T H E P R O C E S S
"Sacred blue array of sky is always." - Simon J. Ortiz
Navajo silversmiths have been developing techniques and design elements to express the concept of Beauty for over 150 years. By the 1870's, Navajo jewelry makers had developed a style uniquely suited to express their deeply held cultural beliefs, hammering silver into archaic designs that draw their strength from stories and ceremonial life.
Starting with a crudely casted bar of silver, these indigenous metallurgists pounded out precious metals just as blacksmiths work iron to create esoteric jewelry that brought Beauty to their lives.
Ernie Lister continues to create jewelry using these techniques and in this spirit. He first works out a design that integrates archaic elements in a contemporary style, and then cycles through rounds of heating, hammering, and refining his design. Next, he sets gem-quality turquoise, coral, and other precious stones, and finally finishes and polishes the piece. One of the last smiths to carve turquoise for his necklaces, bracelets, and rings, he is also one of the very few to melt coin silver to be true to the materials of the earliest jewelry. Given the investment of time and labor required for this work. Ernie is perhaps the last to work at an anvil in the old way.
The Japanese philosopher Yanagi called works like these "mingei" in his writing about "the people's art" produced by mindful creators all over the world: such work emerges from the artist's "self-surrender" to nature and keeps alive the spirit of a pre-industrial world of craftsmanship and necessarily limited production. Ernie Lister finds his artistic vision in the Dineh culture of Beauty, walking the path of an artisan as a Navajo silversmiths, honoring his People's Art and extending its authentic practice into the twenty-first century.