Creation is perhaps the single word that best describes the talent of Aaron Toadlena. He and Eve, his wife of twenty-one years and their two daughters, two sons, and grandson, live with the four sacred mountains of his people the Dine' in the southwest highlands of Arizona.Aaron, understands that his talent is a blessing from the Holy People, with this gift he has sustained the livelihood of his family. All of the jewelry made by Aaron are stamped with a hand print, which is symbolic of the creators five finger clan. The ideas and creation of his jewelry evolve when his mind, heart, eyes and hands work in concert.The stones and shells which he works with have a very special meaning. Just as his progenies have done, his people continue to make their offerings of white shell, turquoise, abalone shell, and jet near the natural streams for goodness of life.With the same thought in mind the precious stones and shells are complemented with silver and gold. Aaron creates the melody of fine craftsmanship in the late evening or early dawn, when the ideas echo from the well of his soul. In the language of his people Toadlena translates into "where the streams come together."
Aaron Toadlena A.T. in Hand
1970 to Present
Aaron Toadlena - Full name in Hand
1970 to Present
Aaron Toadlena - Text
1970 to Present
Aaron Toadlena - AET
1970 to Present
Classic Traditional design, many unique artistic pieces
When did you start making silver jewelry?
My brother worked for John Kennedy who owned Gallup Indian Trading Company. He would work in his shop making jewelry and after school I would go there and do odd jobs and buff jewelry.
Who taught you, your brother?
No, I would just watch my brother and the other silversmiths make pieces. I picked it up from watching them.
Did you go to Gallup High School?
No, I went to Tohatchi High School. My brother would pick me up after school and we would head to Gallup to work at Kennedy’s shop.
Did any of your relatives have a workshop where you lived?
My Uncle, Ernest Baloo, had a shop and would do sandcast work. He would let me help him, but this was after I was already doing stuff at home in Toh-la-kai.
Once you started working in the shop did you know that you wanted to be a silversmith, as a career?
I liked it, but you also have to do what makes you a living.
What other work have you done?
I have always done silver, just not fulltime. I have worked for several different companies driving truck, including for the Navajo Tribe. When the Navajo Housing Authority was building lots of homes on the Reservation I worked for them. Also, I worked for Ray Tracy making traditional style jewelry. When I lived in Albuquerque I worked for a couple of shops including the Silver Nugget.
Did you like living in Albuquerque?
Everything was convenient. Where I live now I have to drive a long way just to get the essentials.
When you worked for Ray Tracy where you influenced by any of the other artists in the shop?
He had lots of artists working in his shop, good ones, like Benson Manygoats and Randy Boyd. So you got to see some nice things being made, but I always did my own style of work.
Why do you like to do the old style Navajo silver?
Today you have so much stuff being made and a lot of it is cast. To me traditional jewelry is when you do it all, hammer the silver, that is the way I think jewelry should be made.
Have you ever done any art shows?
A couple, one time in the 1987 I did a show in California for Armand Ortega. Also, in 1995 I did a show at the Governors Museum in Santa Fe, and another in 1997 at the St. Louis Art Museum. Just recently I was contacted by a museum in Boston.
What did the museum want?
They have a piece of mine that they wanted to know if it was ok to publish. Once you get in books it looks good. I have had my pieces in advertisements in the Cowboys & Indians magazine plus Oprah’s magazine, I had good reactions from those advertisements.
So you are doing silver full-time now, what else are you doing?
My son Kamrin is graduating from high school this year and that has kept me busy. He is wanting to go into law enforcement like his older sister. I still have two at home, one is in high school. My oldest daughter is a police officer.
You like to hunt too, right?
Yes, I do hunts on the Navajo Reservation and State lands. Always trying to draw for the trophy areas on the Reservation. I will hunt deer, elk, and turkeys each year. Plus we have a bow club for the Tohalakai area.
What is that all about?
We sponsor three events a year, shooting at 3D targets. I just won 3 gold and 1 silver at a tournament in Tucson. The bow keeps me pretty busy.
Do you think any of your children will follow in your footsteps making silver?
I don’t push them and right now none of them show an interest. If they do I would be happy to show them.
What are your favorite pieces to make?
Bracelets. I want to build a bunch of different stuff that no one has ever seen before, like the planet bracelet I brought Perry.