Glam girls and diamond divas take note: a fab fad just took a sharp turn towards sophisticated, intriguing chic.
And, you read it here first. Taos Pueblo artist Jeralyn Lujan Lucero is known for her innovation.
When Lucero was a student at the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) in Santa Fe, she painted with the usual acrylics and oils, but also with clay and fingernail polish.
As far as she knows, Lucero was the first artist to form Taos Pueblo's famous micaceous clay into large human forms. Her latest creative venture brings her art to the fingertips of high fashion. Lucero calls her invention Silver Sun Nails.
Her patented product is based on the popular press-on nail which has inspired a craze of finger fling bling. But, Lucero's invention is decidedly novel. Silver Sun Nails are handcrafted and designed from precious metals. Lucero's standard nails made from fine silver are priced at $275 for a full set of 10, or $65 a piece. Fine silver is 99.9 percent pure silver, as opposed to sterling silver which is 92.5 percent silver mixed with other metals, usually copper.
Unlike sterling silver, fine silver does not tarnish. Embellished with raised and engraved patterns, Silver Sun Nails are at once showy and subtle. The silver highlights fluid designs for a delicately complex and understated effect. The nails are made to fit on the most common finger shapes. But, Lucero also custom fits her nails to accommodate all finger shapes and sizes. Lucero can also custom design nails in fine gold or embellish them with turquoise or other gemstones. The result is dazzling, like wearing heirloom rings at the ends of one's fingers. Made to last, the nails can be handed down for generations.
The concept for Silver Sun Nails first came to Lucero when she was preparing herself for an art event.
"I was getting ready for a high-end show in Santa Fe. For a high-end show you just want to look beautiful. I was all dressed up. I had jewelry on. But, I had worked with a stain early in the day, and I had stained fingernails. I wanted to cover my nails. I never would wear plastic press-on nails, so I thought, 'Why not silver and turquoise?'"
Eager for a new challenge, Lucero began to research what it would take to execute her idea. Lucero studied jewelry- making techniques with Shirley Hughes for a couple of years to develop new skills.
"Lucero is a great artist," said Hughes. "She has this inborn talent ... this inborn creative spirit. Her idea is pretty unique."
Diana Bastagne has collected many of Lucero's clay sculptures and paintings since she first walked into the Taos Pueblo artist's shop over a decade ago. Lucero said Bastagne has told her she wants to gift the works she has collected to Lucero's children as their inheritance. Bastagne was one of the first people Lucero told about her idea for Silver Sun Nails.
"When you're doing something for the first time, there is no path to follow except the way you figure out. She's really worked hard at it," said Bastagne. "She's doing artwork on something the size of a fingernail. And, it is art — wearable art."
Lucero's fine art appears in many major collections and has been featured at the invitational Native Treasures in Santa Fe, as well as on the cover of the book "Spirit and Reason" by Vine Deloria, Jr.
"Jeralyn is a beautiful storyteller in her artwork," commented Bastagne. "Her artwork reflects her life. It reflects her personality. It reflects the things that are important to her, and they reflect the things she loves. It is true to her heart."
"I would encourage everybody to go to the Pueblo and meet her and see her shop and get to see these silver nails because they're completely unique," Bastagne concluded.
Lucero lived in Los Angeles until age 15 when she returned to Taos Pueblo with her parents, both of whom are full-blooded tribal members. She and her husband James Lucero have three children: Leon, Pauline and Dylan. Jeralyn Lujan Lucero is a corn dancer, teaches catechism to second-graders and has been active on the boards of Red Willow Education Center and the Taos Birth Center.
Lucero's primary way to give back to her community is through her artwork and shop. Sagebrush Deer Studio Gallery bursts with her colorful paintings depicting aspects of Pueblo life and expression. Along the walls are prints, cards and handmade soaps, including a new green chile/lemon soap made by Michelle Lewis of Soap Emporium with cover art by Lucero. The Silver Sun Nails are displayed alongside jewelry made by Lucero's husband and daughter and Roberta Pena, near beaded moccasins made by Aaron and Marie Martinez. Towards the back of the shop is pottery made by Lucero and her daughter.
Lucero's clay sculptures of women are reminiscent of the hills from which the Pueblo clay is dug. They show Lucero's dexterity in working with positive and negative space. The women's faces invite a second, and third, look. Their hands are prominent and unusually large.
When asked why she places such emphasis on the women's hands, Lucero responded, "The hands are so expressive. It makes the piece come together. Hands can do that."
Indeed, a quick glance around her shop reveals women's hands are everywhere in Lucero's art — dancing with corn, comforting babies, preparing food, smoothing pots. It seems fitting Lucero's newest creations draw attention to the beauty of women's hands.
"Our people have been working with clay for thousands of years. Creator gave me these good hands — that's why I do what I do — to give back to my community," says Lucero, who is proud to be one of many talented artists in her village. "There are so many good artists at Taos Pueblo. This pueblo is very unique because our people represent our culture through a variety of mediums," notes Lucero.
Aware that attracting new visitors to her shop also benefits other Taos Pueblo artists, Lucero plans to exclusively sell Silver Sun Nails through her Taos Pueblo shop.
"I am from the Pueblo here. If people want my nails I want them to come to this little tiny shop and find me here," Lucero emphasized.
She likes to encourage her visitors to support other artists at the Pueblo, to meet them and take home the drums, bows and arrows, tomahawks, moccasins, pottery, jewelry, paintings and other items they create. Lucero studied with Benny Buffalo (Cheyenne), Parker Boyiddle (Kiowa / Western Delaware), Kevin Red Star (Crow) at IAIA. She credits them and Bronx-born Taos artist Julian Robles as being major influences on her art. Lucero also sees herself as part of a global community of artists.
"I think all artists are connected by a creative ribbon that goes around the world," said Lucero. "Artists come into the shop sometimes who are doing the same thing I am doing, but working in different medium. We talk and talk. We're holding onto the same ribbon."
Jeralyn Lujan Lucero can be found at the Sagebrush Deer Studio Gallery, (575) 776-4686. The shop is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. except during times when Taos Pueblo is closed to the public. The Sagebrush Deer is located on the south side of the historic Taos Pueblo, across the river from the San Geronimo Chapel.