a beautiful life with a partner from Ohkay Owingeh, a Pueblo just north of Santa Fe, and their 18-month-old son, Kai, Lawe continues to create photographs and jewelry, while also serving as assistant manager of the famed Jean Cocteau Theater in Santa Fe, owned by George R.R. Martin, creator of Game of Thrones. Lawe oversees the bar, yet another place to infuse her creativity in the form of inspired cocktail specials. She also wire-wraps the collectible Game of Thrones coins that are sold in the theater.
She remains in close contact with her Redding-based mentor, Marlyss Johnson, a graphic designer who encouraged her from an early age, as well as her mom and stepdad, Sheri and Randy Barber, owners of Bikes Etc. in Redding. She is also nourished by close relationships with both her maternal and paternal grandmothers.
“In the end, I did go to art school,” Lawe says with a laugh, reflecting on the numerous twists and turns on the path that took her there. “And I got to move to Santa Fe.” •
Mineral & Meridian • www.mineralandmeridian.com