The Squash Blossom Celebrates 40 Years
By Maria Cora Young
Edited by Megan Payton
It was over 40 years ago that the idea for The Squash Blossom was found in what some would consider an unlikely place: the trunk of Uncle Wilton Cogswell's turquoise Cadillac. Reminiscing on what turned out to be a fateful day, John and Patti Cogswell recall when Wilton arrived with his collection of turquoise jewelry. John and Patti, just out of college and unemployed, were sun bathing at their Uncle's house with relatives when the Cadillac pulled up. The jewelry cases were carried from the trunk to the pool, and soon everyone had dressed up their bathing suits with handmade Native American jewelry. Patti recalls, "Uncle Wilton gave me a turquoise heishe necklace and I was hooked."
Soon after this, the newlyweds, John and Patti, went into business with Wilton. They opened their first store in 1973, The Squash Blossom, in Colorado Springs, the home of the Cogswell family. That summer they spent their honeymoon on the Navajo, Hopi, and Zuni reservations. With $1,500 to spend on this first business trip, the two weeks spent on the reservations were filled with the thrill of discovery. Young, in love, and eyes wide open at the new culture they were surrounded by and its beautiful creations, the Cogswells remember the time as one of excitement and adventure. They returned home with a car full of turquoise jewelry, Squash Blossom necklaces, kachinas, and pottery. This was the first installment in a business that has brought Patti and John more success than they ever could have anticipated at the young age of 22.
The impetus to move to Vail in 1976 came from John, who had fallen in love with the valley and its surrounding mountains while hunting, fishing, and skiing there. In 1976, when the Cogswells acquired The Squash Blossom in Vail, Vail Resorts was in its early but sure stages of development. John and Patti remember the sense of camaraderie among the first business owners, supporting each other while getting established. The move to Vail, a unique resort community that had begun to attract a sophisticated clientele, was probably the most significant turning point in the evolution of The Squash Blossom. Not only had the Cogswells found what seemed a perfect niche for their product, they had also found an ideal place to raise their two children.
Patti and John's involvement in the art world is constantly changing. In many ways, their success is because of this. Colorado's U. S. Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell was one of the first designers to show his jewelry at The Squash Blossom. Ben introduced Patti and John to some of the top Native American jewelers in the Southwest.
Over the years, John's interest in painting and sculpture developed as his love of the Southwest grew. This inspired Patti and John to expand the Squash Blossom. In 1980, the Cogswells opened a Southwest fine art gallery, the first gallery to open in the Vail Valley. Originally named The Parke Gallery, after their new daughter, the name was changed to the Cogswell Gallery after the birth of their son, Slade. From its opening, the gallery housed some of the finest in Southwestern paintings and sculpture. Today, Cogswell Gallery's inventory includes a mixture of Western bronze artists, Impressionist and Western painters, Native American artifacts, as well as furniture from Tibet, Indonesia, Mexico and the American Squash Blossom Southwest. "As the Squash Blossom and the Cogswell Gallery have grown, our artists have all matured and grown, and it's been fun to watch that evolution," he said.
By the '90s, the Cogswells had made several trips abroad to Europe, Indonesia, and Mexico. It was perhaps the trips to Italy that inspired Patti the most. It was Patti's desire to bring this atmosphere back to their home and business in Vail. "I knew what I wanted," she says, "I wanted it to be international, hand-made, unique. I wanted people to see the labor and soul that went into our jewelry." It was Patti's vision that prompted the remodeling of the Squash Blossom in 1998... "People react to beautiful environments; they sense it," she said. Inspired by European style, they painted ceilings, hung chandeliers, and brought in hand carved mahogany jewelry cases. Patti found new designers, Konstantino from Greece, Gurhan from Turkey, Alex Sepkus of Lithuania, Mara Garrido of Spain who embody both high quality as well as the allure of international design. Today, the Squash Blossom continues to evolve and carries world renowned independent designers such as Todd Reed, Federica Rettore, Irene Neuwirth, Jamie Wolf, Peter Schmid, and Stephen Webster.
Patrons of the arts, Patti and John began to nurture the creativity of the close-knit staff with the addition of the store's own gemstone bead jewelers, Katey Jenkins and Jill Koelhoffer. Katey and Jill have since created their own design line, KJ Designs, which is featured in stores across the United States. Local artist Mary Beth Brush is another Squash Blossom employee who has developed a beautiful line of jewelry under the title of BB’s Dharma.
While many things have changed in the years that Patti and John have been running The Squash Blossom, many things haven't. Patti says, "I still get excited every season. There are constantly new designs. It isn't a stagnant business at all." After 40 years, the Cogswells feel an even greater commitment to providing only the highest quality art and jewelry to their clients. From that first day of dressing up poolside in Uncle Wilton's turquoise, success for Patti and John has been a combination of fate and vision. And, after 40 years, they're still hooked.