By Jill Soens
Nancy N. Schiffer, author of Masters of Cotemporary Indian Jewelry, lauds Ben Nighthorse as a Master Jeweler, and in our new museum, you will see that his career as an artist is built on tradition: traditional tools, practices and ways.
Ben explains it this way:
In a workshop, similar to our museum, in 1945, I was 12 years old when I began to learn the craft of jewelry making. Most of these hand made stamps were used by my father Albert “Blackie” Campbell between 1920 and 1945 .
Both copper and coin silver were used as a base. Designs were either stamped into the metal with dies made from old files, chisels, saw blades and drill bits, or were cut through the metal with a coping saw. Pieces were then shaped over an anvil or a tree stump. Silver “scraps” or coins were melted in an iron ladle and a forge and were poured into a bar mold or a sand stone mold.
Soldering was done by mixing fine silver file shavings with borax granules and heated with a blowtorch. Stones were ground on a hand-crank grinder and smoothed with a whetstone or sand paper.
Finished pieces were usually traded for food other necessities or occasionally, sold. Ben’s “Hallmark”” or signed pieces started in 1967.
That was the beginning of Ben’s career as a Master jeweler yet the life path the Ben took has many interesting elements not directly related to his career as an artist.
In 1964 he competed in the US Olympics in Japan on the first ever US Judo team, and though injury side-lined him during the games, he and his teammates remain good friends and attend frequent reunions. While in Japan, he studied with a Japanese sword maker to learn even more metal techniques. And in the Spring of 2011 he was awarded the highest honor given to a non-Japanese, The Order of the Rising Sun.
Walking into the museum is a reminder of the rich traditions passed down to each of us and the need to celebrate and honor those traditions. Art is beauty for the eye and the heart and this museum fills our hearts and we are honored that Ben is allowing us to be hosts for his collection. Sorrel Sky Gallery is delighted to have this new addition to our beautiful gallery and invite each of you to tour this unique museum once it is officially open.
See Ben’s beautiful contemporary Native American jewelry at www.sorrelsky.com.