116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Alicia Velasquez is helping others learn more about cultural heritage and helping them respectfully incorporate Native American jewelry into everyday lives.
In November, she opened the House of Dotł'izhi — pronounced Dot-Cluh-Gee — in downtown Iowa City where she sells her custom artisan, edgy jewelry.
“There are designs that are very sacred to different tribes,” she explained, noting that some big name designers often incorporate those designs because they are perceived as beautiful or cool without considering the sacred, ceremonial purposes.
“That's why it's really important to purchase from an Indigenous person. Everything in my store is one hundred percent guaranteed to be something anybody can wear, designs that are OK to be out there.”
Dotł'izhi, Velasquez explained, is the western Apache word for turquoise, which is her signature stone and one that is featured often in her work.
She chose it for the name of her store to show how woman carry the same three components as turquoise — strength, beauty and worth.
Velasquez uses traditional beading techniques to create modern jewelry pieces.
“Native American art is beautiful and I want to create things that can be worn by anyone in the right way,” she said.
She noted many of her pieces are one-of-a-kind or small collection, limited run designs.
“Everything I do is our traditional techniques and I just use them in a modern way, fashion-forward way,” she said. “And it is slow fashion because I create everything that is in the store.”
Velasquez learned Native American beadwork and many other art forms from her father and other elders in her life.
“My dad was a jack-of-all-trades. He just did everything,” she said, adding she also learned leatherwork and silversmithing from him.
“He taught me these things, but, you know, when you're a teenager you don’t always want to learn and you think it is boring. Now as an adult I’m like, ‘I should have listened!’
“So Native American beadwork and silversmithing are my two mediums right now. I do a lot of other things, but I can’t get there yet.”
Velasquez also shares the space with other Native American artists to help celebrate her heritage.
“I want to give other Indigenous artists a platform to be able to sell their products as well,” she said.
New to the Iowa City area, having moved here a year ago in December for a job opportunity for her husband, Velasquez spent time selling her creations at art fairs around the state. She was working out of a very small office space, but as more custom orders were coming her way, she decided to ask her landlord if a larger retail space might be available so she could invite customers in.
“This is the perfect space for me,” she said of her gallery and workshop in one. “I decided to take a chance because the demand has just been so high here.
“I was born and raised in the Southwest where you see this stuff every day and the market is more saturated.”
Since the gallery opened in November, Velasquez has been delighted by the support she has received.
“It's been amazing because I'm not just selling jewelry and I'm not just doing custom orders,” Velasquez said. “I am sharing Native American culture, which is huge. I have people who come into my store and they just sit for hours there.
“They love the environment that I created, the atmosphere. They love just sharing their stories.”
She especially enjoys visits from elders who stop in to reminisce and share stories.
“I have people coming in asking if it is appropriate for them to say this or that. So this is more than a retail store. I call it a boutique, a studio and a gallery, but it's also like a museum because I have artifacts I have found or that have been brought to me. So I have the opportunity to teach people a lot of things about Native American culture, which I think is especially important in these times.”
Time management, as an artist and business owner can be challenging, Velasquez admitted.
“I have the freedom to do what I want, but then again I am doing everything because I am a one woman show right now,” she said. “Finding balance can be tough.”
But working to find the balance is worth it, she said.
“I want to build community and I want to support other businesses,” she said and added she may be working with nearby business Beadology to source some bead kits for classes in the New Year.
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Owner and artist: Alicia Velasquez
Address: 327 Kirkwood Ave., Iowa City
Phone: (319) 417-0704