Mike Schmaltz Brings a Dragonfly to Life

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.

What does Coin Silver mean in relation to Native American jewelry ?

 

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.

Paula

Many Men Thank Mary Bill on Mother’s Day

Mary Bill, along with her husband Ken Bill, is known for crafting heavy Sterling bracelets with and without gold.

Customarily, she uses at least 10 gauge sheet silver (and often 8 gauge) making her bracelets thick, durable and with great appeal to men.

Often she finishes the ends with a widened fishtail for comfort.

Sometimes she uses a lighter gauge silver and then use a combination of stamping, oxidation, and lightly brushing to give a satin finish.

She also makes substantial link bracelets

She has used and uses a number of hallmarks usually with STERLING and often with NAVAJO

Here are some of them:
K & M BILL
Mary and Ken Bill
Mary (often along with KENNETH BILL)
Mary Bill

Thank you Mary Bill and Happy Mother’s Day !

Paula

Navajo Silversmith Roland Dixson

Navajo silversmith and artist Roland Dixson produces traditional sterling silver pieces with excellent stampwork.

Roland Dixson Naja Pendant

Roland Dixson Naja Pendant

Characteristics of his style include scalloped edges with deeply domed centers.

Roland Dixson belt buckle with scalloped edges

Roland Dixson belt buckle with scalloped edges

The stamping is deep, intricate and not repetitive from piece to piece. He also incorporates repousse as evidenced in the photo showing the back of the buckle.

Roland Dixson buckle back showing evidence of repousse

Roland Dixson buckle back showing evidence of repousse

Repousse is a technique whereby metal is hammered into relief from the reverse side.

From the pieces that have come through our store, it appears that Roland Dixson uses only natural, untreated turquoise. Here is his hallmark.

Roland Dixson hallmark

Roland Dixson hallmark

I don’t know much about this artist so if anyone has any biographical information, I’d love to hear it.

Paula

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Paula, Can you help identify this brass bracelet?

Hello Paula,
We have recently come across a Native American cuff bracelet that we
would like to see if you or any of your blog followers could help with
identifying it.It is brass inlayed with turquoise and red coral. The
inside is marked with HB and with the second leg of the H and the
upright of the B being shared. Also above the HB are two symbols that
look very much like a pair of human eyelashes. 🙂 The design of the
inlay looks like water or waves. We do have pics available if you
would like to see them. Thanks so much.
Kim and Joe

BrassCuffBraceletFrontRC BrassCuffBraceletMark lightenedHi Kim and Joe,

This copper cuff bracelet is decorated with chip inlay.

Copper is a pure elemental metal that has been and is being used by Native American artists. Read all about copper here. 

Brass is an alloy made of copper and zinc. I have never seen Native American Jewelry made from Brass.

What is Chip Inlay?

Chip inlay is a method where cavities in jewelry are filled with a mixture of crushed stone, typically turquoise and coral, and epoxy resin. The piece is then polished smooth after the resin has hardened.

The cojoined initials HB have been used by several artists, Hispanic and Navajo. One celebrated (deceased) Navajo artist used a cojoined HB but verified versions of his hallmark look different than the hallmark on your bracelet so I hesitate to suggest his name lest it be associated wrongly. I do see many items on eBay with all variations of HB and other hallmarks being attributed to this noted artists yet none of the hallmarks are the same !

As far as the eyelashes – they are made with a common stamping tool that is used to decorate metal pieces, perhaps to represent rays of the sun (or possibly rain) such as is on the front of your bracelet and on this barrette.

BAR807-ABC--silver-C crop

The rays could be a shop mark in addition to the artist’s mark.

Or they could be an intentional part of the artist’s personal hallmark. One artist put fringe-like-rays around his initials, but usually it was an entire box, not just a topper.

However, I don’t recognize these particular lashes/rays nor do they appear in any of my hallmark references.

Therefore at this point, all I can say is probably Navajo copper bracelet with chip inlay.

Paula

What do the designs on the INSIDE of my cuff bracelet mean?

Hi Paula

Do you know what the symbolism is, if any, of the design on the inside of the Bruce Morgan cuff I just purchased?

NBS320-lg-gold-morgan-2 NBS320-lg-gold-morgan-4

I see that it is quite similar to the designs on the inside of the Mary and Ken Bill and the Mary Bill cuffs.  Jeff

NBS327-lg-gold-bill-1 NBS327-lg-gold-bill-4

Hi Jeff,
The artists that use the designs on the inside of the cuffs……..when I’ve commented on the designs, the reply is something like “just to show we care” or “to add something extra”. It is something like when I asked people in the Midwest who decorate the front of their houses with a kind of storybook trim…… when I asked “why?”, they said “for nice” !!
So not so much a symbolism as just an indication of craftsmanship. When the artists stamp the front, which requires quite a bit of force on a bracelet as thick as yours, the inside is against a heavy mandrel. By placing a design stamp there, they are just showing they can pull off two procedures at the same time and all looks nice.
Some Native American designs symbolize things while others are just an artist’s design, not meant to represent anything.
That’s all that I know…………if anyone else has something to add, please submit a comment.
Paula

Navajo Silversmiths 1880s

This is a fascinating read from a Smithsonian writer about very early Navajo Silversmiths.

Navajo Silversmiths 1880-1881

Hand Stamped Native American Cross Wanted

Hi Paula,

The cross in the attached photo was bought in New Mexico somewhere between Zuni & Navajo reservations – It was about 2.25 -2.5” in length – my husband lost his over the summer and we are trying to find another just like it – Can you help?

Thank you!  Denise

Hi Denise,

I have one very similar made by Francis Begay – it has a clear turquoise cabochon in the center. It is 2 1/2″ long including the fixed bail.

Hope this helps as I know how it is to lose a favorite piece of jewelry – often it is difficult to impossible to replace exactly  – especially when the piece was hand made.

We have found that one year we might purchase a certain pendant from an artist and when we want more the next year, he or she has moved onto different things and isn’t “set up” to make those any more. Navajo artists, especially, are quite inventive and always changing the items they make to suit themselves, the availability of materials and the market.

Best of luck,

 

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