Bob Scott’s Authentic Indian Jewelry and Fine Gifts in Grand Lake preserves Native American culture
for Sky-Hi News
When children walk into Bob Scott’s Authentic Indian Jewelry and Fine Gifts in Grand Lake, their parents often warn them to put their hands in their pockets. “Do not touch anything,” they’ll say.
Each time Bob overhears this, he steps out from behind the counter.
“There’s a lot of stuff in here. It’s all colorful and interesting and ethnic. Things children have likely never seen before. I want to encourage their curiosity,” he says.
In a silver concho shell belt with turquoise inlays, a bolo tie, black leather vest and electric blue, Buddy Holly style eyeglasses, Bob is as novel to children as the merchandise on offer. Now in his 70s, he’s been a fixture in Grand Lake for over 50 years.
“While I’m still able, I’ll kneel down so I can look the child right in the eye,” he says. He’ll present each child with a feather and tell them, “When a Native American gives you a feather, it means they want your friendship. In our store, you can touch anything you want. As long as you use that feather, you’re helping me to dust.”
It’s a clever way of freeing up the parents to shop while rewarding the child’s curiosity.
Originally from Texas, after high school Bob took a summer job at the Grand Lake Lodge. At the time, the lodge was owned by Mr. and Mrs. Ted James, Sr. The couple also had the exclusive rights to sell goods inside Rocky Mountain National Park. Their gift shop at the top of Trail Ridge Road was nationally known for its collection of Native American jewelry.
Bob was hired to work the front desk. One day, Mrs. James asked for his help setting up the gift shop for the season. Unbeknownst to her, Bob’s great aunt and uncle lived in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and were “conspicuous consumers,” of Native American jewelry. As Bob was unpacking, he was able to identify which tribe each piece came from. Mrs. James immediately transferred him from the front desk to the gift shop.
“She decided I was going to be her protege,” says Bob.
He and Mrs. James worked side by side until the day she died, at the age of 96. They spent 40 summers together. Before each season, they’d drive down to New Mexico to purchase goods for the summer.
“We’d buy a few hundred thousand dollars’ worth of merchandise, and this was 50 years ago,” Bob says.
Each year, as they approached the reservation, Mrs. James would turn to Bob and state their credo: “We’re going to go from every teepee to totem pole until we get just what we want for the summer.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Bob would say.
“Our Indian friends have a different life, a different culture and we will respect that. We will not embarrass ourselves nor insult the Indian craftsman by trying to negotiate prices.”
“If we can afford it and make a profit on it, we will. If not, we simply say, ‘No thank you.’”
After Mr. and Mrs. James, Sr. passed away, Bob stayed on for two years to help their children sell the business. In 2009, he left the lodge to open his shop on the boardwalk in Grand Lake, which he runs with his partner and close friend, Lou Lybrand.
Lou was a grade school teacher in Texas for 34 years. For the last decade of her career, Bob lured her and her family away from Texas every summer, furnishing them with a cabin in Grand Lake so long as Lou helped out in the gift shop. When he opened his own place and made her partner, she retired from teaching.
Lou made it clear she is not in the business for the money. With her pension, she could easily retire.
“I love the money I make here, it’s great,” she said. “But it’s more about preserving cultures.”
“We want to be supportive of our Native American artists,” Bob added. “All that you see around us here in the shop represents the culture of a number of different tribes.”
He explained how the techniques for making jewelry and other crafts are the same now as they were 1,000 years ago.
“They don’t go to Hobby Lobby and buy clay. They go to the banks of the Rio Grande with a pickaxe. If they make a rug, it starts with the sheep. They raise the sheep. They shear the sheep. They chord and clean the wool. They spin it. They dye it. Then they can start weaving the rug.”
Bob has been working with one family of Pueblo Indians — the Del Coriz family — for five generations. In 1990, the US Department of the Interior passed the federal Indian Arts and Crafts Act, a truth-in-marketing law, which made it illegal to “offer or display for sale any art or craft in a manner that falsely suggests it is Indian produced.”
The Department of the Interior put out a brochure, detailing what makes a piece of turquoise jewelry authentically Indian. To highlight their point, they included pictures of James Del Coriz’s work. Toward the end of each summer, Del Coriz, suspecting Bob and Mrs. James might be running low on merchandise, used to drive his grandmother from their home in New Mexico up to the top of Trail Ridge Road, so they could replenish their display cases with his grandmother’s work.
One season, Bob went to the Del Coriz’s home and was greeted outside by the grandmother. She informed Bob that her 6-year-old great-granddaughter, Jamie, had been borrowing some of her beads to make necklaces and bracelets in the Pueblo tradition.
“Jamie’s made all this stuff,” she said. “Could you just look at it? It’ll thrill her.”
Bob went inside and there was little Jamie, sitting at the kitchen table with her creations. He took one look and, using his arm like a rack, moved it all into the “keep” pile.
“Her color sense was just wonder,” Bob said.
Today, Jamie is a sophomore in college. She’s still making jewelry. Bob remains one of her biggest supporters.
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