Janice Tenorio sees her art as an open book. Long known for her incredible heishi jewelry, today Janice is turning a page in that book and learning how to work with silver. It’s a new experience that she finds exciting and one that has opened up ideas for new designs. As she puts it, “I have so many things in my head and now I’m learning how to create them.”
Heishi is the foundation Janice built her art on. It is her family’s tradition. She began learning the art as a child of seven, though she didn’t learn the heavy machinery part that went with it until she was around twelve. Learning heishi is a good memory for her because she enjoyed the fact that her whole family was involved in it. “We all did it sitting around the table,” she laughs, calling it a sort of daily chores.
Her parents are known for a specific rug pattern design of heishi, using all natural stones such as coral, turquoise, and black jet. At first, Janice created in that style as well but as her skill grew she branched out into designs that were more her own style. Today she uses many of the same shells and stones as her parents, but with more colors and in a more random design.
Creating beautiful pieces isn’t the only part of the process that Janice enjoys. People come from everywhere to buy her work and that’s an opportunity for her to indulge in another passion: cooking. When visitors arrive at her home, she often has a little feast to offer them. “I want them to know how we cook, what we eat, what our traditional foods are.”
In Pueblo culture, food is, as Janice puts it, “nature’s way of taking care of us. Everything comes from Mother Nature so we can survive in this world.” For her, it’s a reflection of all that goes into both growing and making a meal. Cooking was also a family tradition she learned from her mother and her aunts. These days Janice cooks not only for visitors, but also for special occasions such as the feast days, weddings, and other celebrations along with daily meals. She’s even demonstrated some of her recipes for Turquoise Skies, such as her famous fry bread.
Now Janice is adding other pages to her art book through her lessons in working with silver. She tackles what she calls the biggest obstacle in silversmithing, learning to solder. Working with silver has inspired her to look at designing pieces that combine her heishi and her silversmithing. It’s all a continuation of her family’s long tradition of art. Her grandfather was a silversmith and a heishi maker. Janice’s grandmother was a potter, something she says is her next step in her artistic journey. That tradition continues in Janice’s children, both artists. She says it was a must that both of her children learn heishi as well as their own art. It’s all a part of keeping the traditions alive in the next generation.