Jim Hayes | AspenTimes.com

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Jim Hayes

Jim Hayes, longtime Aspen silversmith and goldsmith, died Dec. 14 at home with his wife, Mary Eshbaugh Hayes, at his side.

Jim was 92, having been born in 1920 in Haskell, Texas, and growing up on his grandparents’ ranch in Boyd, Texas. His parents were Bertie Miller Hayes and Jim A. Hayes, who was a veteran of World War I serving in France. There was a younger brother, Ben, who made the Air Force his career. They all preceded him in death.

The Great Depression and the Dust Bowl hit while Jim was a child and the family wandered for years through the South. When he was 17, in 1937, Jim joined the U.S. Cavalry and served for a three-year duty. He had just retired when World War II started and he took the Army Air Force test and became a pilot. In 1943, he crash-landed his plane during a hurricane in Florida while he had been flying radar students over the ocean. A radar set hit him in the back of the head and throughout the rest of his life, he had a steel plate over the wound.

After a year in the hospital he used his GI Bill to go to Trinity University in Texas and then went to New York City where he went to jewelry school and apprenticed and worked for Columbia Jewelry Manufacturing Co. for four years, making many pieces in gold for Cartier.

He took up skiing in New England while in New York and when he heard about Aspen, he came in 1949 so he could attend the FIS races in 1950. He never returned to New York, though the company phoned him often offering his job back.

He skied and partied and had a wonderful time in Aspen for two years. His shop was in the fireplace at The Golden Horn and at the end of the two years he owed everyone in town. He hired on with North Atlantic Constructors (Peter Kiewit Construction) and went to Greenland to drive heavy equipment on the Thule Air Base for two years coming back to Aspen to pay up all his debts.

He met Mary Eshbaugh upon returning from Greenland in 1952 and they skied together, danced at The Golden Horn, and married on April 18, 1953, in the Aspen Community Church. Mary was a reporter-photographer at The Aspen Times.

There were no jobs in Aspen at that time, so Jim started an earth-moving and trucking business that he ran until 1961 when he sold it to Stutsman-Gerbaz. Through the 1960s, Jim attended art school at the University of Denver and the University of Colorado and worked on various earth-moving jobs, such as the Ruedi Dam, and out in California, driving a high-speed scraper.

He and Mary had five children, Pauli, Elli, Lauri Le June, Clayton and Bates, who all survive him. There are seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

Aspen became a well-known ski resort by the 1980s and Jim’s silver and gold jewelry became much sought-after, and he worked out of his home-studio on Bleeker Street. He and Mary spent many happy trips to Taos and Santa Fe, where they had spent their honeymoon and trips to Hawaii where their son lived.

During the 1980s, Jim ran twice for the presidency of the United States. Jim loved his cars, and over the years he rebuilt many Volkswagen bugs and either gave them to his children or to friends. He was still working on his black bug and red bug when he became ill. Jim enjoyed years in gymnastics (one granddaughter followed him in this and became the state champion in gymnastics in New Hampshire) and dancing. In 2008, when he became somewhat ill, his daughter, Jess Bates, returned to Aspen and took over his silversmith and goldsmith shop. She had apprenticed with him for several years during the 1980s and she now carries on his traditional work.

There will be a small family graveside service in the spring at Aspen Grove Cemetery in Aspen.