About James Reid, Ltd.
Designs that travel the world.
"Our sources are classic, and we return to them again and again. Everything that we make is an echo of something that we saw, felt or already knew, but the echo is muted and each expression newly made. Innovation is the byproduct of the pursuit of the ideal and inspiration the reward of diligence."
"It is hoped that our designs will stimulate a rapport within a community that includes the maker, the wearer, the giver, and the observer; between the maker and the public toward which the act of creation is directed and that includes everyone who appreciates the object for its inherent beauty and the ability of objects to effect a transference of complex human associations, dependent upon ideals of composition, as well as upon the circumstance of possession. Our designs are meant to be worn and to show wear, to reflect the character of the wearer, to attain the status of heirlooms."
James Reid, Ltd. is Santa Fe's best known maker of silver and gold belt buckles and accessories by virtue of integrity of design and quality of execution. Established in 1979, the house is famous both for original interpretations of Western Americana as well as for designs that transcend the parochial and aspire to the international; its objectives are born both of its regional origins as well as of its aspirations to the broader theater of contemporary design - to create "designs that travel".
Born in Texas in 1944, James Reid spent his childhood and adolescence in a number of communities from Fort Worth to the Panhandle to Houston. College was several abbreviated experiences. For most of the 60's he traveled the U.S. as part of that generational experience supporting himself by a variety of odd jobs, self taught crafts, and living off the land. By the early 70's he was making a living as a silversmith and trader in Taos and Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Pagosa Springs, Colorado. Through his trading exposure to antique examples, he became fascinated by the form lines and techniques of the early Navajo silver working tradition. The historic, nomadic circumstance of the native smiths, their use of primitive technology and available materials, and the sudden emergence in the latter third of the 19th century of a classic metal working tradition, provided a seminal inspiration.
Indian smiths in 1970 were working in styles only tenuously related to the classic period. With the coming of the railroad in the 1880's, and with the introduction of new materials and greater access to specialized tools, more commercially viable designs replaced the older styles created for local consumption. By the 1930's, with the demise of the old smiths, an era had ended and was soon largely forgotten.
By the early 1970's, in several locations in the Southwest, including Taos, Santa Fe, Pagosa Springs, and Flagstaff, a new generation of non-Indian craftsmen and itinerate traders emerged. Most were products of the 60's counter culture, and had been drawn by the mystique of the Southwest, of the promise of simplified lifestyles, by its alien cultures, and by the anti industrial appeal of handcrafts. Somewhat paradoxically, similar urges were creating large scale commercial demand for things of Western Americana or of Indian origin. While some of the new work was merely derivative and opportunistic, standards were generally high, influenced by idealism and by examples of classic era pieces that were then occasionally still available in the trade, as well as in private and public collections, and by the rediscovery and adoption of traditional techniques. Many pieces of this new period were of exceptional quality and demonstrate an understanding of the classic themes and form lines, to the point of making original statements within that framework, or moving beyond the classic to create a new and recognizable style echoing but not limited to traditional expressions. "Most of the smiths of that era were self-taught or we learned it together as we went along. The romance of our time resonated with the romance of an earlier time. Our re-creation was less imitative than emulative of an art form that was no longer practiced. Each artist developed a style recognizably his own. As our renaissance progressed, traditional Navajo form lines became one of several themes that evolved to produce an amalgamation of related styles under the general heading of 'Southwestern'."
James Reid, Ltd. was founded with the intent of creating a label under which hallmarked, high quality designs of the revivalist movement could be marketed. It was also important from the beginning to develop new directions that would take the craft beyond the limitations of revivalism: that such might be a starting place to develop a unique tradition, and that the label ultimately might be thought of as not limited by its regional association. While the early James Reid, Ltd. smiths were largely self taught, and the tradition of passing the craft through hands-on experience continues, the current workshop is in many ways more sophisticated, both in technique and in the range of its vision. Many of its most successful designs establish a 'post-western' style in which traditional influences have been digested and selectively incorporated into a contemporary framework; designs may appear to be as much Italianate as Western in origin. "Our primary objective is good design, and our range is eclectic. Good designs have a strong affinity for each other. A common denominator of quality can do much to bring unity to ideas from divergent sources."
James Reid lives in Santa Fe with his wife and son, and divides his time between the workshop and the gallery. "I think of myself as the director, encouraging some directions while discouraging others. I work closely with the smiths. Sometimes, I'll make a drawing and hand it off. As often, the designs come from one of the smiths. Ideas may even come from someone in the office, or from a salesperson or a customer. The question is less of origin than of whether it fits into a vision of who we are and where we are going. That vision has evolved, and I like to think that it will continue to evolve, rather than becoming static.
"I also like to stay close to marketing. I pay a lot of attention to the look of our ads and I spend a lot of time in the gallery. I have a philosophy of sales that I try to communicate to my staff by example. The appeal of our product is in its uniqueness; we are a design workshop and marketing assumes hands-on and highly personalized service and long-term relationships with repeat customers. I believe very strongly that success in sales, at least for us, is through making a superior product available to our customer and by facilitating the desires of our customers. I encourage our staff not to be overly focused on the sale itself, but rather on the product and the service. If we make a great product and provide superior service, the sale will follow. I enjoy being on the floor; we have great customers, and I am in a unique position to directly convey feedback from the customer to the workshop."