Artist Profile-Les Baker jewelry designer

June 05, 2014

Les Baker was a well-known southwest jewelry artist who designed and also made jewelry himself.  Although he was Anglo he employed many Native American silversmiths throughout the years, most notably Fritson Toledo, the great Navajo artist. 

Les had a great deal to do with the success of the Stagecoach.  We have sold more Les Baker jewelry throughout the years than any other jewelry artist.  But beyond that, Les was a great mentor and friend to Susan and Gary, here at the Stagecoach.  Back in the late 1970’s Gary called Les about selling his jewelry.  Gary and his father, Jim, met Les in Denver and have sold his jewelry ever since.   In the early 1980’s, Gary spent a week in Albuquerque while one of Les’ Navajo silversmiths taught Gary the craft.  This was one of the turning points at the Stagecoach.  We could now size our own sterling silver and gold rings and eventually make our own jewelry right here at the Stagecoach.  This was and is a huge advantage in selling jewelry as our knowledge of the craft went up exponentially.    And for all this, Les asked nothing in return.

Les was born in 1935 and when he was older joined the Navy.  He told me once that he lied about his age to get into the Navy and became one of the youngest Navy pilots ever.  After the Korean War he headed back to New Mexico and became interested in American Indian jewelry.  His wife at the time (ex-wife now) wanted a Navajo squash blossom necklace but Les couldn’t afford it.  He was always resourceful and since Les didn’t have the money to purchase the squash blossom he figured he would try making one himself.  It turned out so nice that when Les’ wife was at a party with Edith Maisel, the “Queen of Indian Jewelry” was so impressed that she offered Les a job.  Maisel helped popularize “Indian Jewelry” and though it wasn’t actually handmade, Maisels’ offered many Native Americans a job and increased the awareness of this art form.  This was Les’ big break and he later also learned from the great Native American artist Carl Louthy.

Eventually Les opened his own shop and was at the right time and the right place when the great “Indian Jewelry” boom in the 1970’s hit.  Everybody wanted this turquoise Indian jewelry, from celebrities to the common man and woman.  Les teamed up for a while with Bing Crosby (not the singer but the Indian Trader) and at one time had around 50 Native Americans working for him.

Les developed his signature look, the swirling free flowing scroll work with leaves and flowers which he used throughout his life.  He was one of the first to incorporate gold and diamonds into “Indian Jewelry”.  Even though he had his own signature “look”, he was an expert at many different styles and techniques.  He was always our go-to-guy for custom work. 

It was from Les Baker that I learned to pay attention to the quality of the work.  Les paid great attention to the little details of the work, used heavy ring shanks when many others tried to cheap out and always used wonderful turquoise stones.  Whenever I needed a turquoise stone that a customer wanted I was sure that Les could find it for me, even the rare ones.

Les Baker passed away February 13, 2014 and left behind his lovely wife Shirley and his children.  Les will be greatly missed for his craftsmanship and especially his friendship.  We still have a nice selection of Les Baker turquoise jewelry that can be found here.



5 Responses

Mark
Mark

February 14, 2016

My wife bought me a absolutely crazy wonderful work of art for our anniversary. It is in the form of a pair of watch tips bad band. Turn are some of the best silversmithing I’ve ever seen. I catch myself just looking at them thinking about them being created. I had to find out more about the artist who crafted these. I somehow feel more, I’m sure of the word to describe it but more in tune with this piece. I always like to know the history and biography of the artist as I’m sure that they would like to know just how did I or all appreciate his fine work and craftsmanship. These have found a home forever, many thanks to Les Barker.

Miriam
Miriam

September 22, 2015

I love to know your feedback on my coral watch cuff with a hallmark L B has an eagle between L and B. Love to send picture. Approximately when was it made. Thank you. Miriam

Deborah Draper
Deborah Draper

September 16, 2015

I found two great pieces of jewelry in an old box from an estate sale. They have been identified as the work of Les Barker. I gave them to a friend who is delighted with the pieces. She wants to know as much about him as she can. She feels a connection with the pieces. Could you please give us his actual birthdate. And where he is buried. And maybe any other info that would help my friend connect even more with her new jewelry.

Brittany
Brittany

February 05, 2015

My mother bought a beautiful bracelet in the early 90’s on a trip to New Mexico and I wear it every day. I get compliments all the time and someone once was so excited to see it and asked me “is that a les baker!?” I had no idea so I took it off and there was a “B” engraved in the back of it. I still wasn’t sure because I had never heard of him before I just knew I loved my moms bracelet so much so I did my research and I’m almost positive it is one of his. I Want more and visit two dog often and send links to my dad requesting gifts made by les..hasn’t gotten me very far just yet but one day when I can afford it I hope to purchase more beautiful pieces. The bracelet is so special and I couldn’t find one exactly like it anywhere

jean campbell
jean campbell

June 30, 2014

Hello,i just bought a ring from Two Dogs,this past Saturday,when i saw a ring with the leaves an flower an a Picasso marble in greys&black,so unique,i wanted it so bad,it was a size 8 but Sue DeYoung was able to make it an 8 an a half.she told me about Les, i had never knew of him,such a beautiful piece of jewelry,i shall treasure this ring as long as i live an i am 70,i wish he was still here so i could say thank you.Shirley so sorry of your loss,my husband Al passed 9yrs ago at 61,we had 33 married years together,i still miss him so,so i know how you feel.May god be with you during this sad time. jean

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