“Our spiritual beliefs, that’s what keeps us whole. As Pueblo people, that’s how we survive in this world.” That’s how Native artist Janice Tenorio describes the spiritual connection that fuels her art. For her, the traditions inherited from her parents and grandparents inhabit the jewelry she creates and even herself as she uses the traditional techniques she’s learned from them to create each piece. Looking up at the sky, watching the stars at night and seeing the beauty of the land are all part of her connection to her culture, and therefore part of her art.
Native American jewelry, whether traditional or modern, reflects the world around the artist. One of the most important aspects of that reflection is the deeply spiritual connection Native people make with the landscape, their community, and their Creator. These spiritual beliefs link generation to generation, enfolding the history and culture of each community into the mosaic that is their approach to the modern world.
Blending those beliefs with art continues that tradition of interpreting the past and the present through image and adornment. As Janice puts it, making her jewelry is a way of carrying on the legacy of her parents and her grandparents. And with the long tradition of the natural elements, vivid images and particular styles and colors included in Native American jewelry, those who see and purchase individual pieces recognize a part of the story of the artist. For Janice, her “jewelry means something to people.”
Janice uses all those connections when designing her work. She says she thinks about her family when she is working up a piece. Those thoughts are a part of the process of creating her art. It’s the same for silversmith Eric Joe, who refers to his work as “co-creating”. For him, the spiritual connection comes from the Creator. He believes that “the Creator creates, and I co-create, so there has to be a spiritual bond.” That spiritual connection set him on the path of silver working after he had what he describes as a spiritual awakening that reminded him of his connection to the Creator.
The beauty of Native American art stems from the commitment and technique of the artist but also from the deep spiritual connections of the person themselves. As Eric Joe puts it, “art is trying to describe the Creator in a way.” No matter the style of the individual artist, that long tradition of reflecting the beauty of the world and the love for the Creator can be found in the varied forms of Native American art. It’s a tradition that those like Janice Tenorio and Eric Joe want to see continue.