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Native American Bolo Ties: Vintage and Contemporary Artistry

At Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport

Terminal 4, Level 3

On display until June 28, 2013

Arizona’s official state neckwear, the bolo tie, has reappeared from its exile in grandpa’s dresser drawer to enjoy a fashion comeback. Explore this uniquely Western sartorial adornment’s history and revival in a wonderful and fun new exhibit at the Heard Museum in Phoenix. Native American Bolo Ties: Vintage and Contemporary had a several-month run at the Heard from 2011 to 2012 before opening in February 2013 at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport's Terminal 4 Gallery.

The distinctive tie originated in the Southwest, and its popularity quickly spread throughout the West and in many other parts of the country. The distinguishing necktie has been made even more distinctive by contemporary American Indian artists in Arizona, who make bolo ties that are exquisite expressions of individuality and ingenuity. Bolo ties, representing the casual nature and somewhat rugged milieu of the West, emerged as a form of men's neckwear in the 1940s. They directly countered business suits as well as the formality suits represented, and instead marked a different style and a different way of life. In particular, American Indian jewelers and silversmiths brought individuality and creativity to this art form, offering a broad range of unique and artistic options.

The bolo ties included in Native American Bolo Ties come from the Heard’s permanent collection of more than 170 bolo ties and from the promised gift of Chicago collector Norman L. Sandfield. His collection consists of more than 1,000 bolo ties, scarf slides and ephemera, many of which will be on display.  

The exhibit will be accompanied by a book written by exhibit curator Diana Pardue with Norman L. Sandfield and published by the Museum of New Mexico Press; the price is $29.95.  The exhibit and book will show the antecedents of the bolo tie, including Victorian neckwear and scarf slides. It will include an important early scarf slide from the Heard Museum collection made in 1930-40s by Leekya Deyuse (Zuni Pueblo). The exhibit and book will also include new information on patents for the different backings of the bolo tie, which is essential to accurate dating of a tie when the date is not otherwise known.

Also, the exhibit examines how Western wear, including the bolo tie, was popularized through 1950s television shows and movies. Some TV and movie personalities who brought scarf slides and bolo ties into the everyday vernacular include the Cisco Kid, Hopalong Cassidy and Roy Rogers. And of course, the exhibit will showcase bolo ties created by American Indian jewelers from the late 1940s through today.

The bolo tie’s road to acquiring the status of Arizona’s official neckwear is also quite interesting; the story stretches out several years. KOOL-TV, Channel 10’s anchor Bill Close and five other bolo tie enthusiasts met in 1966 at the Westward Ho Hotel in downtown Phoenix. From the beginning, their intent was to make the bolo tie a state emblem. Perhaps to help the cause, Arizona Highways Magazine devoted several pages of its October 1966 issue to Southwestern jewelry, including bolo ties. Help arrived when Governor Jack Williams proclaimed the first week of March 1969 as “Bolo Tie Week.” After several unsuccessful attempts, a bill making the bolo tie the official state neckwear was finally passed on April 22, 1971.

The bolo tie is also the official neckwear of New Mexico and Texas, although Arizona was the first state to designate it as such.


After its run at Sky Harbor, the exhibit is scheduled to open in Albuquerque, N.M., June 29, 2014, to be on display until September 30, 2014.



Julius Keyonnie (Navajo). Collector Norman Sandfield commissioned a silver seed pot from the artist in 2006. For this commission, the collector requested a bolo tie in the shape of a silver seed pot. The artist accomplished this in silver, gold and turquoise, 2009, 2 3/4” diameter, with figure-8 wire fitting. No hallmark.

Peter Nelson (Navajo). Silver overlay bolo tie with 14-karat gold appliqué, 2000-2009, 3 ¼” height, with figure-8 wire fitting. Hallmark is “Peter Nelson” in Gothic print.

Victorian slide necklace of woven hair and gold ornaments, late 1800s, 1” height. This was worn much in the same way as the modern-day bolo tie. These were generally worn by women.

Roy Rogers and Dale Evans publicity photograph, c. 1973. Although he wore a knotted silk scarf in his movies and for his television show, Rogers wears a Victor Cedarstaff bolo tie in this photograph.


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