Made in the West: Meet Your Local Western Artisans

The Jewelry Maker

Maria Lightfoot Jewelry, a mix of metals, fine gems and one-of-a-kind artifacts, pays beautiful homage to the West.


“Creating things is just what I’m made of, and once I started making jewelry, I felt like now I was really doing what I wanted.” Photo by Jeff Nelson

No big chunks of turquoise. No silver horseshoe earrings. No bolo ties. With the one-of-a-kind Maria Lightfoot pieces, you have to set aside any previous notions you might have about Western jewelry.

Instead, think elegance mixed with earthiness. The Telluride and El Paso-based jewelry maker, whose work is sold in stores all over Colorado (including Garbarini in Denver), designs statement pieces out of gold, oxidized silver and bronze, natural materials like bone and antler and beads in a variety of materials and colors.

“All my life I’ve had to do something creative,” says Mary Liekefet, founder of the Maria Lightfoot line. “I’ve always been artistic. My mother was, too. She was the first modernist I ever knew, and she was always super stylish, both in her fashion and her home design. As a kid, I was always redecorating my bedroom or making clothes.”

After growing up in Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, Liekefet moved to Telluride in 1974, and began designing and creating her own clothing line (called Appaloosa, for her love of horses) and owned and operated design and furniture stores both in Telluride and Los Angeles. “I’ve had a lot of lives, but they’ve always been in the art or design world,” she says. In 2008, “getting pretty tired of picking up heavy furniture and moving it around,” she decided to try her hand at jewelry

“Creating things is just what I’m made of, and once I started making jewelry I felt like now I was really doing what I wanted,” says Liekefet, who took a few extension classes in subjects such as metal-smithing, but is mostly self-taught. “Sometimes a design will come to me in the middle of doing something else, and I’ll start pulling out all of the elements I have been thinking about and putting them together. My studio is messy—I have beads hung all over the walls, tables with trays, drawers full of things. Yesterday, I had this big piece of whitish horn, and these black obsidian beads, so I laid them out together and decided to turn them into a necklace.

“I use a lot of natural elements, like fossilized coral, fossilized ivory, as well as bone, antler and shell, but I also like to use diamonds—what I call casual diamonds—and other bling. And I always have pearls. I love pearls, but not your grandmother’s style—mine are mostly strung on leather.”

Heavily influenced by her travels and by textiles, Liekefet says, “I like to use old cultural tribal pieces and put them right into my jewelry, or sometimes I’ll cast them in silver or bronze. I get pieces from Bali, India, Ethiopia, Indonesia. And all of the fossilized mammoth and walrus ivory comes from Alaska.”

Many of her pieces can be worn layered together. “I normally have three, four or five necklaces on at a time,” she says. “A friend in Dallas recently put on a double layer of my great big black pearls, with a blackened cross hanging down from it with diamonds around the edge; underneath, she put on a little deer head all covered in pavé diamonds. I have to say, it all looked fantastic together.”

What: Western jewelry that mixes natural elements with diamonds and gems
How much: $300 to $4,800
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