Thomas Curtis Sr

Intro:

On the Navajo Reservation you will find lots of silversmiths and rodeo cowboys. Animals are a way of life, just like silver is. Legendary Navajo silversmith Thomas Curtis Sr. excels at both. He has had an amazing career and might be in more demand now then when he was younger.

Perry Null Trading:

I am always fascinated by a story I once read about you trading a piece of silver for a pick-up truck, is this true?

Thomas Curtis Sr:

Yes, I had made a vase for the 1987 Indian Market. The piece won the “Best of Classification”, which is right below the “Best of Show”. I traded the piece for a 1966 ¾ ton pick-up truck.

Perry Null Trading:

Do you remember who you sold it to?

Thomas Curtis Sr:

His name was John Woodard and he had a shop in Sedona. We had visited before Indian Market and after I got back from Santa Fe he called me and asked if I still had the vase. I took it to him and when I saw him he handed me the keys to the truck.

Perry Null Trading:

What price did you have on the vase?

Thomas Curtis Sr:

I had the piece listed for $4500 at Indian Market.

Perry Null Trading:

What would it cost today?

Thomas Curtis Sr:

A lot of the price was the silver. At that time silver was around $5 an ounce, it has tripled since then. It would be around $9000 for that vase today.

Perry Null Trading:

Have you won the “Best of Show” at Indian Market or Heard?

Thomas Curtis Sr:

I have a “Best of Classification” at each show.

Perry Null Trading:

Do you have lots of awards for your silver work?

Thomas Curtis Sr:

I have 600 ribbons from lots of different shows. My late friend Gibson Nez encouraged me to enter Indian Market. So I started to do shows in the early 1980s, my first was the Northern Arizona Museum show. I won a “Best of Show” for a concho belt, the Curtis Champion belt.

Perry Null Trading:

That was your first show, and you won the “Best of Show”?

Thomas Curtis Sr:

Yes, and after I started doing shows I acquired customers from all over the Country.

Perry Null Trading:

Lets talk about rodeo, how did you get into that sport?

Thomas Curtis Sr:

When I was growing up in the White Cone, AZ area we didn’t have a car. In the 1940s most of the Navajo families around us still used a wagon. That meant lots of horses around and I was always riding them at a young age, it was just a way of life.

Perry Null Trading:

What events did you do?

Thomas Curtis Sr:

I did bareback, bull riding, and saddle bronc.

Perry Null Trading:

When did you win your first Champion buckle?

Thomas Curtis Sr:

In 1957, I was 15 years old and won at both the Indian Rodeo and Juniors Rodeo for bull riding.

Perry Null Trading:

Your jacket has a “Legendary Cowboy” award, when and for what organization awarded that?

Thomas Curtis Sr:

Twice, I was awarded the “Legendary Cowboy” in 2004 and again in 2006 by the All-Indian Rodeo Cowboys Association.

Perry Null Trading:

When did you give up rodeo?

Thomas Curtis Sr:

My last rodeo was 1969, it was also my last 1st Place. I somersaulted backwards off of a horse and when I got up he came back around and busted me up pretty good.

Perry Null Trading:

Is this when you started your silver making career?

Thomas Curtis Sr:

No, I did that before I started rodeo. I was twelve when I first started making my jewelry, the early 1950s.

Perry Null Trading:

How did you get into it?

Thomas Curtis Sr:

My Uncle was a blacksmith and he had his own business repairing wagons. It was like today’s garage, he had wagons lined up. I would help him and was fascinated by all of the tools and really had an interest in working with metal.

Perry Null Trading:

So did your Uncle teach you jewelry making too?

Thomas Curtis Sr:

No, I am self taught. I found out that my Grandparents on both sides were silversmiths. That really turned me on to jewelry making.

Perry Null Trading:

Did either of these Grandparents give you any instruction?

Thomas Curtis Sr:

My Grandfather was really stingy and would keep me out of his shop.

Perry Null Trading:

What was your first jewelry like, the same heavy traditional style you make today?

Thomas Curtis Sr:

No, silver was expensive and I made it lighter then my pieces today. I would do lots of stone pieces in a shadow box style.

Perry Null Trading:

Who did you sell to?

Thomas Curtis Sr:

I would go around to the Trading Posts and do Pow-Wows.

Perry Null Trading:

When did you start making the Curtis pieces we are use to seeing?

Thomas Curtis Sr:

In the 1960s I started making heavy silver and once I did the art shows my stuff became real popular.

Perry Null Trading:

Now, you have a daughter, Jennifer, that is going to continue the tradition of Curtis silver?

Thomas Curtis Sr:

Jennifer was always a daddy’s girl. She went with me everywhere and always showed an interest in everything. It didn’t matter if it was horses, guns, or silver. In high school she would help me in the shop and it has turned into a career for her.

Perry Null Trading:

Do you have any other children that do silver work?

Thomas Curtis Sr:

No, they all do their own things. One is in medical school, another sells cars, and one is a project manager for a contractor. I also lost a child in a motorcycle accident.

Perry Null Trading:

Now, do you do lots of orders for the Japanese?

Thomas Curtis Sr:

Yes, the Japanese come to my home and give me orders. It always amazed me that other artists around me struggled to sell their work and I had buyers coming right to my door.

Perry Null Trading:

Why do you think the Japanese have such an appreciation for Navajo jewelry?

Thomas Curtis Sr:

It comes from Navajo Land and is all handmade. Navajo jewelry is real popular their because it is real pretty.

Perry Null Trading:

Have you ever been to Japan?

Thomas Curtis Sr:

About 5 years ago the Ms Collection took me and my daughter to Tokyo. We did jewelry making demonstrations and had the opportunity to visit lots of the island.

Perry Null Trading:

What’s in your future?

Thomas Curtis Sr:

Keep going, make jewelry. I would like to open a museum that had both rodeo and silversmithing in it.



Available art from: Curtis, Thomas, Sr