Published on June 15, 2013 by Amy
When Thomas Curtis, Sr. was born on the Navajo reservation, his grandmother told him, “You can make it with your vision, your mind, and your ten fingers. Everything is right here in your hands.” Her words were clearly prescient. Today, at age 55, Curtis is one of the most honored practitioners of the art of silversmithing.
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Curtis’ work is traditional, a reflection of the way he grew up and the way he still lives his life. His grandfathers were both silversmiths. Curtis started working in silver when he was twelve years old. “I work the way I used to see the old smiths do it. I just picture the outline and I start the piece from the center out.” His early experience as a blacksmith and sheet metal worker helped him become a better silversmith. . One example: Cutis makes his own tools, forging the dyes, or stamping tools, he uses to create patterns on silver from old broken files. ” If I do it right, they last for a long time.” He says
Nature and beauty found in it are important to the tradition of Navajo way of life. Curtis says he finds the inspiration for his own work by “looking at the ground, the sky, the plants, and the four season.” He also turns to sacred traditions. The ketoh, or bow guard is a ceremonial piece worn on the left wrist that provides protection and good luck. Remembering an old silver box that belonged to his grandfather, Curtis adapted the ketoh design for the lids of the sterling silver boxes for which he is renowned.
Just as Curtis learned his craft by watching his grandfather, he has shared his skill with his own children and grandchildren. His daughter Jennifer Redhorse, created contemporary silver jewelry and shows her work side by side with her dad’s. “My way, my belief, who I am today is made of four things — my grandmother, my grandfather, my mother, and my father.” Curtis says “When my kids picked up my work, that was real encouraging to me because it means the tradition are going to go on.”
Before he became a full-time silversmith, Curtis was also a champion bareback rider and a member of the All-Indian Professional Rodeo Cowboy’s Association. He sees a connection between his rodeo days and his silversmithing. “They have both been my brad and butter, my way of making a living. I was really serious about rodeo riding, and I’m the same way about silversmithing.” Cutis says he likes being a competitor, whether it’s on horseback or at Indian Market.
He entered his first Indian Market in 1984, winning first place and division ribbons. Thirteen years and countless ribbons later, he is modest about the origins of his art. “I guess I was blessed somehow. I make something and it catches someone’s eye and they want to buy it.”
Major Award: Santa Fe Indian Market, Best of Division, First, Second, and Third Place Awards