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Unearthing Stephanie Foley’s Metal & Stone Work

The Vista resident and indigenous silversmith takes her time crafting one-of-a-kind wearable art paying homage to her Amazonian roots
Credit: Mateo Hoke

Handcrafted silver feathers play a part in much of Stephanie Foley’s work.

Credit: Mateo Hoke

“I like to take the long, slow way,” Stephanie Foley says, her liberally tattooed arm cranking the high-dollar mill she mounted on a couple of stumps in her garage studio. “You gotta mill before you can fabricate.”“Someone who isn’t doing it this way, they can have a ring done in like three hours,” she says. “This way takes me nine.” With old outlaw country music in the air and a couple of ranch dogs underfoot, the 35-year-old Foley has just melted, poured, pickled in acid, and is now rolling out a white slug of sterling silver. Over and over.And over again. Smoothing, shaping. A laborious process. The silver could become a horseshoe-shaped pendant with a semi-precious stone inlay, sterling feathers she handcrafts for various designs, or a cuff featuring turquoise she’s cut and polished herself. Western vibes are what Foley does best.“I look at something and it looks back at me,” she says, motioning to her crown chakra, her hands cloudy from metal handling and peppered with rings. “It’s intuition.”


Foley melts, mills, and fabricates metal for all her designs.

Credit: Mateo Hoke

Foley identifies as an indigenous silversmith, vaquera, lapidary, mother, and homesteader. Born in Colombia, she and her mom moved to Carlsbad when Foley was five. But her Colombian Spanish didn’t sound like the other kids. And she didn’t look like them, either. Her lineage is a mix of Pueblo and people indigenous to the Amazon River Basin (among others), she says. Feeling like an outcast from an early age, she excelled on the high school surf team before turning to horses as her career goal—that’s where her Western spirit comes from.In her studio, Foley shows me a tattoo that reads Mother of Metal, as well as tattoos of a hammer, a saw, and an anvil. She’s dressed in a t-shirt, denim, and boots. A large belt buckle, of course, for balance. Her uniform for working metal and working the land.We’re in the outskirts of Vista, where palm nurseries and vineyards grow dubiously from rocky, scrub brush-covered hillsides. Foley and her 5-year-old daughter, Jacquelyn, live on a mini ranch of sorts, owned by her mom and stepdad.She carries big dreams of developing the land into a fully functioning homestead. Currently, there are chickens outside and catfish growing in a tank in the living room. Foley leases a horse at a nearby rescue. Bringing horses onto the property is the ultimate dream, but it’s her metal and stone work that keep her busy.



Credit: Mateo Hoke

“The people of South America have been working with gold since pre-Columbian times,” she says. “I grew up seeing it. The metal work is emotionally moving for me.”Jewelry itself dates back more than 100,000 years. Neanderthals—those hairy archaic cousins of the used car dealer, the modern office drone, and the generously pierced barista alike—used eagle talons to make what are believed to be pendants or necklaces. Other early humans used shells as beads beginning at least tens of thousands of years ago. People, it seems, have in our blood an innate need to embellish ourselves, to use trappings to personalize our appearances.Creators like Foley understand. Her website doesn’t feature a line of products or seasonal trends. Her work is nearly all one-of-a-kind commissions, with a few made-to-order repeatable designs. Often with a western brio. “I’ll build a ring in my head for weeks,” Foley says. “And then one day, I’m like, ‘Okay, I’m going to try.’”The long, slow way, no doubt.

By Mateo Hoke

Mateo Hoke is San Diego Magazine’s executive editor. His books include Six by Ten: Stories from Solitary, and Palestine Speaks: Narratives of Life Under Occupation.

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