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Jennifer Curtis

The best of the Navajo craftsmen examplify the ability to adapt-the curious mind open to innovation, yet anchored with the power of strong traditions.

If you give a quick glance to Jennifer's different styles of bracelets, you might think they could never be made by the same silversmith. One is shiny silver, employing sophisticated jewelry techniques of etching. The other is the heaviest-gauge of silver featuring strong stampwork. On closer inspection, however, you see the common thread of tradition which guides Jennifer's skilled hands.

Born and raised on the Navajo Reservation in Keams Canyon, Jennifer's inspiration comes from her family and the land. "The rug designs I etch come from my grandmother's weavings. Other symbols are inspired by the landscape I grew up with: the clouds and canyons." Jennifer began as an apprentice to her father-buffing and polishing the bracelets and concho belts of Thomas Curtis, the renowned Navajo craftsman. Another creative influence on her jewelry was her uncle, Billy Betoney.

When Jennifer began to make her own pieces, she explored beyond the heavy stamped style of her father. "I learn most from my mistakes," she says. "They open me up to new ideas, new possibilities."

Her innovations have garnered numerous awards since 1994, when she first entered her pieces in the prestigious Santa Fe Indian Market. She has won First Place in Squash Blossom, earrings, pins, miniature etched pots, and an unusual 10" octagonal etched plate. She has also won Best in Category, and also ribbons for concho belts, ranger sets, and a Second Place ribbon for a square-wire bracelet set with coral. "If you want to be recognized, you must do the job right," Jennifer says quietly. "What my work represents is what I want someone to see in me-that I care about what I make."

Jennifer's love for her work is strengthened by the bond she feels with her materials. "All the elements I work with-the silver and the stones-come from Mother Earth." Whether her hands are shaping a traditional-style concho, or painstakingly etching a contemporary-style bracelet, Jennifer infuses each piece with her own individuality and the timeless quality of excellence. Jennifer reaches out with her work, bridging the old with the new. "I want my work to be as a good handshake."