The energy inside Natchez Art Studio is palpable. A multigenerational exhibit consisting of 100-plus pieces titled Indian Without Reservation is going up in preparation for Indian Market.
Wiping the sweat from his brow, the elder Natchez, Stan, hammers away, while his son, Gino, photographs his latest batch of intricate beaded cuffs.
The term "wearable art" gets thrown around a lot these days (see designer Bob Mackie's QVC collection), but what the younger Natchez does is head and shoulders above anything else around.
Punctiliously emblazoned—with everything from iconic images of Che Guevara to Sioux medicine man Fool Bull donning a pair of Wayfarers—Natchez' creations marry the old with the new, and perfectly reflect the artist's upbringing.
"I started off as a traditional dancer," he says, adding that his grandmother, Dorothy Brave Eagle, is one of his greatest influences, as are the vivid colors and intricate textures of rooted dance regalia.
As a kid, he recalls his father took a few sets of beaded earrings the young Gino had created to a show in Denmark. The crowd went crazy.
"At 12 years old, I had collectors," he jokes.
Later, he'd tag along to art history classes his dad imparted at Arizona's Orme School, sparking his creative interest. A stint in Scottsdale's New School for the Arts would subsequently seal the deal, and Natchez started beading in different mediums, including canvas, before focusing on cuffs.
"I'd seen a couple of interesting proposals around town," he says, "but I kind of wanted to do my own thing."
His "thing" sprang from the bombardment of both pop culture and centuries-old imagery he grew up around. That's what the 30-year-old says continues to inspire him: "The time that I live in and the influences around me: flipping through magazines, music, pop art and its idols, you name it."
And so, he has immortalized Scarface, The Beatles, Chief Joseph, Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe, to name a few, in beads.
Averaging between two weeks and a month to create, each piece retails from $1,200 to $1,800; a price point, he says, is justified by the piece's meticulousness.
"It's really tedious work," he says. "You're sitting down eight hours a day and your eyes get strained."
Natchez is not concerned about offending old-school purists with his contemporary representations. "I feel that we're keeping it alive—keeping the tradition and what's been given to us alive through artwork," he muses.
Another motivator is the fact that some of his designs could be knocked off any minute by overseas manufacturers. "For me, as an artist, it just makes me wanna do more, do better, and it gives me [the] drive to keep creating and keep on pushing the box," Natchez explains.
"There is beadwork that has been replicated, but you can see the 'lesser-than' quality of it," he adds.
Helping his dad hang, the artist of Shoshone-Tataviam descent also says he's glad to be part of a generation of younger Native imagemakers, and is excited for what the future might bring. "It's definitely headed in the right direction. It basically comes down to the individual artist and how far they want to take it," he says.
And just how far does Natchez want to take it?
"As an artist, I just want to keep working every day and take it as far as the Creator lets me."