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Jewelry going virtual

Jewelry designer Maria Samora models a set of rings. (Courtesy of Kevin Rebholtz)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

When Taos jewelry artist Maria Samora heard about the cancellation of this year’s Santa Fe Indian Market, she cried.

Although she says the annual event comprises one-third of her annual income, her tears were about more than finance.

“I think I’m going to cry right now just talking about it,” Samora said in a telephone interview from Taos. “It’s been so much a part of everyone’s lives. And the clients; it’s like a pilgrimage they’ve done for 20 years.”

The Southwestern Association for American Indian Arts cancelled the 2020 event due to the pandemic. Instead, the tradition that lures thousands of tourists and collectors to the Plaza will be virtual at swaia.org through Aug. 31.

The winner of first-place ribbons from both Santa Fe and the Heard Museum shows, Samora juried into her first market in 2005 when she was nine months pregnant and working as a waitress. She was afraid the clean, geometric lines of her work would prove too contemporary for market shoppers.

She was wrong.

“It was so well-received,” she said.

Her teacher and mentor, Taos jeweler Phil Poirer, had encouraged her to professionally market herself, displaying her work in lighted cases and backgrounding her booth with large posters.

“People said, ‘This is so refreshing’,” she said, ‘I’m so glad I found something at Indian Market that I can wear in New York’.”

Samora’s style ranges from rhomboid shapes to pyramids, their crisp lines often set with turquoise or diamonds. Nearly every piece draws in the eye through texture and line, with no polished surfaces allowed, tumbling with her trademark geometry.

“I was always drawn to mixed metal contrast with oxidized silver,” she said.

It all started when Samora returned to Taos after college, searching for a path. A friend encouraged her to sign up for a local jewelry-making class. Then, the Taos Institute of Arts offered a weeklong intensive with Poirer.

“The first day in, I was completely blown away by his expertise,” Samora said. She began her apprenticeship with Poirer in 1998 when she was still waitressing.

“He took me through a traditional European-style apprenticeship, which included sweeping floors and taking out the trash,” she said.

Samora spent hours on the buffing machine, more hours soldering.

“I think he saw me as someone to whom he could pass on his legacy,” Samora said. “He’s kind of a father figure in many ways.”

In 2009, SWAIA chose Samora for the then-annual Indian Market poster. Her jewelry splashed across the Indian Market merchandise, giving her more and more exposure.

Today, she sketches out her designs, then feeds them into a computer-generated milling machine. She adds a sheet of metal and the machine performs the cuts and patterns with precision.

“From there, I do all the fabrication, the burnishing, the turning, the soldering,” she said.

Samora’s designs continually evolve. She’s unveiling a new collection for the virtual market.

“I think less is more is something I definitely strive for,” she said. “It’s really easy to over-embellish. It’s really hard to keep something simple.”

She remembers the customer by keeping her pieces comfortable and light.

“For me, the ultimate thing is that it’s going to bring joy to the wearer.”

Last fall, she showed her work in a Milan fashion show. In better times, she shows her work regularly at galleries, including her own Taos showroom, as well as in an annual Heard Museum show. But Indian Market is special.

“It definitely is a huge part of my life,” Samora said. “It’s a show that is a phenomenon. I’ve met people from all over the world. It’s just such a lively, fun thing.”

Although admittedly initially turned off by the idea of a virtual show, she says she’s trying to embrace the concept.

“Throughout this whole pandemic, I’ve realized that art is essential. It makes us feel human.”

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