Native Artist Mark Silversmith
History often comes first for Silversmith, but he's also one to just let his imagination take over. He recently
said, "I've gota little library going so I read up first on the history before I begin to paint," he says from his
home in Farmington, N.M. "I want to familiarize myself with the historical aspects for the painting, though
sometimes I do paintings for fun, landscapes, and then add figures to them. You just think back to what would it
have been like in a grove of aspen. It just stirs up your artistic aspirations. You begin to form an opinion, you
wonder, then you come up with the drawing and just paint it out." That's why he uses watercolors. "It's the
spontaneity," he says. "You load up colors with your brush and direct your painting."
Like Midwinter Passage, most of his paintings deal with Indian life before the reservation period. Silversmith
was born on the Navajo Reservation in Rehoboth, N.M., In 1954. "For most of my young life, we didn't have running
water or any modem conveniences," he recalls. "We took in barrels of water to use for the week. We didn't have
electricity, so we used lanterns. In the winter, we'd cook with wood stoves."
Art fan in his family. His father, Joe Chee Silversmith, was a noted silversmith. So was his grandfather, Chee
Silversmith, while his mother, Ida Mary, made beautiful Navajo weavings. Yet young Mark didn't want to follow in
his father's footsteps. "I thought I would find my own path," he says. "Instead of three-dimensional art, I did
two-dimensional. I've done some sculpting and will be doing some bronze. I just need to find the time to do it."
His fourth-grade teacher encouraged him to paint. Fact is, he recalls with a laugh, she often kept him alter
school--but not for detention. "I was the kid that did the posters for the classroom," he says. Encouragement,
naturally, only went so far. "Whenever you're In school they kind of discourage you from trying to make a living
by being an artist," he says. "'Get a profession first and then think about painting after you retire.'"
Silversmith listened to them--for a while. He earned a bachelor of arts degree from Southwestern Oklahoma
State University in 1977 and taught art education for eight years. At first, Silversmith studied business in
college, but art was always there.
Finally, the professor suggested that he transfer to the art school, and Silversmith promptly changed majors and
wound up with an art teaching degree. After eight years of teaching, he decided to make painting a career. "One
day, I just thought, well, I love art--I was always painting," he says. "During summers, when we were out on
school break, I was going off to little art shows and building up my name. Once I got a following, I just jumped
over with both feet and began to paint."
He hasn't looked back. For more than two decades, he has tried to preserve the Indian heritage while rearing
three children with his wife, Barbara. His paintings have been honored at the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Santa Fe
Indian Market and Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art in Indianapolis, and he has done
commissions for a wide range of companies, including Coors and Chrysler.
"I guess I did OK," Silversmith says. "We've been able to raise three kids." Daughter Melissa, a university
student in Colorado, is even becoming an artist in her own right. "Her subject matter is kind of different from
mine, which is very good," Silversmith says. "She's using oils now, and has used a lot of acrylics before. She's
more into abstract, although she has done some realism, but more lately she's doing a Georgia O'Keeffe-ish style."
Silversmith hopes to continue depicting American Indians in the pre-reservation period. It keeps him close to
home. "I go out on site lots of times," he says. "Silverton, Colo., is one of my favorite places. And I'll go north of
Pagosa Springs--that's just 30-45 minutes from us--Animas Mountain, South Fork, Wolf Creek Pass. Or if I
decide to go a little bit south into the desert, I can go into Chinle, Ariz., and do some canyon scenes. There's
something about how the Native Americans used to live before we were being settled on the reservations that
appeals to me." Copyright 2012
Deats, L. Contemporary Native American Artists. 2012.
Reno, D. Contemporary Native American Artists. 1995.
Schaaf, G. American Indian Jewelry I: 1200 Artist Biographies. 2003.
|Aspen Monarchs by Mark Silversmith, Navajo
(Available in our online shop)
by Mark Silversmith
(Available online in our shop)