Larry Meeker has worn many hats in his life. Now he’s wearing bolo ties.
Meeker, newly named chairman of the Kansas Democratic Party, is a former vice-president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. He’s been mayor of Lake Quivira, and run for office as state representative of the 17th Kansas House District.
Meeker is also known for the contemporary art collection he has acquired with his wife, Cindy, over the past 40 years. Lately, he’s expanded his range, rekindling an old passion, for American Indian-made bolo ties. With their braided leather cords enhanced with decorative metal tips, the elaborate bolos are part of a tradition dating to the mid-20th century, when Indian artists began crafting them for the tourist market.
“You can’t not love them,” Meeker said in a recent interview. “They’re absolutely fabulous. In the early 1970s, the bolo was named the official state neckwear of Arizona.
How did you get started collecting bolos?
Cindy and I square danced in graduate school in the early 1970s and people wore western attire to the dances. I started buying bolos, including this red coral and silver bolo by Zuni artist Amy Quandelacy featuring her well-known hummingbird pattern. It’s got that sense of movement.
And then you stopped buying for a while?
We quit square dancing when we had kids. In recent years, I’ve received a lot of invitations to “creative black tie” events, and I thought, “Wouldn’t it be neat to wear a bolo.” I talked to Nerman Museum director Bruce Hartman, who is a specialist in American Indian Art, and said, “I’d like to find a good bolo tie.”
Where are you finding these?
A couple of them are courtesy of Bruce, who spotted them at one of the historic American Indian art shows in Santa Fe, and sent pictures. I also find them at online auctions. I bought a Hopi Snake Dancer bolo by Zuni artist Eddie Beyuka at auction and wore it to a Kansas City Art Institute black tie event. I also have a Roadrunner bolo by Beyuka. People are drawn to them. I’m amazed at how many people come up and talk to me about them when I wear a bolo.
So how many bolos have you collected?
Over the past four to five years I’ve bought more than a dozen; probably close to two dozen, all made by American Indian artists. For me, bolos spark the same collector quest as contemporary art. There is something about the chase that is so wonderful. My favorite is always “the next piece.” Really, it’s an intellectual quest, when you’re chasing something, you’re looking at all sides of it: who did it, the craftsmanship and materials, the market value.
And the bolos are not just about style. There is commentary embedded in some of these pieces.
This coyote with snake bolo by Chiricahua Apache sculptor Bob Haozous plays off the Caucasian view of the Southwest as a land of coyotes and rattlesnakes. When you wear it, it looks like the coyote is biting your throat, while the snake bites the coyote. Snakes are an important motif. They live underground where the spirits live. The Hopi katsina figures, another common motif used in bolos, also are tied to the spirit world.