Mesquite Man Honors Native American Heritage Through Jewelry

His day job can put him in danger. Eric Smith installs, fixes, paints and often climbs to the top, of flag poles that are too high to reach by a ladder.

"I do hard labor by choice, but I'm an artist by nature," Smith said while he sat in his Mesquite jewelry studio. "It's not a hobby to me anymore, it's a calling."

Smith makes traditional Native American jewelry.

"In the old tradition, the turquoise and silver are what you would wear when you prayed," he said.

Depending on the piece, it can take him days to finish one item.

He said his natural abilities to create come from deep within.

"Because it's made with, you know, with heart," Smith said.

His techniques come from the generations before him.

"My grandmother was Navajo Indian and she was a silversmith. She came from a long line of silversmiths," Smith said. "All these tools right here, these were my grandmother's tools... all the jewelry that she made — she stamped it with these."

When Smith was a boy, his grandmother taught him everything she knew.

"She gave me all kinds of stuff and would show me something, 'Go here, do that,' and I'd practice that," he said. 'I'd mess up a lot, but that's how you learn.

"And this part is what I thought was magic when I was a kid," Smith said while he worked outside with a blow torch pointed at small pieces of silver. "So now, when you heat up to the melting point, it naturally wants to go into a ball to condense."

The odd-shaped silver slowly turned into perfect circles.

"That's what I was talking about as a kid — it was like, 'Wow! Magic!'" Smith recalled. "My grandmother used to laugh at me. 'Man, how'd you do that, grandma?'"

Although he said he loved to make art, life happened and Smith stepped away from this family tradition. He returned after a reminder of the temporary essence of life. The part of his family tree — whose branches were made of artists and creators — all passed away.

"Well, I felt severed. Because that whole side, basically, is gone," Smith said. "So, it [making jewelry] connects me to them. So as I'm doing it, I feel like they're with me."

He said he felt their presence, especially when his designs accidentally scattered to the floor. He said it's like his ancestors are saying "start over."

But each piece does come to a polished finish that is shared with people who appreciate the history and culture it represents.

"It's rewarding because it's the energy that it gives the people who are enjoying it," Smith said. "And in turn, I get that energy too, because they're enjoying something that came from me — that came from inside me.

Eric is using his art to honor those who've come before him. And just like his flagpoles, they stand for more than what they're made of.

The price of a finished piece of Eric's turquoise and silver jewelry ranges between $100 for a small ring to thousands of dollars for large pieces that take a lot of time and materials to make by hand.

To see more of his work, here's a link to his facebook page, RED WOLF "Native Design."

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