For Elizabeth Kirk, crafting jewelry is a family affair

For Elizabeth Kirk and her father Michael, crafting jewelry is a family affair

Elizabeth Kirk with her designs. (Courtesy of Daryl Tom for Daryl Tom Designs)

bright spotWhen artist Elizabeth Kirk was 8 years old, she walked around her father’s Isleta Pueblo jewelry garage studio barefoot.

“He would have to pull saw blades out of the bottom of my feet,” she said in a telephone interview.

Those sharp objects must have injected a creative virus into the young girl. She would soon send those saw blades buzzing with her own designs.

Elizabeth and her father Michael will show their work at the Winter Indian Market at the Santa Fe Community Convention Center from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 3, and Sunday, Dec. 4. More than 150 juried artists will show pottery, jewelry, painting, textiles and more. There will be live performances, a live silent auction and a raffle.

Elizabeth credits growing up watching her father mold, incise and polish jewelry with jump-starting her own career.

Michael began making jewelry after returning home from Vietnam in 1970. He was taking a computer engineering class when his older brother Andy suggested they make jewelry to produce income while the two of them were in college. The pair ended up teaching jewelry classes and two careers were born.

Hummingbird pendant by Elizabeth Kirk. (Courtesy of Ungelbah Dávila Photography)

This was a time before YouTube; Michael relied on books to learn his skills. He won an avalanche of awards, including artist of the year from the Indian Arts and Crafts Association.

He taught himself to pavé set, characterized by very small gemstones set so close together that the surface appears to lack metal holding the stones in place.

Elizabeth hung around the studio to be with her father.

“I used to be his tail,” she explained. “I was always following him everywhere. I was sawing little circles made of silver.”

She joined him in 1994.

“He needed help in the business aspect,” Elizabeth said. “He’s not one for paperwork. After a while, he would say, ‘Let me show you this.’ I told people, ‘You have to see my father’s work because he’s a genius.’ ”

Elizabeth established relationships with more than 150 galleries, stores and museums worldwide and participated in some of the most prestigious trade shows on the Native circuit.

The pair embraced modern technology, using everything from laser welders to a laser cutting machine and hydraulic press, as well as metallic color finishes.

Elizabeth may be best known for the $250,000 bear claw necklace that made the evening news several years ago when thieves stole it from her truck. She had stopped at a restaurant for business along Interstate 25. She didn’t realize the piece was missing until she arrived home.

Elizabeth made the necklace using Lone Mountain turquoise, grizzly bear claws her uncle had received from the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish and gold.

Turns out, the police had been investigating the thieves for six months.

“It was the necklace that put them behind bars,” she said.

Both Elizabeth and her father use a type of silver called argentium, known for its more superior qualities compared to sterling.

“It has an alloy so it doesn’t tarnish so soon,” Elizabeth said.

Seed pot stand by Michael Kirk. (Courtesy of Ungelbah Dávila Photography)

The two artists recently upgraded from 14 karat to 18 karat gold. Elizabeth has also been known to use shells and wood in her pieces.

A photograph of her wearing the famous necklace next to a long Pendleton saddle blanket displays Michael’s enormous bolo tie made from obsidian and silver with custom leather work dangling from an elk rack.

“He actually killed the elk where the rack came from,” Elizabeth said.

A pair of colorful dangling dragonfly earrings shows her work in liquid ceramics.

“It’s the same technique as electroplating,” she said.

She hunts for ideas everywhere she goes, once even photographing a ladybug colony because she had never seen one before.

She says she learned it all from Michael.

“He reminds me of a cook,” Elizabeth said. “He’s like, ‘I have this stone over here and this one was leftover.’ ”

She has often battled her own meticulous nature.

“What sticks with me is that it doesn’t have to be perfect,” she continued. “He said, ‘You don’t understand; there’s beauty in those flaws.’ ”

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