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Setting the World on Fire: A Second Life for Buddy Lee

 

Mitch had been undecided about wearing his enormous Bolo, of a traditional Native Man carved from Walrus Ivory and adorned with vibrant Turquoise, to the Santa Fe Flea Market that hot summer day. It created its own atmosphere that invited people to approach. Mitch liked people. He liked talking to them and showing them one of his prized possessions but sometimes, it would be nice to be himself without explanation. Once again, however, showing the world who he was won out over the exhaustion it required. Soon a cowboy-hatted man with the white mustache and untucked denim shirt approached but not as people usually did. This man was crying. The flea market patrons were as oblivious to their sunburned necks as they were to the momentous meeting that was occurring. Pointing to Mitch’s chest the man choked out “I made that for my best friend twenty years ago. He recently passed away and I never guessed I’d see it again.” “Wait,” said Mitch surprised, “Are you Buddy Lee? The artist?” “I am that” was his reply. It was a providential moment with eternal ramifications for both Mitch and Buddy. The pair quickly grew as thick as thieves, but good thieves, who stole only of each other’s time and honored each other’s loves and talents. Eventually, they grew so close that they considered each other family for the remainder of their lives. Buddy Lee was a caring and selfless father and Mitch, a loving and encouraging son. He is so encouraging, in fact, that three years after Buddy’s death Mitch is resurrecting his father’s legacy. 

Buddy Lee Mossman, a Santa Fean and one of the most unique artists of the Southwest, was born in Missouri, and, he claimed, of Choctaw descent. His creative forces began to emerge in the 1980s at which time he began teaching himself the art of silversmithing.  Buddy drew from the works of three late great artists: renowned Chiricahua Apache sculptor, Allan Houser (Haozous), Master Hopi Silversmith. Charles Loloma and Spanish Great, Pablo Picasso. While his pieces mirror the Sacredness of Houser, the Decorativeness of Loloma and the Surrealism of Picasso, Mossman was an artist in his own right.  Buddy considered his Jewelry sculptures. The smallest simplest ring to the biggest ornamental Kachina Bolo was sacred.

In fact, Ortega’s recognized and showcased his creativity years ago. In, 2013 Indian Market Magazine, Ortega’s featured a sculpture of his that was also a pin, a necklace, a ring, and earrings all in one. His ingenuity far outreached the mere labels of sculptor and jeweler. He was an artistic pioneer.

Since 2018, the year of Buddy’s death, however, Buddy’s case at Ortega’s had slowly dwindled to just two pieces. Like a godsend, however, Mitch approached us with not only his collection of Mossman Treasures but a fervent desire to share Buddy’s beauty with the world. Mitch can easily be labeled the most passionate collector of Buddy’s Jewelry. He even admitted, “I was selfish…When Buddy’s wife Kathy would put things on Facebook I’d buy them before anyone else could.” Yet, what Mitch considers selfishness might just as easily have been an unconscious selfless foresight. Because now, luckily for us, a trove of Buddy Lee treasures are available again to the public. 

Mitch’s love of not just his art but also Buddy’s personal self provides a window into an artistry that we might not otherwise know. For example, without Mitch we might not be apprised of the true reason for the reoccurring Angel motif in Mossman jewelry. One of our newest pieces and one of my favorites is this Exquisite Angel Necklace.

This beauty features an angel who also resembles a sun maiden. Her face is made of Carnelian from which hang two dainty Turquoise earrings. Her delicate Sterling Silver wings open to reveal a potpourri of complicatedly fitted stone: Heavenly Mother of Pearl, Natural Salmon Coral, Turquoise and Natural White Coral. She hangs gracefully from a hand-forged chain adorned with more deep Carnelian stones. This entire piece is a fitting memorial to real angels. Buddy told Mitch that angels would appear in his dreams with visions for his work. Upon awaking Buddy would head to his studio and work diligently without rising until the pieces were finished. Whether it was two in the afternoon or two in the morning, he would obey his muses.  It does seem that he was supernaturally blessed with not only creativity but also the energy to fulfill his creative yearnings.

For quite some time before their meeting, Buddy Lee had begun working in more contemporary fashionable forms but, at Mitch’s urging, he resurrected his first style of African and Native influences. One of these forms was the sacred Corn symbol. Both the pueblo and nomadic Native Americans hold the Corn in high regard. Naturally, it symbolizes fertility and prosperity. Cornstalks, kernels, and pollen play a feature role in many rites, rituals, and arts of the native people. Currently, we have procured Four Separate Corn Pieces: A Bolo, a Necklace, a Cuff, and a Ring!

Through this Bolo Buddy gives the Corn a distinguished place of honor in the canon of art history by pairing it with the masterful techniques of his predecessors. The face and three stone turquoise headdress is a sure nod to Loloma, the two feathers and rounded face ring of Allan Houser and the amorphous body recalls Picasso’s abstract forms. The Turquoise Corn itself with its precisely and meticulously carved kernels, whether intentional or not, mirrors the Navajo regard for the perfectly symmetrical corn cob.

Yet as already discussed, it wasn’t just Southwestern Native Culture that Buddy Honored. Many of his pieces are inspired by Inuit tribes. Isn’t that amazing?!!! A Man who lived in the heat of the Southwestern Desert praising the insight of the Arctic and Subarctic people???!!! Although Buddy made many such figures, I will focus on just one.  This piece always elicits a surprised exclamation of joy. At first glance, it is an amazing Inuk figure, maybe human, maybe angel, with a vibrant Mookite body and arms or wings of sleek bent sterling silver. Its elegant face features simple lines and holes. His eyes even seem to be two fish (a typical staple of Inuit people) imprinted with plant symbols of fertility and hope.  But on the side of the face there is a small clasp that, when opened, reveals more.  Underneath the first face is another human face wrapped in otherworldly silver fur. This second face, carved from fossilized walrus bone is more intricate, more beautiful, and more human.

 

His eyes seem to gaze knowingly at his beholder, almost as if it is Buddy Himself saying “See, I’m still here and even better than ever. This is my second life.” I end this newsletter with this piece because it epitomizes a resurrected Buddy Lee. I knew of Buddy Lee. I knew his work was interesting but I did not know him at the level I do now. I am sure there are many levels left to discover of this incredible man and some I may not even reach on this side of the veil.  I am grateful to Mitch for not giving up on his yearning to promote Buddy’s Legacy. 

Mitch’s persistence and Buddy’s art remind me of St. Catherine of Sienna who encouraged with the words, “Be Who God Meant you to be and you will Set the World on Fire.” It is important to note that those fires don’t always burn hot, fast and immediately. Sometimes, they are small sparks that in time encompass the Globe without the ignitor even being aware.  Mitch, wearing Buddy’s piece that hot summer day, ignited an eternal friendship, a true necessity for both. That eventually led Mitch to reach out and kindle a small flame in me.  Similar to our experience with this Inuk, I believe that there is much more beauty and potential beneath the surface of Buddy Lee pieces than they initially suggest. The fruit of these pieces is not limited to first, second or even third viewing. In fact, I believe, the power of his pieces (like all good art) extends far beyond their aesthetic impression and even beyond time and space. Their beauty, in turn, has the ability to ignite in its buyers, and admirers the potential to be who “God meant THEM to be” in their own beautiful ways, large and small, that they too may “set the world on fire.”

Please visit our Website to see what Fires Buddy Ignites in you. More Buddy Lee Pieces can be seen in our online collection. 


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