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 !
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?!
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.