Ray Tracey is nationally known and respected as one of the most outstanding Native American jewelers. Tracey, who was raised on a Navajo reservation in Ganado, Arizona, says his designs are inspired by stories, mythology and motifs that have been passed down through Native American culture.
“God blesses everyone with a variety of gifts and talents.” The Creator blessed Ray with the spirit of Creativity.
Inspiration is the basis for his creative spirit. Inspiration arrives in many forms and disguises when least expected. Hiking the canyons of the Southwest, where his ancestors did the same, gives Ray a feeling of reverence. Walking in peace with gratitude and thanksgiving opens up the senses to receive ideas. Petroglyphs carved on canyon walls turns into wearable art. Stories from an ancient past are re-lived on the faces of Yei pendants. The evening sky’s transformation of color inspired the Earth and Sky jewelry line. Once while golfing, a white butterfly landed on Ray’s golf bag and accompanied him down the fairway. This incident brought the Butterfly and Dragonfly design concept to reality. Having awareness of this special gift, he aspires to know the origin.
Artist Ray Tracey has had a life-long love of jewelry. As a child growing up in Sawmill, AZ, Asa Tracey, his Grandfather, influenced him with his stories of working the goat bellows for his uncle. Asa would pump the goat bellows all day long to fuel the fire in the forge that would melt silver in a small cast iron crucible. This process was very labor intensive and his grandfather hated it. The molten silver would then be poured into a tufa stone mold to form an ingot. The jeweler would then execute his craft and a new piece of jewelry would be created.
“I wanted to see finished jewelry and wanted to learn everything I could. Whenever we would go to Gallup, New Mexico, I would visit curio stores to see creations in silver.” Ray spent time viewing jewelry designs at the Gallup Intertribal Indian Ceremonial and at the Navajo Nation Fair. Anywhere, there was jewelry on display; Ray could be seen viewing the works of art.
Ray’s family moved to Ganado, AZ when he was six years old. One summer day when he was nine years old, he complained to his mother of how bored he was. The next day his mother enrolled him into summer school and changed his life forever. He went straight to art class and found a silver smithing table in the corner. He remembered his grandfather’s stories and the rest is history.
“In class I fabricated my first ring out of silver for my Mother. I found an unknown stone and made a cabochon. I tried to copy an old style ring design that I had seen at Hubbells Trading Post. One teardrop flanked the sides of the stone. It was a very simple design but it took me a week to finish. I kept melting the silver. I made my next silver and stone creation at the age of 21 and gave it to my mother. It was another ring, but this time it was a split shank with three ribs and three tear drops on the side of the stone.” I told my father, I want to make jewelry for the rest of my life.”
Ray continued making jewelry while attending Brigham Young University. Studying chemistry and physics by day and making jewelry at night. “The designs were simple, my first love was Old Style Navajo jewelry. Weekends were spent traveling to Gallup, NM, to sell his work. While at BYU another opportunity arose to express his creativity—acting. “I wasn’t a very good student so Hollywood had an instant appeal. My gift of creativity carried over into acting. Acting was just another outlet of creative expression.” His adventurous nature allowed Ray to spend several years as an actor in feature films and television. This acting detour never made him lose interest in jewelry design. Eventually, Ray’s love of jewelry brought him back to New Mexico to permanently pursue this art form.
“One time while traveling to Albuquerque from Gallup, I noticed the horizon over Laguna Pueblo. I saw steps on a mesa. I incorporated this imagery of tiered steps into a bracelet design.”
“Another time, while golfing at Hobble Creek Golf Course, I saw pebbles aligned in a row on the river bottom. Those pebbles became my inspiration to place them on the sides of an inlaid bracelet.”
“Sometimes my creativity comes to a screeching halt. When this happens I go to my roots; Old Style jewelry. That is the place of fascination. The Old Ones utilized rudimentary tools to create their simple, yet perfected, pieces of craftsmanship. From this point I am able to create from an inspiring idea. On the flip side, sometimes my mind becomes flooded with more designs than I can remember. Ideas come so quickly I can’t draw them fast enough.”
“When I see someone wearing one of my designs, it takes me back to the time when the piece was created. Sometimes I can recall what I was eating or even the music I was listening to. I will remember the inspiration that helped create that design.”
Ray has found his path or gift of self-expression that has blessed, enlightened, and influenced his life and others. Awareness of this special gift, fuels his energy and creativity. Inspiration helps to translate his creativity into artistic-visual expression. His creations stand as transitional figures from traditional to contemporary. He creates something good as he is drawn toward untouched fields of yet-to-be-discovered imagery. Unknowingly he is creating a legacy from which generations can learn and grow. Ray has learned to appreciate and embrace the journey of life and its gifts.