Navajo artist Aaron Anderson is lots of things, but if you had to use one word to describe him I would say “real” works perfectly. This is one guy that doesn’t shy from telling you exactly what he thinks. Also he has an innate way of explaining his design as if he was a teacher to a student knowing every detail of his work. Aaron is not afraid to have his work sit next to the “big names” of tufa art, in fact he welcomes to have his unique designs, innovation, and creativity judged with the best.
1997 to Present
Tufa cast and modern with traditional influence
FIRST YEAR MAKING ART:
We have talked in the past about the Gallup Inter-Tribal Ceremonial. You seem to really care about this annual event?
It is the place where my work was really first noticed. In 2003 I won a blue-ribbon for “Best in Metal Smithing”. This was my first show.
Do you do other shows?
The last couple of years the Navajo Nation Fair has been putting up big prize money, and that has brought lots of well-known Navajo artists to the event. I have been doing the Navajo Nation show the last couple of years, it is easy being so close to home and it is my Nation.
How about the big shows?
I don’t do Santa Fe or Phoenix. I would like to see the Inter-Tribal regain some past glory and be the show all the top artists go to.
What changes does the Gallup Inter-Tribal need to make to bring back the top artists?
The Navajo Nation offers big prize money and that is why they are getting top artists. That would be a great place to start, more money for the winners at Inter-Tribal. Also, many artists in the past would have a booth on the Ceremonial grounds, and now those booths are t-shirts and other tourists items, they need to go back to the artists. It used to be the main show, all the greats brought their work to be judged. It was a big deal to be the “Best of Show”. I am trying to talk some artists I know to come back.
You won a blue-ribbon in 2003. When did you start making jewelry?
I started helping my uncles’ Wilford Henry (WHB) and Wilson Begay in 1991.
Did you know you would always make jewelry?
It has always been around me, my parents made jewelry, lots of my relatives make jewelry, it just seemed an easy transition. However, my father told me to go to college when I asked him about making silver.
Did you go to school?
Yeah, I studied civil engineering and use some of those skills in my approach to jewelry making.
Back to 1991, how long before you went out on your own?
I had spent some time going to shows with my cousins, Ira & Gary Custer, and would see these artist talk about tufa jewelry. Most of the stuff I would see was just sandcast, and immediately I knew I wanted to learn to do tufa. You can’t change design with sandcasting and I had so many different ideas of what I wanted to make. In 1997 I went out on my own and started doing some different things.
How did you go from sandcast to tufa cast?
I talked with my dad and he gave me the basic knowledge. He also showed me a tufa stone, and how to tell the difference between stones.
What would be differences?
I like to use a medium-hard stone, it seems to hold the design better for me. You have really soft stones that give the work that grainy look. Hard stones will let you give the work lots of detail, I usually wet this type of stone, this makes it easier to carve.
How does it work, from the start to finish of a piece of your jewelry.
Begins with an addiction to design. I will get up in the morning and start to draw a concept on paper. That will lead to a sketch that I place on a tufa stone.
How do we go from a rough sketch to a piece of your silver that has very precise lines?
I will use straight edges and squares, plus I modify lots of my knifes so I can get different depths and angles. Other artists always ask me about my modifications, which are very different compared to the basic tools. That is how I get the crisp detail of my work.
When you work with stones does that change your original idea?
Many times I will set that stone down on the paper and then draw my design as an outline. It is the change that keeps me motivated.
Thank you Aaron, we look forward to seeing you at the Gallup Inter-Tribal Ceremonial?