In this video George Francis a master Navajo Jewelry silversmith explains a little about Navajo silver jewelry cast work.
There are two types sand cast and tufa cast.
Cast work involves different types, and there are Navajo silversmiths. We have two types that a lot of people use. Cast work can be done with wax, lost wax casting, but in the old days we learned to do it with sand casting. I’ll show you an example of a cast. This cast here is in sandstone. It’s an Naja (squash Blossom) cast. A lot of people now, instead of going out to make the sandstone cast, they find products like Tufa, which is volcanic ash, and they use it more. It’s just as quick and just as efficient.
In these castings you look for the proper stone: texture, fineness, firmness. Those are the things you’re looking for because, especially if you’re doing detailed castings, you want to have very good, firm stones. At that point you want to have very good, firm stones, but be able to still do your work. With ash being very fine, you can do that detailed work. With Sandstone the texture is granular and more difficult to do much more detailed work.
Sand cast work – How long would it take you?
In Sandstone? If you could do it… Carving out the design takes quite an amount of time. It just depends. If you have the time, it’s about 1 to 3 days. For this example it took me one morning. We’re talking an hour, maybe, to get this design. It’s very simple and nothing to work at. In Tufa it took me maybe the same amount of time, about an hour. These little lines you see are basically there to chase the air out of there as it fills in. Of course, you have to have a back plate on everything that you do. This is the side I want done and this will cover that, and that is the flat side. So that’s how that works.
If it was a detailed design it could take more than one day, definitely. I’ve seen some people that can take up to 3 or 4 days to complete their work. That’s just the part of the design that they cast and pour it. Then they have to clean that again. That might take another day or two, depending on how much time they can allow to give it. Usually they don’t get paid what they’re really worth, but they do a good job.
Navajo Cast Work – How many castings can you get out of one cast?
In a Sandstone cast, including Tufa, you can get anywhere from one to up to eight or nine casts before either the cast breaks or pieces of it break off. Then it’s not of any value to the artist. It’s too much work trying to correct it.