Arizona ArtBeat: Bolo Ties

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A look at the official state neckwear of Arizona with bolo tie aficionado Norman Sandfield. His collection of bolo ties is part of a new exhibit at the Heard Museum in Phoenix.

Ted Simons: On tonight's "Arizona artbeat," we take a look at the official state neckwear of Arizona with Bolo tie aficionado Norman Sandfield. I recently spoke with sandfield about his tie collection, which is part of a new exhibit of American Indian Bolo ties at the Heard Museum in Phoenix.

Ted Simons: Norman, thank you for joining us on "Horizon."

Norman Sandfield: Thank you.

Ted Simons: Before we get into the beautiful neckwear, what got you started into collecting Bolo ties?

Norman Sandfield: I avoided them for many years, but a friend bought me a silver and turquoise, and I decided to get a Bolo to go with it and left the shop with two and two led to three and four and then I started study I didn't think them and looking at the back, which is part of the story and the next thing I knew, I was a student of the art form.

Ted Simons: Was there an ‘aha' moment or before you knew it, knee deep in Bolo ties?

Norman Sandfield: Knee deep, that's what it is.

Ted Simons: Define what it is.

Norman Sandfield: It's an ornament, does not have to be silver and turquoise, up front and center on a braided leather cord and the tips are functional. They keep the leather from unraveling and you slide it up and down to take it on and off. The more higher up, the more formal it is.

Ted Simons: Where did they come from, any inspiration?

Norman Sandfield: Go back to the 1870s and 1880s, they were wearing things that looked like Bolo ties and in the native American community, in through the mid 20th Century, native Americans wearing various things around their neck that would be a scarf slide as we call it today. And the Cowboys, and around 1948, they magically morphed from a scarf to a braided leather cord. Anonymous artists doing work in the shops weren't listed in catalogs, weren't listed in advertising. They really didn't appear in print the media until 1954.

Ted Simons: Generally in the west?

Norman Sandfield: No, the -- the advertising was national. A non-native company called Hickok out of New York patented a piece very similar to the early native pieces and started marketing it with press releases, advertising across the country.

Ted Simons: And that's the general Bolo ties we're talking about?

Norman Sandfield: Yes.

Ted Simons: What differentiates the garden variety Bolo from American Indian Bolo ties?

Norman Sandfield: They both developed into a high-end art form. Started out as keystone chain-shaped pieces, maybe an inch high, with a simple leather cord, nothing fancy and ended up using the keystone shaped pieces as the backings and putting larger and larger elements on the front. Whether it's made by native artists or non-native artists, it doesn't matter. A region is famous for woodwork and they have fine pieces. And there's lacquer pieces from Japan. Similar to from Spain. There's Bolo ties in Australia that have jade in them. In the midwest, you've got beaded Bolo. And Alaska, fossilized ivory.

Ted Simons: There's one on this stand that's gorgeous. Tell us about the craftsmanship.

Norman Sandfield: It's a beautiful piece by Richard SOZI. It's textured with grains of silver which he has sort of made a texture out of by adding it after the cast. And added inlay, I believe. I can't see it from here; coral and turquoise and fossil ivories.

Ted Simons: This is brand new.

Norman Sandfield: Yes.

Ted Simons: The Bolo tie is hardly a dying art form.

Norman Sandfield: No, it's just been quiet for a few years. If you see, go to the TV shows, you'll see it on "Glee" and on "burn notice" and I forget the name of the other one.

Ted Simons: That's all right. You've said enough as far as the modern element. Describe what we're looking at here.

Norman Sandfield: This is a beautiful piece by Don Wallace who is from -- from the northwest coast area. A woman holding a seal, using fossilized ivory again. A completely different style than the southwest. Of course. This other piece, you cannot believe until you get close to it.

Ted Simons: It's a house.

Norman Sandfield: It's a house, a hunting lodge, and if you look in the window, you'll see the hunter in there. If you look at the lower quarter under the ice you'll see a fish. And an eagle in the branches and if you had a magnifying glass, way in the background, there's dots, other birds coming in or leaving. If I turn it differently, there's water in the barrel. And there's a rain barrel with a piece of turquoise.

Ted Simons: My goodness! How old?

Norman Sandfield: New in the past year. The first piece is made for me. This one I grabbed up. It's by a brilliant artist.

Ted Simons: Are Bolo ties more of a finer craft? They're not mass-marketed anymore, are they?

Norman Sandfield: Yes. If you go on the internet, you'll find them from $10 up, brand new pieces, just like any art form. Expensive ones, $10,000 or $15,000 or $35,000, you can do that. These are not in that range yet. But like any native American or non-native art form, all qualities and prices and styles.

Ted Simons: How many Bolo ties do you own?

Norman Sandfield: The best of my collection is in the property of the Heard Museum in Phoenix and so they get the good stuff. These are pieces I collected since the exhibit.

Ted Simons: You have hundreds, thousands?

Norman Sandfield: I had over a thousand.

Ted Simons: Did you really?

Norman Sandfield: Yes, but some weren't exciting. I'm only showing you the good ones.

Ted Simons: Of course. Friends and family, did they say, Norman, you've gone off the deep end with the Bolo ties. What are you doing?

Norman Sandfield: No, it's a family philosophy, anything worth doing is worth overdoing. If this were about collecting, I wouldn't be here. It's about education and research, and the fact we've taken a collection and merged it with a beautiful collection at the Heard Museum, written a book and put on a show and teaching people what this is about. The front and back of the Bolo and the history.

Ted Simons: Twice you've mentioned the back being important. What's so important about the back of a Bolo tie?

Norman Sandfield: The fitting. Most people don't care, of course. This is an unusual fitting in the style of victor cedarstaff, associated with the early Bolo ties.

Ted Simons: There we go.

Norman Sandfield: And he patented this. Actually patented this fitting. The other one is a -- just a simple bar of silver cut out. But I don't have examples with me, but there's some mass manufactured fittings known as the Bennett clip. They were mass produced. It says patent pending. He never patented it, but put it there to scare off the competition. We're still searching for Mr. Bennett.

Ted Simons: I feel like we're on Antique Roadshow here, you're telling us a lot more about bolo ties than I even knew existed. Is it Bolo tie or BOLA tie?

Norman Sandfield: Both. Actually BOLO, string tie, Texas tie, lariat tie. Yolk tie. All of these have been applied in written advertising, in patents. The Bolo tie society who helped to make this the official state tie, they believe in the bola word, but they've been overcome by history. The most popular phrase on the internet today is Bolo.

Ted Simons: We'll leave it at that. Call it what you want, but absolutely beautiful stuff.

Norman Sandfield: Thank you very much, appreciate it.

Ted Simons: American Indian Bolo ties are on exhibit at the Heard Museum in Phoenix until September of next year.

Norman Sandfield:Bolo Tie collector;

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