Navajo artist Calvin Desson creates magic with his spectacular inlay work. He brings rocks to life with scenes inspired from his Navajo Reservation upbringing. His work amazes all of us here at the Trading Post and we have been fortunate enough to see lots of pieces. Last year he won a blue ribbon for a bolo, and we imagine more and more awards will be coming his way as his career progresses.
1986 to Present
Invisible Stone Inlay
FIRST YEAR MAKING ART:
Where did you grow up?
I am from the Lupton area.
Did you go through school there?
I went all over. Hunter’s Point, Tohatchi, Sanders, and Wingate.
Those are boarding schools?
Yes, I would stay at school all week and then come home on the weekends.
What got you into art?
In the 5th grade I had an art class. We would enter our art at local art fairs and I would win some ribbons. That is when I started to get into art.
What were you making?
Drawings, usually pencil and would do animal and scenery.
Did you do any other type of art during your school years?
In the 9th grade I had a pottery making class at Sanders that I took for a year. It was messy and after that year I went back to drawing.
So when did you start making jewelry?
I had a child during high school and was married. So after high school I started looking for a job, this was in the mid 1980s. I landed work in Oklahoma and was in Tulsa for the next 3 years.
Did your family go with you?
No, I lived off of my per diem and would send my paycheck home.
What did you do after Oklahoma?
The company I worked for went out of business so I came back home and started looking for work again. This time I got a job doing plumbing for a big hotel being built in Deer Valley, AZ.
How long did that last?
A couple of years and then the company moved to the next project in Las Vegas. That is when I decided to come back home again.
So this is when you start making jewelry.
I looked around for other employment, but just couldn’t find the jobs here like you can in the big cities.
So what did you do?
My grandpa’s brother worked for Yellowhorse Trading in Lupton and got me a job there doing inlay work.
That is the first time you make jewelry, your parents didn’t teach you jewelry making?
My father was an artist, he made sandpaintings and jewelry, but he didn’t teach me because of the fire danger when I was little.
Ok, so you go to work at Yellowhorse, what is the first thing you make?
They gave me three stones and by the end of the day I had made a three stone face, and after two weeks I was staying late to get extra work.
It just came natural to you?
I have always been a fast learner and creating with my hands has always come easy.
Walk me through the process you use now?
I have lots of drawings. So I will take pieces from my drawings and sketch what I am going to make. The sketch will be the size of the piece so next I will make the silver. After that I get the stones I am going to use and start to cut them down, using a mini-blade. That is the process until I get the shape I want.
How long did you stay at Yellowhorse?
Three months, and that is when Alvin Yellowhorse asked me to come work for him. I would do more difficult inlay and after I worked for him I went out on my own, that was about 2004.
Do you do any shows?
No, I sell mostly here in Gallup, sometimes heading out to Santa Fe and Albuquerque.
You do art fulltime, what is next for you?
Yes, I work full-time and who knows, maybe someday I will come in here with a three dimensional face.