OF THE MONTH - JULY 2001
I finally had the pleasure of talking
with Amelia Joe-Chandler
for longer than a few minutes at an art walk or arts festival. Amelia
is first generation, full blooded Navajo and comes from a long line
of artists. From the Grayhill rug weavers on her fathers side,
to the relations that perform healing ceremonies on her mothers
side, both parents are former sand painters and are also in silversmithing.
Amelia was born in Evanston, Wyoming, she was raised on the Navajo
reservation in Northern New Mexico, and has her own long line of
credits and accomplishments.
Amelia Joe-Chandler is a gifted artist who has transcended traditional
Native American metalsmithing and jewelry-making while at the same
time keeping it at the core of her work. Amelia breathes new life
into her jewelry using sand, agates, turquoises and semi precious
stones in designs born of the landscapes she loves.
Of her jewelry artistry she says, My traditional Navajo background
surfaces in all aspects of my jewelry design. A complete shift from
traditional Navajo silversmith design to modern design will never
happen for me. The Navajo culture is a powerful part of my life
and I want parts of it to always surface in my jewelry design. I
have managed to combine my traditional ways with contemporary jewelry
assumed an adult money making role at an early age. She sold sand
paintings at 12 years old to trading posts and at 16 she struck
out on her own. At 18 she entered college with some scholarship
funds from her tribe and some from art guilds. She subsidized herself
through college by relying on the sales of her sand paintings. Amelia
was advised, as many are, to go into art education since that would
be the best reliable income when she graduated.
note: Amelia Joe-Chandlers work is available in
Moab at Earth Studio on Main Street.
One of the primary functions of art is to be seen and
experienced because photos often fall short of the real
Amelia earned her B.S. degree
in Art Education from New Mexico State University in Las Cruces,
NM; and went back to the reservation to teach middle school arts
and crafts. She used art combined with healing as a tool to teach
her students how to read, write and do math. Her art program was
an holistic approach to teaching other subjects. She taught at the
reservation for three years and then moved to Colorado to teach
in the public school system. In public school Amelia tried to teach
her students to understand how to embrace art as a gift; as part
of their culture instead of just an activity.
Three years later, Amelia taught at the Navajo Preparatory School
in Farmington, NM. She taught at the college level to advanced Navajos
of art. But at this preparatory school every student was required
to take four years of art in order to graduate.
Finally, Amelia decided to go back to college to get her masters
degree in art education with a specialty in Metal-smithing and Jewelry
Design from Indiana University. It was at Indiana University where
Amelia met Randy Long, Professor of Metal-smithing. Though Amelia
entered school for the purpose of gaining her masters in art education,
she already had ideas of using her silverwork as a means of making
a living. Amelia had gotten weary of trying to get the idea across
that art is a cultural way of life, rather than an activity, and
decided to employ her artistic talents to support herself instead
Professor Randy Long, Amelia learned about metal smithing and about
the business side of art. She realized that she didnt have
to be stuck in her native artistic traditions, and that metal smithing
was the only area that she could go contemporary without stepping
on traditional taboos. It was a safe medium to break through and
express her contemporary ideas without losing the traditional ties
that she valued. Amelia also likes to paint and sketch. But painting
and sketching are areas that you cannot show certain aspects or
too much out of respect for her culture. Wherever she
goes, Amelia takes her sketch pad with her as those sketches come
in handy when designing her jewelry. Amelia also takes a lot of
her philosophical ideas about living and uses them in her designs.
I never go into the studio if Im angry, or upset because
the energy gets into your work, says Amelia. When I
do go to the studio, Im always in a good mood. I love the
feel of the metal and stones, and try to create from Hózhó
to walk in beauty. Like my grandfather told me; you
have to get up every morning and balance everything in your life.
When I create, its out of goodness. Then whoever buys one
of my pieces, is attracted, in part, to that goodness. It becomes
a connection of goodness. Usually people say they buy a particular
piece because it spoke to them in some way and they feel good when
they put it on. I may not make more than one sale in a 3 day show
except to make a connection for just that one person that was looking
for just that kind of piece. My art has become a teaching tool aboutr
the Navajo culture; a culture I tried to run away from for a long
and I spoke about the reasons behind her wanting to run from her
culture and why she returned. I didnt want to raise
my Moms kids. I am the oldest, so taking care of 6 brothers
and 4 sisters is just part of a way of life on the reservation.
I didnt want to stay in one spot all my life and then raise
my own kids. I could have made a living, since silver workers are
common on the reservation. Everyone has one in their family, but
then others in my family would rely on my earnings to help support
them, which is also part of our culture. There is also a lot of
physical labor involved with making a farm and getting water since
there isnt any running water on the reservation. I was lucky
that I had to leave the reservation to finish high school. Then
you go home and wonder why am I here? My parents were
the generation of the boarding school when the government
bussed everyone to different schools and so they were dispersed
throughout the country. My parents dont really understand
what I do. Ive lived in African American neighborhoods, Hispanic
neighborhoods, all kinds of ethnic neighborhoods where I was the
only Navajo. Being aware of all of that, you kind of become a chameleon
between home and the outside world. A lot of Navajos that leave
the reservation go back because its really difficult trying
to deal with the prejudice. You learn to walk between two worlds.
So, when I go home, Im quieter, more reserved. In galleries,
I have to talk about my work, which is considered bragging and unacceptable
at home. Through all of it, my artwork is what has sustained me.
It got me to do things I wouldnt have done otherwise, like
travel or go to remote places to sketch. Ive never been separate
from my artwork. Now, I like going home, especially to be part of
the ceremonies. They inspire me and reinforce how much we are a
part of the earth. It makes you feel good about who you are.
ceremonies rejuvenate me and then the thoughts and ideas come.
Along the way, Amelia did learn about an enamel and epoxy process
for executing designs. With 200 pounds of sand leftover from her
sand painting days, and her background in painting, she decided
to put the process to work using metal and sand, and came up with
her unique designs. She is now successfully in her third year of
business with 1½ years on the internet and is becoming busier
and busier. She participates in four to five shows across the country
every year. And when I spoke to her, she was just preparing for
her third year of the Indian Market at Eiteljorg Museum in Indianapolis,
Amelia works on many custom orders from clientele who provide her
with pictures of their favorite areas or places while on honeymoons,
which she then incorporates into jewelry for them; not to mention
the least of which might be wedding bands. The satin finish process
of raising fine silver to the surface, so characteristic of her
work is much less messy than the polishing technique and doesnt
require machinery. Of this process, her parents say thats
how it was done a long time ago in the early 1900s before
machinery was available.
Amelia is a successful artist and business person, she says she
will never fully leave teaching. She loves it and its part
of who she is. She has already taught an art appreciation class
for non majors at CEU here in Moab. She continues to teach a 5 day
intensive metal smithing class every year at Eagle Rock Alternative
Education School in Estes Park, Colorado.
Amelias personal assessment of her art is summed up in her
artists statement, The Diné (Navajo) Philosophy
of Life encompasses air, fire, water, and earth which are worked
into my pieces. The four cardinal directions, the four sacred colors,
the four sacred plants, and the four sacred mountains are an integral
part of my thoughts and processes in my designs. The symbolic representation
of these elements appear as negative space, line, shape, color,
and texture on silver, copper, and gold. These elements of nature,
life giving sources, however, will not be shown together on one
whole piece. Today, it is not wise to say too much or show too much.
To walk in beauty (Hózhó), as I have learned,
is not easy when one leaves footprints on both the reservation land
of the Navajo Nation and the open land of America.
is very fortunate to have someone as talented and artistic as Amelia
Joe-Chandler. She is currently getting set up to be able to teach
out of her studio at home. If you are interested in future classes,
you can contact Amelia Joe-Chandler at 259-4543 or email her at:
firstname.lastname@example.org; or visit her website: www.navajo-art.com.
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