E komo mai... (Welcome, please come inside)
My name is Moses Thrasher. I design and make many of the pieces of jewelry currently on this site from my studio on the Big Island of Hawaii. I draw the original design; I carve the wax; I invest, alloy and cast the gold; I do all the clean-up and polishing by hand, and then I set the gemstones. Mahalo (thank you) for visiting my site.
It all started when I envisioned my true love draped in jewels. But we were young and poor and unable to afford such luxuries. Then the magic happened! It occurred to me that I could make it myself! I had just sold my silk screen printing business in Sausalito CA, paid all our bills and with the time and the money left over we set out on a journey that would eventually take us to my home in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. With a 1964 Chevy pick-up truck that I had converted to a camper, complete with stained glass windows, and a little Scotty trailer in tow, we set out to discover America. Our theme for the journey was to visit Indian reservations all across the Southwest staying at KOA campgrounds along the way. My grandmother was full blood Cherokee so I was searching for my heritage.
When we pulled up to the campground just outside of Flagstaff, AZ early one morning, we were told our campsite would not be ready until the afternoon. So we took off to explore the Hopi reservation. Having lots of time to kill, we found ourselves on the back roads of one mesa or another where we came across a crudely painted sign that read “Jewelry”. We were in the middle of nowhere, on a dirt road with no traffic. I was past the turn-off before my curiosity got the better of me. I stopped the truck and reversed with the trailer around the bend in the dirt road. My girlfriend was beside herself. She could not believe that I was going through this much effort to see some Indian jewelry. As she put it, “we’ve seen enough silver and turquoise to sink a battle ship, what is so important about this one?”
I couldn’t give her a reasonable answer, but kept going down the turn-off road, which ended about a half mile at a clearing with an amazing vista view of the desert landscape. There were a couple of derelict cars, some rusty parts and tires lying around, and a weathered wooden house. I parked, walked up on the porch and stepped over the sleeping dog to enter the door. I called out, but there appeared to be no one at home. I walked over to the far corner towards two jewelry cases.
What a shock! It was the most beautiful jewelry I had ever seen. Not your typical silver and turquoise Indian fare, but gold, lapis, opal and other precious gems. I was so confused. What was this incredible jewelry doing way out here? Then I heard banging coming from somewhere outside.
I walked out a side door to find an older Indian man crouched over a tree stump pounding on a piece of metal with a hammer. As I stood there I observed that he had a crude, but well organized semi-outdoor jewelry workshop. I was so fascinated that I forgot about my girlfriend waiting in the truck. She suddenly appeared and was understandably upset demanding that we get on with our day. I told her that I wanted to stay; no, I needed to stay, and convinced her to take the truck and have a nice day. He hardly spoke to me the first two days. Then it was “hold this” and “fetch that”. I came back every day for more than a week. By the time I needed to leave I had observed practically every jewelry making technique there is.
I was on fire! I wanted to stop everything and make jewelry right then. But we still had three more months on the road. On the way out of town we stopped at a bookstore. I bought a book on how to make jewelry. The first three chapters showed pictures of the tools and explained how to use them. The next was about metallurgy as it applies to jewelry. Then a little bit about gems as they relate to the jeweler. The remainder of the book was devoted to projects. There was a photo of a brooch and step-by-step instructions on how to make it, a photo of a ring, a bracelet, etc. There were about forty projects in the book.
My girlfriend had purchased a magazine called “Arizona Highways”. About an hour out of town she picked up her magazine and started flipping through it. Shortly she said, “Hey. Isn’t this that guy? He’s really famous!” Recognizing the jewelry in the photos, I pulled the truck off the side of the road and discovered that the Indian man, whose name I did not even know, was the foremost American Indian craftsman of the twentieth century. Royalty the world over owned his jewelry, as did presidents and captains of industry. He has pieces in the Smithsonian. His name was Charles Laloma.
I spent the next three months pouring over my book. Unable to set up a workshop and actually make the pieces by hand, I mentally, step-by-step, made every piece in the book. Had I known the old man was Charles Laloma, I never would have had the nerve to expect that I could spend so much casual time with him. This was my apprenticeship. This was my brush with a master. This was my destiny!
When we arrived back in California, I bought the necessary tools and equipment and set up a workbench inside our bedroom. I finally started to make jewelry. The first thirty or so pieces went to my girlfriend. There she was... draped in jewels, just as I had envisioned.