Native American pieces that are completely handmade are becoming harder to find. By NA handmade, I mean made in the USA by a registered Native American using no manufactured elements. Its like cooking from scratch – using whole foods and no canned ingredients.
Jewelry by Algonquin artist Mike Schmaltz is not only handmade but beautiful and unique.
Michael (Poole) Schmaltz started making jewelry full time in 1973. He learned jewelry through making many mistakes and learning what not to do. He picked up some valuable tips by watching a few master Zuni silversmiths who were more than willing to share. He learned the art of hot forging ingots into sheet and wire from the blow by blow description of Tom Burnsides hammering silver that is described in the book The Navajo and Pueblo Silversmiths by John Adair.
Let’s step inside Mike’s shop and watch him create a coin silver dragonfly pendant from concept to finish.
Photo 1 – The design and dimensions are roughed out on graph paper.
Photo 2 The coin silver ingot is heated to a dull red, then taken to the anvil . When it turns black, it is pounded with a heavy hammer all over all surfaces, then reheated and pounded again. These steps are repeated until the required shape, thickness, and size is reached. It takes a lot of experience to know when to reheat so as to not get a cracked ingot.
To read more about coin silver click here.
Photo 3 The sheet is flattened by pounding with a polished faced hammer. Once the sheet is large enough for the project, the design is drawn on the metal.
Photo 4 The stamping is done and the outline of the dragonfly is cut out.
Photo 5 The smooth bezels are made to best suit the piece of jewelry. They are set in position and soldered in place. The stones will be cut to fit the bezels.
Photo 6 The edge of the body is refined and silver raindrop accents are added down both sides.
Mike makes all of his wire from ingot, hand drawing the wire through a draw plate.
Photo 7 The wire legs and Shepherd’s Hook are soldered in place.
Photo 8 The back complete with hallmarks
Photo 9 – The front complete and almost ready for stones.
Photo 10 – The dragonfly is antiqued with liver of sulphur which is then removed from the high spots with steel wool.
Photo 11 Now it is time to choose the stones. A few test ovals were drawn on this beautiful Chinese turquoise but it was determined that in small pieces this stone would be too dark.
Photo 12 – The Morenci stones have more bright color and variation so were chosen for this piece.
Photo 13 – The eyes are made by grinding spots out of the turquoise head and cutting jet to fit.
Photo 14 – Each stone is cut to fit a bezel and set one at a time with a little sawdust cushion underneath the stone to help prevent future cracking of the stone.
Photo 15 – And the finished dragonfly pendant. Ready to be hung from a strand of beads.
Mike’s jewelry speaks for itself – it is genuinely beautiful.
Thank you Mike for your photos and comments for this article.