Although he passed away in 2007, LeRoy Saiz lives on through the silver jewelry he crafted in Morenci.
Using bits of copper spatter, local Arizona turquoise, and hand-cut lettering and images, his style was distinctive.
When his daughter Donna Grove recently put out a call for folks who have her father’s pieces to post pictures on Facebook, the responses flooded in.
“My dad, he had so many friends. Most of what he made went to so many people in Morenci,” she said, adding her own collection is modest.
“He had another friend that was local,” Grove recalled, and the two men started doing silversmithing together. Saiz’s belt buckles were especially popular. Early-on, Saiz would have a friend cast nickel silver (an alloy comprised mainly of copper) into a unique horse-shoe shape for his early buckles.
Bisbee and Morenci turquoise grace some of Saiz’s pieces. Grove said she believes the bright copper starburst found on several buckles are spatters from the copper-pouring process.
Before copper was so valuable, “I think back in the day, they could get it from the company,” she said, recalling her father coming home with a box-full.
Before resin became popular, Saiz used it to seal his buckles, often preserving turquoise inlay, custom lettering and silver silhouettes of animals under a clear, protective layer.
“My dad kinda developed that style,” she said.
Sometime Saiz was called Two Feathers, as his initial, “L” on the back of his pieces looked like two feathers, she said, laughing. But what started as a hobby in his garage after work at the mine became his livelihood when he joined strikers in 1983. Selling his silver work became a full-time job to feed the family: His wife worked at the local bank.
“He was out of work for six years,” Grove said. “My dad, he supported us that way.”
The family of six — after an older brother died in a car accident — didn’t lose their home during the strike because they could afford rent.
“We were able to stay in the company house,” she said.
“He started way before the strike,” Grove said, “But that’s how he made money, selling jewelry to the reservation,” she said. “Even Phelps-Dodge had him make some safety awards,” she said.
In 1989, “They (Phelps-Dodge) called him back to the mine,” Grove said. “He went back kinda as a laborer,” she said, working his way back to his original position as a train mechanic.
Three days before Saiz was set to retire, in 2007, after the mine had given him his years of service back, Saiz died of a heart attack. He is buried in Morenci, Groves said.
“He had 18 brothers and sisters,” Grove said. Both her grandmother and her grandfather had four children each when they met and married: together, they had 10 children, one of whom was LeRoy.
“We still have a lot of family up there,” Grove said, “[although] a lot of them left during the strike.”
Grove, who moved from Morenci to Queen Creek six years ago said it doesn’t seem likely that Saiz’s grandchildren will take up metal-smithing anytime soon. But her brother Chris Saiz helped his father as a child and continues to craft his own pieces today, she said.