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Edison Sandy Smith

Posted on October 23, 2014 by Jason

Edison Sandy Smith

Introduction
Some artists promote themselves and create work from being great salesmen. They will hit all the shows, dealers will put their work in their high dollar advertisements, and it just seems like everyone knows them. On the other hand you have artists like Edison Sandy Smith that aren’t concerned with making it a business, but are just really into what they do. Buyers pick up a piece of his work and just know that they want more and ask the question, who is this. Then one day everyone is looking for you and wants your work, well that is the Edison Sandy Smith story.
Perry Null Trading:
Thank you for doing this interview, didn’t think it would ever happen. Lets start with the beginning, where did you grow up?
Edision Sandy Smith:
Outside of Flagstaff, AZ the US Government has a army depot that produced ammunition during World War II. It employed lots of Navajo and Hopi people, including my parents. It was in Bellmont, AZ and that is where I was born.
Perry Null Trading:
Did you grow up at this army base?
Edison Sandy Smith:
Some, I went back in forth between Flagstaff and my Grandma’s house in the Steamboat area. My first schooling was in Steamboat, kindergarten. Then it was back to Flagstaff for 1st grade..
Perry Null Trading:
What childhood memories do you have?
Edison Sandy Smith:
I can remember being out on the Reservation with my Grandma and a goat coming into the pickup truck where I was sitting. On the mirror we had a clown hanging and the goat ate it, I remember being terrified and just crying.
Perry Null Trading:
Did you finish your schooling in Flagstaff?
Edison Sandy Smith:
No, I went back in forth between Flagstaff & Santa Fe. For 2nd thru 7th grade I went to Nativity Catholic in Flagstaff, it is now called St. Mary’s. Then in 8th grade I went to a Catholic boarding school in Santa Fe, St. Catherine’s Indian School. I stayed there until half way thru my senior year when I went back to Flagstaff High School and graduated there.
Perry Null Trading:
So, you went to all of these Catholic schools, how did you retain your Navajo language and culture?
Edison Sandy Smith:
I was a very average student and that was because of the language. At home all we talked was Navajo so that made school very difficult. Plus, when I was with my Grandma everything was in Navajo.
Perry Null Trading:
You are an average student concerning your grades, how about other school activities?
Edison Sandy Smith:
I think of myself as being athletic when I was young. I played basketball and ran for cross country and track. My best subject in school was art, I would do lots of painting and drawing.
Perry Null Trading:
How about jewelry making, did you learn that in school?
Edison Sandy Smith:
I was always interested in jewelry making because when I was a kid I can remember seeing my people wearing those beautiful silver and turquoise pieces. When I was around 12 years old I started experimenting with jewelry making, messing around with copper wires and making rings, simple stuff.
Perry Null Trading:
How about the complicated stuff, did a family member teach you?
Edison Sandy Smith:
At St. Catherine’s Indian School I was in art class. My teacher, Sister Angela Marie, taught us many different types of art. She was the teacher for all of the art classes. I would spend many evenings in her room just drawing because it kept me out of trouble and I liked doing art. She took an interest in me and really encouraged my art.
Perry Null Trading:
How about the jewelry, did she teach you that?
Edison Sandy Smith:
Sister Marie talked with the curator at Navajo Ceremonial Arts in Santa Fe. She was able to talk him into having my own show there. So I made Navajo scenery and figure paintings and was very excited about having my own show. They had these cases there at Navajo Ceremonial Arts that displayed these old pieces of Navajo jewelry and I shared with Sister Marie how I always wanted to make silver. This is when she shared with me how before she became a nun she went to Xavier University in New Orleans and had an art class that taught her to make gold jewelry, hands on.
Perry Null Trading:
So, Sister Marie taught you silversmithing?
Edison Sandy Smith:
Yes, after that show she bought silver and put together what tools she could and started teaching me how to make jewelry after school. This was when I was a sophomore, and there were other kids you wanted to learn too. So the next year the school made it an official class. We learned the basics like soldering, filing, sawing and then took these skills and would practice on or own. I was always in their making jewelry.
Perry Null Trading:
Those early pieces did you sell them?
Edison Sandy Smith:
No, most of them we would leave in the class. In the late 1990s the school wanted to give back the art to the students. They contacted me and I went to pick up a couple of paintings. I asked about Sister Marie and learned that she was in Pennsylvania at that time, a few years later I learned she passed. I had never went back to visit with her after leaving St. Catherine’s.
Perry Null Trading:
You are into the jewelry now, what did you do after graduation?
Edison Sandy Smith:
I went to the Institution of American Indian Arts (IAIA) for a year and a half. Their I was able to take jewelry making and kept working on my art. You could use all the silver you wanted there, it didn’t cost you anything. If you wanted to make pieces to sell you could buy your own silver and use the shop tools. I made lots of stuff and it was when I began to start to take my work to shops for sale and begin buying turquoise.
Perry Null Trading:
Where would you sell these pieces and what kind of turquoise were you using?
Edison Sandy Smith:
I would go to a couple of different shops, don’t remember their names. My first sale was 2 overlay bracelets that I got $50 for. I really like Persian Turquoise and would pay $1 a carat which was a real steep price for turquoise back then, 1972-73.
Perry Null Trading:
What was your style of jewelry?
Edison Sandy Smith:
I always wanted to make the pieces I saw as a kid, real Navajo jewelry. I was about working the silver, traditional work, repousse and embossing.
Perry Null Trading:
After IAIA, what did you do?
Edison Sandy Smith:
I moved back to Flagstaff and was doing jewelry fulltime. It was making me a living. After a couple of years in Flagstaff I moved back to the Steamboat area in 1974 and have pretty much been there since, a little back in forth to Flagstaff.
Perry Null Trading:
Did dealers know you?
Edison Sandy Smith:
No, I went to a lot of different shops, they like my work and would buy it, but always looked at me like I had stolen it because of the way I looked and the traditional style of the pieces. The work was really good, not like they were use to seeing.
Perry Null Trading:
That had to be frustrating, thinking it wasn’t your work?
Edison Sandy Smith:
I started using a hallmark in 1977, that pretty much took care of it. I would tell the dealer see, ESS, I am Edison Sandy Smith let me show you my id. But I did things like heishe, hand shaped stones for cluster, things that lots of artists didn’t spend the time learning and makes a big difference in the quality of work.
Perry Null Trading:
Today, we have several customers ask for your work, when did you start to get lots of attention?
Edison Sandy Smith:
It started around 2000 – 2001 when a dealer put my work in an advertisement that ran in the Native Peoples Magazine. Collectors didn’t know what name to put to my work, this advertisement exposed me. It really changed my life.
Perry Null Trading:
How did it change your life?
Edison Sandy Smith:
I never made jewelry for money, it was always the art. These buyers would find me and want me to make all of these things for them it made things very difficult for me. This was around 2004, and my eyes started drying up and with all of the demands for my silver, I was now producing about a 1/3rd of the jewelry before 2000.
Perry Null Trading:
Have things changed for you?
Edison Sandy Smith:
I have just had to tell people no. My work is getting back to what I want to make, not filling orders. The quality has improved and I am still very interested in making jewelry. Now it is just my eyes, I have some really good days where if I am motivated I can get lots of work done, when they are bad I just don’t work.
Perry Null Trading:
Lets revisit your hallmark, people who collect your work would be interested in the different hallmarks and the periods you used them?
Edison Sandy Smith:
In 1977 I started with ESS, no sterling or star. In 1981 I used ESS with a sterling stamp, then in 1990 I changed to the hallmark I am still using, ESS w/a sterling stamp and a star.
Perry Null Trading:
Did you do any shows?
Edison Sandy Smith:
Some, but I really don’t enjoy the shows. I do some demonstrations that I really enjoy.
Perry Null Trading:
What kind of questions do you get asked?
Edison Sandy Smith:
Everyone always wants to know who taught me how to make jewelry, they are always surprised when I tell them a white Scandinavian Nun taught me silver making. I always have to reassure them this is the truth, not a family member.
Perry Null Trading:
Did anyone in your family make jewelry?
Edison Sandy Smith:
Yes, my father told us later he made jewelry but never was interested in teaching us. Plus, my cousins Ronnie & Pat Bedonie make jewelry and they are very well known.
Perry Null Trading:
What are your future plans?
Edison Sandy Smith:
Make the jewelry I want to make, not what others want from me.

Available art from: Smith, Edison Sandy

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