Tahlequah Daily Press

October 22, 2012

Shaping elements, fostering culture

Staff Writer

Tahlequah — In the 18th century, a silversmith was given the same artistic consideration a sculptor received.

Silversmithing produced all manner of dining utensils, jewelry, armor, vases and many other items.

Cherokee artist Steve Mashburn will be leading an eight-week silversmithing class beginning Thursday, Nov. 1, at the Cherokee Arts Center, 212 S. Water St., and students will learn how to shape the 47th element in the periodic table with creative talent, individual interpretation and design.

“We do allow some freedom [to choose projects], but typically they’ll start with making a ring or earring or something like that,” he said. “And, of course, a lot of it is in the hand-eye coordination. If they have experience using small tools already, then that makes things go even better.”

Mashburn believes one of the major problems working with jewelry is figuring out how to hold what you’re working on, because some are really small pieces.

“It’s all a learning process,” he said.

The Cherokee Arts Center is a place where artists like Mashburn gather with other artists and like-minded people to learn and practice particular skills and methods to become artist entrepreneurs.

Mashburn, who received jewelry-making training at William Holland School, The Rocky Mountain Metal Arts School and GRS Engraving, sells his creations in venues in places like Santa Fe, N.M., as well as the Cherokee Arts Center.

“They’re going to learn the basics of silversmithing. They’ll learn how to use various tools that are associated with silversmithing,” he said. “We start out with silver and some copper.”

Copper is a traditional material for the Cherokees, which is why Mashburn intend to use it as part of the class.

“Sometimes, we’ll mix the two [metals], and other times, we’ll use them separately,” he said. “I’ll lead the class with a little history on silver, and then we’ll just jump right into it.”

The first night, students will learn how to handle a torch.

“That seems to be a challenge for some, handling the [plumber’s] torch without being scared of it,” he said. “I’m not saying it’s difficult, but some are timid about it. I try to get them in and demonstrate that it can be done and that it’s not necessarily a dangerous tool. Sometimes we melt what we’re working on, but that’s part of the game. Sometimes those accidents can turn into an interesting development.”

Mashburn’s class will meet every Thursday from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., and students will be required to pay a one-time $50 materials fee. Nightly sessions cost $40, or $320 for the eight-week program. In addition to learning more about the many and varied uses of silver, students will also receive instruction on traditional Cherokee design, Mashburn said.

“In other words, [they’ll learn] symbolism, and what these various symbols mean. I don’t tell them how to interpret them. That’s up to them how to use them, but I tell them what they mean,” he said. “One of the ways we perpetuate our culture is through the arts, and in Cherokee art there are a lot of little designs that are historic.”

According to Mashburn, the four directions – or four winds – is a  common design, and they can be interpreted a lot of different ways.

“[They represent] the tribes, problems and the way life takes you, and how it can take you in any direction. Things like that,” said Mashburn.

For more information, visit Mashburn’s website at www.skyblurocks.com or call the Cherokee Arts Center at (918) 453-5728.