Navajo Cultural Arts Certificate, Dual Credit Student, Silversmith
My name is Tavian and I am a student at Navajo Pine High School. I am also a silversmithing student at Diné College as part of the Dual Credit Program. That means that I take college credit courses while completing my high school degree. This is my 4th silversmithing class here at the Diné College and my 3rd class with my instructor, Teddy Draper, Jr. This semester was very challenging, informative, and fun! I learned so much and am excited for this coming summer because I’m thinking of all the projects I’ll make.
But enough of my general thoughts - let's take a look at my CA408: Intermediate Silversmithing projects - all done online - all done while I was trying to stay a top of my high school work - all done during a pandemic :)
The fourth project I had issues - actually major issues - it was a tufa cast project. After heating up the silver, pouring it continuously. The silver would either fill up and overflow or it would pour but still not fill the design to the bottom. After carving the design again, creating more vents - the tufa cracked. I researched and reached out to Teddy, we figured it out, so I carved the design again. But I guess this project was just not meant to be for now....I accidentally bumped it off the table and it broke in half. This was so infuriating; I couldn’t finish the project as the situation worsened. Like I said before - sometimes the silver makes the final decisions and sometimes, you don't like silver's decisions.
But silver not pouring the way I wanted was not a waste- it was pouring the way I needed. I needed to self reflect. Being a high school student and a college student is exciting but it is a challenge and you have to be willing to put in the extra work. Typically, I’m really good at managing my responsibilities: sports (football, basketball, and baseball), high school assignments, and silversmithing. But this semester was particularly rough and I started falling behind what when I lost three relatives in one week - it was almost impossible for me to forget that we were in a pandemic, even sitting behind my silversmithing desk. I decided to make my family a priority. I knew I was going to fall behind but family comes first. I am not the type of person to make excuses, I like to be held accountable, and I held myself accountable for my late work.
The NCAP team did hold me accountable - but in a family way. They found me! They pulled me back into activities like the Spring Navajo Cultural Arts Virtual Exhibit hosted by the Native American Arts Magazine Online. Can you believe it? My work featured online! They pushed me to get back into contact with my instructor and they got me to catch up the best I could.
I remember when I first started silversmithing, Teddy told me, “Move at your own pace, put in a lot of effort, and don’t be LAME. Make something nice you’ll be proud of”. I’ve always kept that in mind and did my best this semester to not be lame and to be proud of myself. I’m glad I participated in silversmithing classes, it helped me in many ways. I appreciate the art and can’t wait for summer to make more awesome jewelry!
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 (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?!
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).
NCAC Emerging Artisan 2018/19 (Weaver)
I am a weaver in this year Navajo Cultural Arts Certificate Program. My cohort member is Tamerra Martin and our instructor is Ilene Naegle. We weave together at the Window Rock Diné College Branch on Wednesday afternoons. It has been great working with these ladies - but through the NCAP, I was able to learn a little more about the cultural arts - specifically silversmithing. Therefore, I would say that my favorite NCAP activity during the Fall 2018 semester (besides going to weave at the Heard Museum) was working with silver and natural stones in our NIS129 Materials and Resource Class.
Most of the people that I know who do silverwork, work in their homes whenever they can. Their homes usually have electricity where the buffering is done with electricity. At one time every thing was done by manual labor. Up to now, it seemed like silversmithing was a costly hobby with a costly initial investment. It takes time, money, and labor to produce quality art pieces. That's why I was excited when one of our workshops was on silver bead making.
In the workshop, Dr. Christine Ami presented on types of metal (copper, brass, silver, gold), different gauges, and variations of the natural stones. She even mentioned how coins were originally used by Navajos for silversmithing. Dr. Ami had some high quality handmade- jewelry pieces that her husband had made. She gave us tips about buying materials and selling the art pieces. I don't think such advice is clearly given to new artists so freely.
At the end of the Dr. Ami's presentation, the former 2017/2018 Miss Navajo, Crystal Littleben did a hands on workshop. Miss Littleben was very helpful and attentive. She worked with us on cutting, stamping, soldering, and buffing of the silver beads. We started with copper and then moved into silver once we got an understanding of the process. I know everyone had a memorable day at this workshop because it was fun and interacting. At the end of the day, we produced an art piece. Thank you both, Dr. Ami and Miss Littleben, for your time, skill, knowledge, patience and everything else too 😄. Now, these two ladies not only know the art work but both are very smart, supportive when working with people.
A Posting by Zefren Anderson, Emerging Artisan
Hello! I’m Zefren Anderson from the 2017-2018 Navajo Cultural Arts Program (NCAP) cohort at Diné College. I’m a weaver and this year I am emphasizing not only in my own craft of weaving but also in sliversmithing.
As part of our Materials and Resource class, Mark Deschinny of Church Rock came to Tsaile to teach us how to make weaving tools. With the prowess and mobility of an olden days Honaghaahnii trader, Mr. Deschinny is a weaving toolmaker to the People of the southwest
(more at www.geocities.ws/deschinny/Looms_and_Supplies). Although we were off to a late start, I maintained an open mind – wondering if Mr. Deshchinny’s teachings would coincide with, be contrary to or be entirely new to my own.
All teachings are valid to the clans that hold them, and it’s an interesting exchange of ideas when clans share teachings. I have been taught within the family traditions of the Hashtlishniis - if it works use it, if broke, fix it and if it can’t be used, repurpose and reuse. Many of our family tools are remnants of bigger whole tools. For example, old split battens finding new life as needles, sticks and finishing tools. I’ve found that many clans don’t do this, so I’ve not had much success making tools for weavers when they asked how they were made. The same goes for the many stories of the oral traditions of each clan along with the anthropological knowledge of the tool use, design and origin. In my own research of recreating pre 1868 Navajo Weavings, I’ve come to find the stories and museums were the best places to learn how to create the tools. They are different from the tools we use today, but they are they are both part of a long story of living and surviving.
Mr. Deschinny arrived with tools and goals. Two big totes full of various woods, examples pieces, and a few power tools created a complete woodshop for our cohort. The goals were simple:
We shared personal introductions and he let us in on the story of how he came to support his family from tool making. He also shared that his family’s history included the creation of a comprehensive dye chart for education. His family takes great care in tool making, using local sustainable wood, natural finishes, and a philosophy to avoid abuse of our natural resources like wood. Use of fire and darkening of the grain is prohibited. After some safety training, we set off to create our projects.
Bee’adzoo’í can be made from gamble oak or in our case juniper. In the olden days, a whole branch is carved and sanded until it resembles a five fingered Bee’adzoo’í. But now we can use a saw to create multiple combs from one branch. Most modern Bee’adzoo’í are prized for evenness, aesthetic beauty and even the heaviness that creates tight hard weavings prized by collectors all over the world. I created my comb in the manner of my Shinaliadzaanbima. The comb manipulates the weft texture first then, it sets lightly into the warps. It is cut out exactly in the manner of one’s hand with their fingers outstretched set ¾” into the wood. The tips expose warp and keep weft tight. The area near the joints of the comb will stretch the weft and hide warp and a rounded pick at the opposite end of the comb.
Why do we care so much about the weft? …. In the old story of the 1st weaving a problem arose on the weft spacing and warp due to tension irregularities created by changes in humidity. It allowed weaving resume outside a regular source of water and the weaver could adapt technique to the environment.
Bee’K’initl’ish can be made from any hardwood. For our workshop we used Red oak. Steaming or wet earth bending can create the characteristic bend of a stable batten, Mr. Deshchinny uses weight as the wood cures. Tips are usually sanded up as the weavers prefer this shape. A state of mind and manual finesse coupled with a belt sander will produce great results for Bee’K’initl’ish. During this step, the NCAP Cohort members sanded and shaped their combs. Not surprising…their created tools showed the particular personalities of their creators.
The finally sanding took the longest as we went from tool to tool, queuing on the saw and sanders while sharing stories and teachings. The Bee’K’initl’ish was created after all the tools required to warp up a weaving, is was found using for quick weaving in solid colors, passing long bundles of string between the wraps but when the humidity went down the batten would leave uneven spaces in the weaving as the air dried. Another tool needed to be made
Bee’adizi can be made from anything culturally appropriate -clay, metal, wood or even concrete. In class, pieces were cut from a spilt juniper branch so everyone had enough time to complete one. Bee’adizi has changed over the last few years, as even more weavers are less dependent on Navajo Churro and Wool and more on brown sheep Company wool. Now weavers have one spindle where in the past there were several each suited to a particular task or fiber, even in the oral stories there are 5 spindles working yucca, cedar, cotton and wool. I wanted a general-purpose abalone spindle for a pre 1840s Biiheeh project. It needed to be light, fast, short and balanced manually. Using the curve of the spilt branch as a guide I shaped the whorl while Mr. Deshchinny leveled and drilled the hole.
By the end of class I had a perfect spindle for my future projects and I’m grateful for this whole day experience. I’m sure most of the NCAP cohort members also enjoyed themselves and got more from workshop than what they expected.
I’m looking forward to the next workshop -- Traditional Dye and spinning.
A posting by Christine M. Ami, Grant Manager
Call me sentimental but I want to make an old school mixtape – you know … where you wait by the radio with a blank cassette tape loaded, hoping that the radio DJ plays your favorite songs and praying that your finger reflexes can hit the record button before too much of the song’s intro is cut off. On my mixtape I want Adele’s “Send My Love”, Jennie Rivera’s “La Chacalosa”, Justin Timerlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling”, and Diisigner’s “Panda” to play, so that I may make a gift, a mixtape, for our 2016 Emerging Artisans who just completed their Navajo Cultural Arts Certificate Program. Each song has a unique reference to one of these Emerging Artisans and together - I think this mixtape might just serve as the NCAP soundtrack for this year!
But first, let’s rewind to December 2015…..
The Center for Diné Studies (CDS) had the framework for a potentially amazing Navajo Cultural Arts Certificate Program – the curriculum was set, syllabi were drafted, instructors had been selected, and I had recently stepped up as the NCAP grant manager.
And then in January 2016 this happened…..
Ilene Naegle walked into my office
Delia Wauneka picked up an advertisement
Dawayne Bahe called me on my cell phone
Carlon Ami sat down at the registration table
These four students stepped up to test this budding program’s mission statement:
“To enhance and revitalize traditional Navajo cultural arts practices while providing opportunities for Navajo cultural arts knowledge holders and master artisans to share their unique skills in a multigenerational setting.”
In the end – the students’ exit surveys speak for themselves.......
“This has been the most developmental period during my career as a silversmith. I am extremely grateful for this program and the opportunities/knowledge it has provided me. Thank You, a resounding thank you to the NCAP!”
"I am so glad and happy I took the certificate program. I am artistically and culturally more award of Native American and Navajo cultural arts."
"My fellow cohort group were the best group to have experience the time with throughout each semester. We have grown close and I feel like I have related to them as family now."
"This program was so great and I am happy to be part of it. I have big hop that this program will excel with every cohort."