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5enses • 12

Art as Ceremony


or thousands ofyears we humans have sought ways to express our reverence and pay homage to the world around us.

From the cave paintings ofLascaux in France and the prehistoric pictographic art ofthe Southwest, we know the expression ofemotion and intent through works ofart as a basic human need. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the works ofjewelry artist Dewey Nelson. Quiet and unassuming, Dewey was born and raised in Prescott and enjoyed a childhood filled with inspiration. His mother, an English teacher at Prescott High School, also directed the theatre department, and his Hopi father painted scenery for the productions. But it was exposure to the work ofhis Hopi relatives that drew him to jewelry.

The Hopi have deep cultural ties to jewelry-making dating back

to the early 1800s, and it was Dewey’s relatives Fred Katobie (who painted the famous murals at the Grand Canyon’s Desert View Watchtower) and Paul Saufkie who helped develop the overlay technique associated with traditional Hopi jewelry today. Fred Katobie’s first piece ofjewelry was a gift to Eleanor Roosevelt. It was from Katobie and Saufkie’s sons Michael and Lawrence that Dewey learned to make jewelry. After mastering basic silversmithing skills, Dewey quickly developed his own unique style, rejecting the common forms influenced by Spanish designs, such as conchos, in favor ofthe organic textures oftufa casting, which expresses his respect for the earth. This technique makes use ofthe compressed volcanic-ash material known as tufa, commonly found in northern Arizona. In a labor-intensive process, a chunk oftufa is cut in half, carved with the design, then carbonized. The two halves are then bound together, by Lesley Aine McKeown creating a mold into which molten metal is poured. Dewey uses this process to create his distinctively rugged bracelets and rings, as well as the ingots (solid silver blanks) he uses to begin his pieces. Working with low-tech techniques like forging and whitesmithing (working the metal cold), he embellishes his work with simple but stunningly powerful designs using tools he makes himselffrom softened steel, filed to create the desired design and then tempered (rehardened). Each stamp is intentionally created to express his personal and tribal philosophy, representing symbols ofprayers for rain (yoyleki), clouds (oomaw), lightning (talwiipki) and mountains (tuukwi).

The Jewelry of

Dewey Nelson

“My work is organic. I like to pay homage to the materials I use.

I believe leaving things unrefined, as well as leaving traces ofthe process, accomplish this,” says Dewey. Distinctive to Dewey’s work is the iconic male figure Mausauw, the Hopi earth guardian and central representation ofhis own Fire Clan (Kookopngngyam). Incorporating brightly colored handmade beads from Africa and natural gemstones, Nelson embraces tribal cultures around the world and effectively imbues his pieces with a deep feeling of inclusiveness. “The world has morphed into a global village. We are now connected as never before through technology.” Dewey hopes his work will bring a deeper understanding ofthe Hopi culture and reconnect the wearer to the fundamental truths ofour connections with one another and our responsibility to be thoughtful and present stewards ofthe earth that gives us a home.


maker, and several precious-metal refineries are offering 100% certified (SCS Global Services) recycled metal. It is important to note that mining any metal creates environmental threats such as erosion, heavy metal contamination and pollution ofwatersheds. This is why it’s so important to support artists who use recycled materials. By using recycled metals it is Dewey’s intent to create pieces much as his ancestors did, and to honor his heritage and its longstanding jewelry traditions. Dewey Nelson lives and creates in his home studio in Prescott. His work is represented at the Museum ofContemporary Art in Los Angeles and collected around the world. Find more on his website,, and Instagram @_dewey_nelson.

Lesley Aine Mckeown is a nationally recognized jeweler exhibiting in fine galleries across the US and Canada.

Dewey is what we call a “jeweler’s jeweler.” His work is visceral and tactile, immediately evoking emotion. To another jeweler his strong, confident expression in the metal speaks ofa deep understanding of its nature. I find it deeply moving, and hope one day have the honor of wearing a piece ofhis work. Dewey is a featured artist in the recently published book Bejeweled: The World ofEthical Jewelry by Kyle Roderick, which speaks to his use ofrecycled metals and ethically traded materials. For centuries recycling metal has been a tradition among jewelers. As consumers seek things that are produced sustainably, many jewelers are marketing their work as “ethically sourced.” What is ethical jewelry? In a nutshell, it is jewelry created with no negative impact on the people who make it or the environment. In today’s global economy it’s possible to purchase materials directly from the

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