NCAC Emerging Artisan 2019/20 (Silversmith)
My name is Kalandrea Billah. I’m Red Bottom Clan born for Deer Spring Clan. My maternal clan is The One Who Walks Around and my paternal clan is The Towering House. I’m from Cedar Ridge, Arizona. This is my first semester here at Diné College. I'm in the Navajo Cultural Arts Certificate Program, emphasizing in the area of Navajo Silversmithing.
I didn't know exactly what to expect as I started out this program, which I am completing with my mother-in-law, Nona. I was mildly intimidated given that we were commuting all the way from the Western Agency. We came into to submit our applications and register for classes. We didn't know if we made it in time to get on the list for housing but we didn't care. "Sign us up and we will figure out housing later" was our general philosophy. 🤣 Risky attitude but totally worth it.
Already we find ourself 8 weeks into the program - just like that - 1/4 of the way through. I'd like to say that this has been one of the best experiences that I’ve had in my life. As we approach midterms week and our final meeting for the NCA197: Navajo Arts Material and Resource with Brent Toadlena, I can't necessarily begin to comprehend the impact that this class has had on me and all the things that I have learned.
The very first day of class we took a field trip out to the Chuska mountain where we gathered Alder Bark 🌳. After gather some bark, we ventured to Canyon De Chelly for Mountain Mahogany🌲. Before even before left to find bark, I knew this class was different. We learned gáál sin (journey song) as Mr. Toadlena explained that we were going to embark on a journey of learning about processing of natural materials. Its a sacred process filled with hard work and options for shortcuts along the way. No short cuts this time around 🤣 Not only were we told stories about the plants🍃, but we learned how they were used to make red dyes for a deer hide 🦌. Why a deer hide?, you might ask? We would be using the dyes and hides to make small pairs of moccasins - yup, your read that right! Old school.
I really enjoyed this class and my instructor. There was a lot of good information and I feel that I was able to appreciate and value the many lessons that I was taught. I had a great time in this class. Thank you a great 8 weeks, Brent and classmates!
NCAC Apprentice 2018/19 (Silversmith)
I didn't have to imagine. This was my reality this Spring 2019. My Choice? I wanted to take my silversmithing skills to another level, work with heavy gauges of silver, and sell my work alongside my weavings. Who was there to help me? Lyndon Tsosie and the NCAP Apprenticeship Program.
At Lyndon’s shop, I became comfortable working on basic chains. And as time passed and with Lyndon's help, I learned how to make heavier jewelry as well as jewelry that was lighter for everyday wearing. I also focused a lot on my design. Lyndon’s tips and knowledge on raising metal allowed me to reach a new level of skill and aesthetic. So here is what I learned...
The attentive master jeweler, Lyndon, would wait until I asked a hard question or expressed frustration at what I was doing. Those lessons received and tips became part of my tools. Lyndon taught me that he was a tool as well. He would say: “I’m a tool here and that is how you are going to learn more than I can teach in my entire lifetime because everything around you can teach you and can be tools. So respect them and keep learning.”
Working with thick gauges of 10 or lower, learning how to manage the heat properly, and selecting the correct tools were great take aways from my time as an apprentices. As my supply list grew prepared myself to raise silver into a vessel perhaps a cup or tumbler. A bigger torch, heavier hammers, anvils and several copper plates contributed to my practice sessions. While the NCAP provided funds for this journey, I had to learn how to budget so I only had enough left to purchase one silver 6x6 18 gauge piece for the final piece.
After four weeks of visiting Lyndon and finding some weaving time in between visits, I completed the final assembly of my necklace and I did my final buff on the bracelets. Then the challenge began - I started raising the sliver. Every day, for 5 days, I was working at least 6 hours on the hammer work of the cup, slowly coaxing the sliver from flat sheets to organic vessel. Every course needed annealing and every morning my hands and arms would ache and cramp but I pushed through finally knowing that it takes all your tools, used properly and with respect to shape art. The cup was simple but I became more than just a cup with every hammer blow and cramp. Then... it was all over.
The pieces were done. But before I turned the pieces in for my mini exhibit, it was time for critique of their style and wear. Positive reviews all around with remarks that the pieces that are heavy are rightfully so and that pieces that look heavy were surprising lighter than expected, which attest to their value as a everyday wearer jewelry. The biggest critics were from the NCAP grant manager, Christine Ami and my mentor Lyndon Tsosie who both ran a list down of the stages where I could have done better but complimented on the execution for a new silversmith. Their last words were of encouragement and of how being pushed will tighten the bar between novice and master craftsperson. They reminded me that I should reward all the hours, pain, perseverance, devotion to design and crafting with a good life. Just like the first lesson, the first tool I was given the principal of Sa'ah Naagháí Bik'eh Hozhóón from Wilson Aronlith. So I look forward to more as I continue to work with Diné College and The Navajo Cultural Arts Program. Thank You!
AND... Stop by to check out the creations I made during my apprenticeship at the Navajo Nation Museum from July 8 - August 2, 2019. Opening Night will be July 9th from 5-8pm. The title of my exhibit will be "Received from Jóhonaa’éí: Tools of Silversmithing." I hope to see you all there !
NCAC Emerging Artisan 2018/19 (Moccasin Maker)
When I first enrolled, I took whatever class that interested me. This included the fine arts and a sampling of the Navajo cultural arts classes that they had then. Every experience was really good until I took the moccasin class….that was it for me. 💙💙💙 I LOVED it 💙💙💙. I always remember Mr. Harry Walters telling us that our art picks us. Mr. Walters was my first moccasin making instructor and he intrigued me with his knowledge of Navajo culture. He told stories, sang songs, a trip to Dinétah and as a result made me proud to be Diné. Just this past fall, I enrolled in the Navajo Cultural Arts Certificate Program for the year 2018-2019 with the emphasis of moccasin making. It wasn't a spur of the moment decision - I have wanted to be in the Navajo Cultural Arts Program for the last three years but for various reasons, I was unable to be in the program until this past year.
Ni’hoosdzíinbiyiin, Shash biyiin. He explains in Navajo and English. Everything that I was being taught here at the college through culture, history, language, and art classes was now coming together. Inclusion is all important and now EVERYTHING MAKES SENSE. All the pieces are put together and I have an understanding of the Navajo universe.
Weaving and the loom. Aheehee, Mr. Lyle Harvey. Baskets and the materials, Aheehee Mr. Thomas Yellowhair. Moccasins and the appropriate use of materials. Aheehee, Mr. Harry Walters. I have a true understanding of the stories that each instructor brought to the classroom.
Now come the cliché “Full Circle” makes sense and now that is what I believe.
To me, Full Circle means as a Navajo woman that I can integrate my western education and my Navajo cultural education with my identity. I plan to bring this knowledge with me to the elementary classroom and to everyday life. They all have a place in and outside of the classroom. My year with Navajo Cultural Arts Program brought this realization to my attention.
Full Circle. Our Diné moccasins are sacred footwear…the top is Father Sky, the sole is Mother Earth and the sinew is lightening. The lightening is what holds the sky and the earth together.
Full Circle. My obligation as a moccasin maker is to pass on the knowledge that was gifted to me through our program and Mr. Harry Walters.
Full Circle. I feel complete. Life is good.
NCAC Emerging Artisan 2018/19 (Basket Maker, Moccasin Maker)
My husband, Mike and I signed up for a two-day silversmith workshop in St. Michaels on October 25thand 26th. Our instructors for these days were Chris Tom, Charles Johnson and Lester Craig. Day 1 we worked on stamping straight lines for a bracelet and then on Day 2 we worked on cutting and soldering.
I took the workshop because I wanted to learn how to make buttons for my moccasins. I want to finish a pair of moccasins that is made all by yours truly. That was my goal when I showed up. On that first day, the men asked about our goals or why we were taking the workshop and then they decided what types of projects we would be working on. I was given smaller stamps to work with, to practice repetition in my stamping and to also do some drawing with basic stamps. My husband and I had so much fun these two days. We learned so much from these gentlemen that it inspired us to really take this art seriously and purchase the supplies to get started.
Some of the tips I remember from these two days were: if you make a mistake with your stamping, just go with it and make the mistake apart of your final piece. After each hit you make with your hammer, regroup and hit the stamp again. Don’t forget to breathe. And you will smash your thumb so just let it happen, there’s no avoiding it. If you are very serious about silversmithing, practice and practice and work at it every day.
I feel that all these tips apply to all the Navajo cultural arts and to life general. Mistakes help you to learn about you strengthens and weaknesses and to learn from them. It makes your life interesting but, only if you learn from them. We will all get hurt so don’t be afraid to live your life. When you make mistakes or get hurt you must regroup and take a breath. And if you love to do something you should enjoy it, by doing it every day.
NCAC Emerging Artisan 2018/19 (Weaver)
Personally, I took it as a true test to see how confident I was in setting up a loom. The very first part of the process was to start with the warping. What would be an adequate size for a community loom? Enough that it could get finished within a week? I was taking into consideration to many things….on the day of setting up the loom, I packed what I thought we needed. Surprise! Of course, the zip ties I brought weren’t long enough, so now to look for wire. The words of our weaving instructor came to mind, “Make sure you have everything on hand, you don’t want to say ‘I don’t have it’ and put off weaving”. Should have packed the wire! Eventually, it was set up and ready to be created. I sat to the loom first; we were taught that the first couple of wefts are the foundation of your creation. You think positive thoughts about the weaving, the process it takes to complete and the journey upon completion. My thoughts were that whomever took the time to add a few or even more wefts would find themselves in complete peace and contentment. There is so much going on in the world and in our own lives today that sometime we forget to think about the present, “the here and now”.
If you have had the chance to sit down to the community loom to weave or even just to admire it, I hope that you had a moment of tranquility. I encourage you to make a visit to the museum exhibit, have a seat and add a few lines. You will not walk away disappointed.
NCAC Emerging Artisan 2018/19 (Silversmith)
I could become familiar with the tools, materials, and time that it would take to make these earrings.While that was a pretty cool learning experience - it was the workshop itself that took place on April 17th that truly made this experience worthwhile.
We had a tremendous amount of fun getting to know each other. After introductions were given and the “Ayes” were had, the safety gear went on. With their natural talent for designing, we got to do some stamp work and rolling plate designs on 24 gauge brass and 20 gauge silver. The end results were spectacular pairs of earrings they got to take home with them! They were both very inspiring to get to know and demonstrated that the student can sure teach the teacher. They revealed to me that everything an artist touches is art even if the materials are different. Although I am sure it was a transition for them - working with the rough destruction process of metal work instead of with gentle spinning of wool - swapping metal tools for their cedar tools they were used to.
It took a little bit of elbow grease and teamwork to complete the rolled earring. Very much well worth the sweat though. We had a lot of laughs and fun with the rolling plates. The biggest challenge we found was getting the perfect amount of pressure for the end result we wanted. My goal was to convey to the participants that the first thing silversmithing asks of you is the ability to channel your passion for creation. I hope that message came through!
I had a ton of fun connecting and encouraging! I hope to visit this mother and daughter duo in from Spider Rock sometime this summer. Ahe’hee for this experience!
NCAP Apprentice 2018/19 (Silversmith)
I was only seeking cultural knowledge to back my weaving when I first joined the Navajo Cultural Arts Certificate Program in 2017. The program required that I select an emphasis area and at the time I wasn’t looking to expand my artistic ability past weaving. But I also recognized that silversmithing was an option in the program. A small moment of self-doubt, much like when I first filled out the application for NCAP went through my mind. As I contemplated adding silversmithing as an emphasis area, I asked myself, “was this going to worth my time away from my loom, friends and family?” The possibilities of “what if?” were at first negative - "what if it takes away from my weaving? what if I am not good enough?" I signed up anyway for my silversmithing classes with Wilson Aronilth and looking back on that decision...my :what ifs" have become “what if I had not?”
Every class, mentor and event that NCAP included only strengthened my understanding of K'é, which is both a Navajo philosophy and Navajo skill. Those moments of self-doubt are no longer signs of weakness but great turning points where life changing decisions are made.
By the end of the program, my weaving did not suffer - I received the Legacy of a Master Weaver award for my stripped blanket at the 2018 NCAP Exhibit. I took a gambled with that rug - another area of self doubt - my decision of reviving older styles of weaving. And guess what....my gamble selecting a second emphasis area paid off. Starting with sheet of 3x6" sterling silver plate during the cohort I received a ribbon for a simple split shank bracelet. They were recognized by established silversmiths and weavers as great examples of Navajo Art even though I didn’t feel like they were. To me, they were just small aberrations in the cosmos that is Human existence.
Fast forward to 2019 and I’m now an expert at trudging past the small pauses of why? NCAP did that. The Program gave me the ability to plan and work independently while developing relationships that strengthen Navajo culture. I find myself doing activities outside my comfort zone with a Certificate of Navajo Cultural Arts in hand. I’m doing this while also continuing to weave full time for Native American art Shows and being a caregiving to my father. Life didn't stop me from applying and receiving a NCAP Paid Apprenticeship. Through that gamble I was given the opportunity to learn from Lyndon Tsosie, a world renowned Navajo Silversmith and owner of the House of Stamps in Gallup. Little did I know at the time that his advice would have life altering affirmations of the path NCAP put me on.
“You have to earn your chops” and “believe in your work as you design it, not as the experts defines it” Those are the central lessons I learned from Lyndon as we both concentrated on the 61stHeard Museum Guild Indian market and Art show. During my time with Lyndon, I asked about older techniques and styles of Navajo Jewelry and Lyndon responded with a trove of knowledge and experiences that I have yet to utilize personally. But I have learned that with the simplest tools, great art can be created, nurtured and shown to hold its beauty among others styles.
Another moment of self-doubt - Submission time to the Heard. I was fully prepared to defend my work. I had three weaving pieces to submit with one sliver bracelet- A total of 4 pieces but the limit was 3. For a split second, I wanted to switch out my weakest weaving for my bracelet as the other two weavings were made for the expected standards of Navajo textiles. My weakest piece was an experiment and broke almost every rule of the standard of Navajo weavings. A split second later, I walked out with my bracelet and I left my atypical, experimental weaving to be juried.
What if I had NOT! That experiment - that piece that I thought had the weakest possibility of placing - Won best of Show at the 61st Heard Museum Guild Indian market and Art show. I brought home ribbons and an empty bracelet case. Even a half done bracelet that wasn’t buffed sold! I urged the client to wait until I had polished the edges with a rock making a comfortable hand formed bracelet for them. Now I understand having integrity in one’s art even if it’s different because if you work at making it the best it can be it will support you and someone will find it beautiful. I’m am excited to see what happens next because... what if I had NOT?!
NCAP Intern - Student Affairs Project for Success Internship Program
Hello my name is Kimberly Jake and I am from Ramah, NM. I am in my third semester of my Business Administration BA program at Diné College. So how did I end up becoming an intern at the NCAP? I happened to see a Student Affair Project for Success Internship Program's flyer advertising for students hires. I figured I’d give it a shot and see what happens. I interviewed and after an unbearable wait for a call back, I received a phone call telling me I was hired. I was pretty excited because I had no knowledge of what the NCAP was, where it was located, or what
N - C - A - P stood for 😂
My first day with the NCAP, I got to meet Crystal Littleben, project coordinator, and Sheryl Benally, program assistant. Later on during the week I got to meet Dr. Christine M. Ami who is the Program Manager. Dr. Ami covered my duties, expectations, and let me know it was a learning environment - I didn't realize how learning it would become 😁. When were introducing ourselves to one another I learned that Sheryl started out as an intern as well and that made me feel even more comfortable. I knew that there was room to grown in the program. After my first week, I felt as if I could feed off all their positive energies and I have to say I am glad that Student Affairs Project for Success Internship Program had placed me with NCAP, which I now know stands for the Navajo Cultural Arts Program 😂. All in all I was ready to learn something new and be a part of this awesome team.
I want to go back to Dr. Ami's comment about being a hands on learning opportunity for a moment!
In my first week of being an intern I helped out with NCAP's First Fridays at DC Libraries. February's event “Ribbon Pillowcase Workshop” was in Shiprock, NM at the Sen. John Pinto Library, South campus at Diné College. I set up the sewing machines, laid out materials, fabric glue, scissors, ribbons, and irons, and greeted participants as they walked in. Sheryl had asked me if I wanted to join in. I was hesitant at first because I had never sewn in my life nor had I ever used a sewing machine. I was intimidated for sure! 😥 The participants there were experienced and had been sharing their stories of how they learned to sew and what they had created. I toughened up and got my materials together. To my surprise I did not think I had to pick matching colors; I just assumed it was just done randomly ... but it was not. You get to be the creator of how your masterpiece will turn out. It’s the little things that mattered to bring my pillow out.
After I cut out 18x18 material, it was time to tackle the sewing. Boy was I scared to use the sewing machine because I did not want to break it or mess up the threading. The workshop leader Andrea Sekayumptewa was very kind, helpful, and patience. And thats what I have taken from from this ribbon pillow workshop - PATIENCE and POSITIVITY. I learned that it takes you put a lot of patience and good thoughts and energy into work like this. I notice this when I first started you could see that I was in a rush and my sewing was a bit all over the place. I was getting annoyed with how it was turning out, but after I took a break than came back to my sewing I came back with a positive attitude and better energy. After that break I started to realize and notice that my sewing was becoming straighter and I was getting more acquainted and comfortable with the sewing machine.
Being a part of the “Ribbon Pillowcase Workshop” making was an awesome experience. I am pleased to say that I feel more comfortable with using a sewing machine. When I showed my family members my finished ribbon pillowcase, they were surprised that I had the patience to do it. They gave me compliments and started telling me they wanted me to start making other things such as a ribbon shirt or skirt. It is a great feeling knowing that I accomplished making a pillow cause because at first
I wasn't so sure what I had gotten myself into. I didn't want to mess up the pillow. I'm glad everything turned out great. Who knows... I just might invest in a sewing machine and make my own creations!
I am have lots of fun working with the NCAP and I am excited for our upcoming events in silversmith work, basket making, weaving, and moccasin making. I am looking forward to learning more about how traditional Navajo cultural arts intertwine with modern living, the stories, the teachings and also the skills of how one comes up with so many beautiful pieces.
NCAC Emerging Artisan 2018/19 (Silversmith)
Ya’ateeh, My name is Irvina Chee. Women Empowerment nishli’, Passion Ba’ shischiin, Resilient Dashicheii’, Empathy dashinali’. Shi Ne’hema dee’naasha’. Those are my “clans” that helped me identify my brand for a Workshop we did with Mr. VanDeever as a part of the Navajo Cultural Arts Program (NCAP). My emphasis in the NCAP program is Silversmithing.
One semester down in the program and I have learned so much more that just how to silversmith. The program is one of the most unique experiences I have ever had in a college setting. Unique and special in all its teachings not just in the emphasis you choose. Day one in the NCAP program started out with a butchering demonstration that all of our bellies appreciated! It was not only a great way to get to know my fellow cohort members, but it also showed us how the NCAP staff works together, how they collaborate with other organizations, and how the cultural arts doesn't just start in the classroom in this program.
Within the silversmith cohort, I have met some very special people! Within the silversmith cohort, I have found a tool to further beautify my heart, mind and surroundings. And within the cohort, I learned what peace of mind can produce. In your hands, solid and ready to adorn. Our first semester, our instructor Anthony Goldtooth had us perfecting our stamp work and finding our own individual styles. He shared stories of his own path to becoming an artisan himself and how he is following in his father’s footsteps, Tony Goldtooth, whom is a Master Silversmith. Those were by far, my favorite stories. Every class was a different teaching on technique and metal manipulation. Personally, I find the art very therapeutic and adaptive to me and a hammer. The beauty left behind, after some buffing and polishing of course, is holisticly satisfying. I absolutely fell in love with it.
I look forward to next semester and to learning new techniques on how to work with metals and stones. I am very excited to soak up everything that the program has to offer in the near future, as some artisans have decided to do all the programs (which you can do too!). I hear there is a Shoe Game we will be attending to learn how Navajo business systems starts with this game. There is also mentioning of field trips to Trading Posts, Museums, and Galleries too. I find it so amazing that no place else on Ni’himá can you get these teachings than at Diné College. I also must say It also does not hurt to have Tsaile provide the appropriate backdrop for such an experience. The campus and the land are beautiful year round.
Thank you very much for the knowledge and opportunity to live my dream. Again my name is Irvina Chee, I am from Marble Canyon Az. Ta”neeszahnii nishli’, Kinlichii’nii’ bashishchiin, Kinyaa’aanii dashicheii, Ashiihi dashnali’. Ahe’hee!
Brandon R. Dinae
NCAC Emerging Artisan 2018/19 (Basket Maker, Moccasin Maker, Silversmith)
Yá'át'ééh t'áá ánółtso. Doone'é nishłínígíí éí Bit'ahnii dóó Hooghan Łání bá shíshchíín. Tł'ógí Táchíi'nii dashicheii dóó Kinłichíi'nii dashinálí. 'Akot'éego diné nishłį́ dóó Tsé Digóní keehasht'į́. Béésh łigai atsidí dóó kéłchí ayiilaa dóó ts'aa' ayiilaa baa da’ííníshta'. Brandon Dinae yinishyé.
(Hello everyone. I am from the Many-Folded-Arms-People clan born for the Many-Hogan-Peopleclan. My maternal grandfather is from the Browned-Banged-Weaver-People clan and my paternal grandfather is from the Red-House-Peopleclan. I am Navajo and I live in Mitten Rock, NM. I am studing Silversmithing, Moccasin Making, and Basketry as part of this year's Navajo Cultural Arts Certificate Cohort. My name is Brandon Dinae)
I’ve wanted to learn to make baskets for years and the NCAP has given me the chance to learn from individuals who have been making baskets for years. In the Fall, in addition to our basket making class with Thomas Yellowhair as our instructor, we have also learned about baskets and basket making in our NIS129 Navajo Cultural Arts Materials and Resource class. As a cohort, we were instructed on harvesting K'į́į́' (sumac) for our Tóshjeeh (water jug) project. This meant jumping in a van and actually going on a hunt. We got to meet NCAP alumni, Waycee Harvey, who is also a basket maker. He accompanied our cohort on the trip to teach us how to find sumac and split it.
I learned a lot of things that day... especially about pollen. Little did I know that K'į́į́' has a very potent reaction on some of its hunters. The pollen for the sumac can induce allergic-like symptoms and, it turns out, I was not immune. For me, this was strange because I’m not allergic to anything - at least not anything that I know of. During gathering, my nose insisted on dripping and I didn’t know why I was sneezing profusely. After we gathered what we needed, Waycee showed us how to spit the sumac. While getting used to the taste of the sumac branches our workshop leader informed the class that our reaction to the plant was caused from pollen of the K'į́į́' Bi'áád (female sumac). Thanks, Teach 😂! Now I know what sumac pollen feels like.
The trip was a success and I had picked enough K'į́į́' for the weaving portion of my project. Once we got home, I worked on splitting and gathering jeeh (piñon sap). In class, I learned from Thomas Yellowhair how to sew the jug, attach handles, and cover the piece with jeeh, making it water proof.
I am extremely excited for spring and learning to weave the ts'aa (ceremonial basket).