Saturday, February 27, 2010


Today we visit Arizona and are profoundly moved by the sight of the magnificent, world-renowned Grand Canyon. The powerful currents of the Colorado River carved out the intricate layers of rock, the caves of which became a homestead to many Native Americans. Arizona is also home to featured jewelry designer Dennison Tsosie.

The American Southwest is an area commonly known for its exceptional silver and turquoise jewelry.

The Navajo Indians, in particular, are recognized for creating spectacular sterling silver pieces that encompasses about 150 years worth of Mexican, Moorish and Spanish design influences.

The art of silversmithing was not only passed down through generations within the Navajo tribe, but the art was initially passed down from one culture to another.

According to historians, the first Navajo who learned the craft, Atsidi Sani (a/k/a Old Smith), learned the trade from Mexicans who learned it from Spaniards.

Tsosie is a third generation Navajo silversmith who trained under the guidance of his grandfather. At the age of eight, he assisted the elder Tsosie with mold casting and within a few years, he was creating his own jewelry pieces.

Tsosie's grandmother, who weaved elaborate rugs, also served as a prominent role model in the designer's work ethic. Perseverance and detail-orientedness were essential to his grandmother's trade, and he understood these character traits were just as necessary in metalworking.

Imbued with natural artistic gifts, Tsosie also excelled at painting, a skill he taught himself, and the subsequent sale of his artwork enabled him to help with family finances. As an adult, though he continued making jewelry part-time, Tsosie obtained employment that was more lucrative.

His desire and love for silversmithing, however, remained and despite the surge of cheaper, mass produced imitations of Native American silver jewelry, Tsosie wanted to become a full-time silversmith in the tradition of his grandfather.

In 1988, he established his company The Navajo Silversmith, and discovered there was still a populace craving authentic, Navajo sterling silver jewelry. Tsosie creates both custom and ready-made designs.

He divides his collections between traditional styles, and contemporary aesthetics implementing longstanding techniques such as inlaid stones like carnelian, lapis, or turquoise, as well as overlay, a technique commonly associated with Hopi Indians.

Overlay involves carving out a design in one sheet of silver and then soldering it to a second sheet, which serves as a backing. The backing is then oxidized or blackened creating a contrast of high polish silver and black metal.

His gorgeous silver pieces are clean, angular while the more traditional items highlight chunky stone arrangements. Both aesthetics capture the spirit of the Navajo people with designs inspired by horses, eagles, petro glyph stone carvings, and talismans.
Photo 1 (top right): Sterling Silver Shaman Necklace with Gold Accents and Turquoise Heishi Beads
Photo 2 (bottom left): Sterling Silver Horsing Around Overlay Cuff
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