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From F Street to Fifth Avenue

Article by Ray James

Local Artists – January 1996 – Colorado Central Magazine

Salida’s F Street and New York’s Fifth Avenue at first (or even 50th) glance would seem to have little in common, but both are parts of Michael Boyd’s world.

The 36-year-old Boyd constructs silver, gold, and stone jewelry at his North F Street studio, a single-story appendage of the Victoria Tavern and Hotel. That work — from cuffs (bracelets) and pendants to rings — moves to market at galleries in Santa Fé, Philadelphia and Milburn, N.Y., a tony, country-club area north of New York City. In April, Boyd has a show scheduled at the Aaron Faber Gallery on the Big Apple’s Fifth Avenue, just across from the Museum of Modern Art.

Boyd also sells his multi-textured, multi-layered and colorful pieces in the cozy display space in the front of his Salida studio, that is, when there’s enough to display. Demand is high for Boyd’s work, in part because of attention garnered from such exposure as a cover story with full-page cover photograph in the September issue of Lapidary Journal, one of jewelry arts signal publications, and too, because of Boyd’s adherence to following his own path.

From the dark look that crosses his boyish face and dulls the quick smile, it’s clear that Boyd doesn’t like to talk seriously about his art, but continued prompting unearths his roots.

He notes that he grew up in a family of artists; that his Wyoming-born mother is an artist and he has considered himself an artist since childhood.

“All I’ve ever done is art,” Boyd said, “except for a few odd jobs here and there.”

He says his father, typical of a true Westerner, never threw away anything and that thrift meant much to the growing artist. “He grew up on a ranch that covered most of what is now Westminster,” Boyd says, “and like most ranchers I’ve known, he saved everything. We had two or three of everything, whether it was material or a kiln or torches. It was there when I needed it, when I got interested in that medium.”

Boyd learned art at home, and at school, even during the summers. That exploration continued through his graduation from Mountain Open High School, what Boyd describes as a “hippie” experimental public school at Evergreen, west of Denver. It was called “open living” then, he explains, and although students had to meet Jefferson County school standards, they could accomplish those almost any way.

“We learned biology, in part, from studies conducted from canoes in Florida’s Okefenokee Swamp, and geology in Utah’s canyonlands,” Boyd says. “It was great.”

He admits that despite his solid foundation in art, and his more-than-modest success selling the paintings that he turned out in a communal studio loft in lower downtown Denver (“before LoDo was LoDo”), by 1988 he was burned out.

“I think part of it was painting for an audience,” Boyd says, “rather than painting for myself, my own expression.”

He returned to jewelry, he says, an art form he had embarked upon at 12 and had continued as a hobby. He also left Denver and moved south, ending up in the San Luis Valley. After an exploitative and negative experience working with a better-known jewelry maker, Boyd struck out on his own. By 1991 he “found” Salida and because it was home to such art giants as Mel and B Strawn, and Chris Byars, he decided to move.

His negative experiences have led Boyd to establish a more equal relationship, both artistically and economically, with his apprentice-assistants. He credits David LaVercombe, who currently helps execute Boyd’s designs, with helping move along the process, the evolution that is his work.

“We learn techniques and skills and share them with each other,” Boyd said.

In Salida, Boyd bought a downtown building as a home and income source. He immersed himself in his work but also decided to join with the growing arts community to promote Salida as an art source for the wider world.

Forced to focus on what he does, Boyd says, “Well, physically it’s jewelry, so it has a function. The materials I use include silver for the frames, and stones from common granite to semi-precious and precious stone from every continent, and high-carat gold.

“Emotionally it’s a process, a discovery, a journey. A constant evolution; exploring different forms. There’s a spiritual aspect of that to me. A lot of what I do is an expression of self, but it becomes very difficult to describe because it is not `narrative.’ It doesn’t tell a story, it doesn’t express social issues, but for me it goes deeper than that in the sense that it’s more primitive, just feeling, just a mood. It’s color and form.

“I’m not even sure it is art,” Boyd says of his jewelry. “But it is an expression of myself and it is successful. I obviously connect with the people who collect my work. People come in and say, `I like this, can you go in that direction for me?’ And I say `sure.’ But if they come in and say, `I’d like a piece of lapis [lazuli] with this thing on the side,’ it becomes their work and not my work, and I can’t do other people’s work. I don’t do dragon rings with pearls in their mouths.

“My success has given me the freedom to do the work I want and not a lot of commission work and custom work,” Boyd says.

Boyd says that while his work reflects tradition in the materials he uses — silver and precious, semi-precious and ordinary stones — he doesn’t see anyone else in the national or international jewelry scene doing work that looks like his. That could help explain why Boyd’s jewelry can cover the distance between New York and Salida so easily. Now, galleries on the East Coast that once showed his paintings, show his jewelry.

He adds that working in Salida helps keep him isolated from others in the art, and that keeps his work unique. When he moved here in 1992 he was looking for isolation, but for isolation with social connection. That social connection comes not only from other artists but also cafés and, now, coffeehouses and bakeries.

Boyd says he sees Salida as one of the last unspoiled mountain towns in Colorado, a loss he laments as a fourth-generation Westerner.

“I don’t approach my work by looking at other jewelry,” he says. “It’s had its own evolution.”

Much the same can be said of the artist.

Ray James is the former editor of Ah, a former news director of KVRH radio, a former managing editor of The Mountain Mail, a retired taxi driver, and the former chef at the Cranberry Kitchen.