In­spi­ra­tion in frag­ments

Jew­eler Mark D. Stevens

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO - JEW­ELER MARK D. STEVENS

WHAT I DO IS HAND-TOOL THE SIL­VER TO CAP­TURE THE SHAPE, THE SIZE, THE PAT­TERNS, CURVES OF THE SHERDS, ALL OF THOSE DE­TAILS.

ITis the for­tu­nate artist who finds him­self work­ing in a truly dis­tinc­tive niche — and when Mark D. Stevens first fash­ioned a piece of jew­elry as a replica of a pot­tery sherd, it wasn’t long be­fore he knew it was a hot idea. “The first one I made, from a fa­vorite sherd I kept on my work­bench, was in 2007,” he said. “I took it to an art show in San Fran­cisco, and what was in­ter­est­ing is that a gen­tle­man bought it al­most im­me­di­ately, but he wanted me to keep it on dis­play for the week­end.

“It was a one-of-a-kind piece, and it had a huge re­sponse. Af­ter that, my wife and I had a show in Fort Worth, and I brought six of these sherd-replica pieces. They sold in the first cou­ple of hours and we looked at each other and I said, ‘I guess this is what I’m sup­posed to be do­ing.’ It’s been non­stop, and I’ve re­pro­duced over 5,000 sherds.”

One of the in­ter­est­ing points in his story is that the in­spi­ra­tion for the idea was ap­par­ently divine. As he tells it in an artist state­ment, he was sit­ting at his work­bench one day, pre­par­ing to make some sil­ver bracelets. He picked up a fa­vorite pot­sherd from one of his hikes on La­guna Pue­blo land and was won­der­ing what the pot looked like when he heard a voice say, “Make it into jew­elry.” “God the Cre­ator was speak­ing to me,” he said.

Stevens (La­guna and Ital­ian) grew up in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, vis­it­ing the Pue­blo ev­ery year un­til 1996, when he pulled up stakes and started a new life at La­guna. About 10 years later, he be­gan trav­el­ing to Santa Fe once a week for a se­ries of sil­ver­smithing classes. “We learned the ba­sics of form­ing and chas­ing and fil­ing and cut­ting and sol­der­ing to cre­ate our first pro­ject. Then af­ter that I in­vested in all the equip­ment I needed — a bench, a torch, the tools, and sil­ver — to set up my own shop.” He spent a year prac­tic­ing and learn­ing new tech­niques like over­lay­ing sil­ver. His early pieces were con­tem­po­rized ver­sions of tra­di­tional styles, in­clud­ing cres­cent-shaped naja pen­dants, and bracelets and rings with stones and stam­p­work (which he said is a spe­cial love).

He has wanted to learn more new tech­niques in jew­el­ry­mak­ing, but his time is very lim­ited. He’s one of 18 own­ers in the Dough Moun­tain Cat­tle As­so­ci­a­tion. “We man­age a good 350 head of cat­tle. I have two com­pletely dif­fer­ent jobs, but my jew­elry is my pri­mary in­come.” Stevens and his wife, Shan­non Carr-Stevens (La­guna/Hopi), are show­ing jew­elry and land­scape pho­tog­ra­phy, re­spec­tively, at both the We Are the Seeds event and at Santa Fe In­dian Mar­ket.

Each of the works he of­fers for sale is based on a sherd of pot­tery he has found at La­guna. Some have frag­ments of de­signs he rec­og­nizes, but oth­ers are “so ab­stract I can’t fig­ure out what they were,” he said. His sherd-replica pen­dants, ear­rings, and other pieces are fairly pricey be­cause of the la­bor in­volved. Sev­eral years ago, he tried to cut costs for his cus­tomers by de­vel­op­ing a se­ries of molds, which he used to cast five ear­ring de­signs and five pen­dant de­signs in lim­ited se­ries. “The prob­lem was, I couldn’t take those to all of the shows, be­cause there are only a hand­ful of shows that al­low cast­ing. You can’t show cast jew­elry at In­dian Mar­ket, for ex­am­ple.” Also in the early years, he tried repli­cat­ing not only the de­sign on the sherds but the chips and other flaws. How­ever, that work wasn’t as pop­u­lar be­cause the fin­ished pieces looked like they were dam­aged.

With each of his pieces, he im­pro­vises based on the pat­tern on the sherd, of­ten carv­ing in relief as op­posed to the sin­gle-plane painted de­sign on the orig­i­nal pot­tery. “What I do is hand-tool the sil­ver to cap­ture the shape, the size, the pat­terns, the curves of the sherds, all of those de­tails, and I only make one piece for each de­sign,” Stevens said. “If you come by my show booths, the sherds are on dis­play with the fin­ished piece of jew­elry so the cus­tomers can see them, but once each item is pur­chased, I re­tain the sherd. Once a year, af­ter the shows are done, I take them to that canyon in La­guna, and I bury them in the place where I found them.” — Paul Wei­de­man

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