Using her father’s tools, Rebecca Frazier creates jewelry that celebrates mother nature
By Laurel Miller
Photographs by Katie Cowden
Lefty the Border Collie deftly snatches the hawk feather from my hatband as I kneel to greet him. His appreciation of found objects clearly echoes that of his mistress, silversmith and jeweler Rebecca Frazier, whose creations reflect her deep love of the natural world and her seventh-generation Texas heritage.
I discovered Frazier’s work at Feather’s Vintage, which exclusively carries her designs, primarily necklaces. I was immediately captivated by her oxidized and beaded silver chains from which dangled tiny bobcat claws (more on that in a minute), stubby crystals and amber capped with stamped silvers. Delicate, lariat-style necklaces showcased shed deer antlers and African porcupine quills adorned with seed-sized Mexican fire opal, turquoise, lapis, moonstone and coral. I was smitten.
As the child of a retired veterinarian from Tucson, I felt connected to Frazier’s designs. My paternal grandmother wore copious amounts of turquoise and silver jewelry and I still own a Navajo-designed cuff – half of a matching set my mom bought for us at a roadside stand in Monument Valley. Since I was very young, I’ve collected shed antler, bone fragments and other natural ephemera. Typically, I’m not moved by jewelry, but I knew that I needed to meet Rebecca Frazier, which is how I ended up interviewing her at her South Austin home studio.
Frazier grew up in Wimberley working alongside her father, the late silversmith Thomas Wofford Frazier. “He owned a jewelry shop, Eye of the Medicine Man, and I was the kid with ADHD attached to his hip,” she recalls. “He’s my inspiration for making jewelry and how I live my life. There’s a great song, ‘Cosmic Cowboy,’ that really describes my dad.”
Now 31, Frazier still has family in Wimberley. “My mom was an art teacher and my dad’s parents were rock hounds and lapidarists who also did silver castings. My parents divorced when I was six but remained close, and I was so lucky to have a family who nurtured my interests.”
She created her first design at the age of four when she soldered a ring and by 12, was selling her jewelry. She and her father would haunt rock shops, sourcing stones. “We’d talk to the old hippies who hung out there and dig around in record stores – music reminds me of working in the studio with him,” says Frazier. “He loved The Byrds, Joe Cocker…listened to a lot of Townes Van Zandt. Lefty is named after one of his songs.”
Another love shared by father and daughter was vintage Navajo and Hopi jewelry and old silversmithing techniques. Today, Frazier is in possession of his silver stamps and uses them in her designs. “I’m inspired by nature, being outside in the Hill Country and desert, and Native American and Mexican art and architecture. I never get sick of silver, turquoise and coral,” she says. “I try to make each piece unique and all of my chains are beaded and knotted by hand; I make them from sterling silver and burnish them with steel wool to give them a patina.” Frazier also does custom work, including items made with vintage objects. (Case in point: I brought her a tiny silver and mother-of-pearl pocketknife that belonged to my mother, and asked her to design a lariat chain).
From an early age, Frazier knew she wanted to follow in her father’s footsteps. “I wasn’t super-strong academically. [Jewelry design] is all I knew how to do, all I wanted to do,” she says. “I was educated to know it was hard to earn a living as an artist, so I worked in the retail and wholesale sides of the industry and took silversmithing classes. I was always hustling.”
When her father passed away in early 2015, Frazier found herself in possession of his tools, some of which he’d purchased from antique shops; others were handed down by his own parents. “I used to make and sell jewelry using stones he cut, but I can’t do it since he died,” she says. “There’s some pieces of my dad floating around in the world.”
Responsible sourcing of raw materials is also at the core of her work. “I’d feel as if I were falsely advertising if I didn’t use the real thing,” she says. “I don’t buy materials online and I focus on buying from family businesses. It costs more but it’s important to support people who do things right. I also like buying in person, so I go to rock shops and gem shows in Tucson, Santa Fe and Albuquerque.”
Frazier’s turquoise is from the the U.S. and Mexico, procured from “local families who own mines. I don’t buy from China.” The silver is from the Rio Grande; amber and other semi-precious stones come from suppliers in Washington State who work directly with families in Mexico who do the lapidary work.
Procuring the found objects for her designs is just as rooted in ethics for Frazier. While many designers source animal by-products from the fur trade (I contacted several on Etsy who told me they purchased their bobcat, badger and coyote claws from trappers), Frazier relies on “local roadkill, taxidermists and friends who hunt coyotes and feral hogs for population control. I also find shed antlers myself. Growing up in Wimberley, you appreciate things like keeping it in the local economy,” she says.
As we wind up our conversation and discuss ideas for my necklace, I ask Frazier how she describes her designs. She thinks for a moment, then says, “Hill Country-inspired, Western gyspyesque?” Her eyes light up. “They’re Cosmic Cowboyish.”