For many Native American artists, the art of working with silver and stone to create beautiful jewelry is the extension of a family legacy. This is true for Raymondo Joe. Joe credits his father, Navajo silversmith Kirk Smith, with putting the passion in him for true handcrafted silver jewelry. It is a legacy he continues to this day.
Raymondo first met his father when he was twelve years old. Growing up in Standing Rock, New Mexico, he learned from his mother, who was also a silversmith, to create earrings, rings, and bracelets. His skill and talent developed, and his mother felt he would benefit from knowing his father and being tutored in the craft by him. With this in mind, she sent him to Thoreau, New Mexico, to meet the man who would imbue him with a passion for the art of silversmithing.
Kirk Smith was a well-known silversmith whose work was considered to be of the highest quality and materials. He created, among other things, the traditional heavy, detailed silverwork that Navajo artists were known for. His pieces combined rich colors, natural matrix patterns and a finish that created the look of naturally aged silver. Smith learned to work silver from his brother-in-law, Harry Morgan, also a prominent artist.
When asked what his first impression of his father was, Raymondo remembers thinking he didn’t look Native, due to having so much facial hair. Under his father’s tutelage, Raymondo learned to make squash blossoms, concho belts (one of his father’s signature pieces) and how to cast and stamp silver. He also learned about turquoise. All of the items were done by hand, something his father insisted on.
Raymondo also came to know other facets of his father. Kirk Smith was, as Raymondo puts it, a “hardcore outdoorsman” who loved to fish, hunt, and camp. Smith would tell his children to “pack up everything” and they would go spend a day or two at the lake. It was an important time for them, as Smith traveled a great deal selling and promoting his artwork.
Noting the joy his father took in his work, Raymondo found the passion for silversmithing growing inside him. His dad liked the traveling, and enjoyed working with other people to create and market his pieces. Smith liked being his own boss. He could help out others along with producing his own work. He would hire people to buff and finish the pieces, giving Smith the opportunity to mentor others interested in working with silver.
Thanks to his time with his father, Raymondo is ready to put his own skills to work. One piece of advice his father gave him has stuck with him. Smith told him “if you’re going to do jewelry work, make sure you have everything you need and do everything by hand.” To that end, Raymondo has begun purchasing the equipment he needs to open his business, Joe’s Jewelry. It was a promise he made to his dad, that he would continue with his work. Today Raymondo wears a ring made by his father around his neck. It’s to remind him every day of his passion to become as good as his father, to continue the legacy of art that he’s been entrusted with. When he thinks of his dad, who passed away in 2012, he remembers their time together and believes that “he’s happy with me touching silver, stamping it and learning.” And so, the legacy of Kirk Smith continues.