Raymondo Joe’s favorite piece of jewelry to make is a ring. Rings carry a special significance for him as a ring is the only piece of jewelry he owns that was made by his father, noted silversmith Kirk Smith. His father’s reputation for high-quality work is one of the things that inspires Raymondo today to continue honing his craft. Each piece he creates is a link in the legacy of art passed down to him by his parents.
Born in Standing Rock, New Mexico, fifteen miles west of Crownpoint, Raymondo watched his mother creating jewelry as a child. She did her work in the living room as he watched TV, giving him the opportunity to watch her as well. It was the beginning of his own lessons in the craft. He says his mother did everything, and that “sometimes she makes stuff I would never even try.” It was the continuation of a long line of artists. He had two aunts who also made jewelry and they, like his mother, had learned the techniques from his grandfather. Later he would find out that his father had learned the craft through his family as well, studying with an uncle who made championship buckles for bull-riders.
Once he started working with his mother on how to create the pieces, she then showed him the business side of being an artist. From the beginning of junior high through the ninth grade, Raymondo and his mother traveled around, selling her work. In high school, he would help his dad market his work too, adding to his growing knowledge of ways to sell jewelry. He found selling fun, particularly the traveling.
After graduating from high school, Raymondo took a detour from working with silver. For ten years, he worked construction instead. Even though he always felt pulled back to silversmithing, it wasn’t until tragedy struck that he finally made the break from construction work. When his kidneys shut down, and he was forced onto dialysis, it was time to make a change.
It wasn’t an easy transition. Despite all the knowledge he’d acquired from his parents, the only tools Raymondo had were three pairs of pliers, a cutter, and a pair of scissors. With focus and hard work, he’s found his way back to the craft he learned as a child.
Today Raymondo works to combine the traditional style of his parents with a modern approach to create his own signature style. His designs are influenced, he says, by his favorite movie and TV show, Star Wars and Star Trek, as well as by the natural world around him. The earrings he creates come from the way leaves look to him, meant to give the feeling of the flow of nature. At times, he will draw out his designs beforehand, but many times he simply picks up the materials and begins working.
Returning to silver work has provided a purpose for Raymondo and encouraged him to consider something even more important. Thanks to his newfound desire to continue his work, he has begun the long journey toward seeking a kidney transplant. It’s a decision he has delayed making for ten years. Now, with renewed purpose through his art, Raymondo Joe is ready to take life on again.