Norbert Peshlakai’s first solo museum exhibition at the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, “Peshlakai Vision,” opens on May 13. On display are more than 100 pieces of work made in silver, including jewelry and small pots, jars and sculptural works.
A master Navajo silversmith (Towering House Clan) born in Arizona whose career spans more than 40 years, Peshlakai almost took a different career path in the late 1970s when he attended Haskell Indian Junior College in Kansas.
“I mainly did painting in college,” Peshlakai recalls during a recent phone conversation. “My college advisor told me I needed another art class and suggested I take a siversmithing class. I didn’t like it at first, and I wasn’t good at it in the beginning.”
Peshakai stopped attending class until he bumped into the instructor and was sternly told to make a series of pieces before the semester’s end. “So I got busy and discovered I liked what I had made,” he adds.
During his initial jewelry-making experiences at college, Peshlakai learned how to overlay and do enameling and casting. Since then, he has developed techniques that have resulted in the creation of small vessels adorned with precious metals and stamp work.
Pots are created by hollowing out the shape with a hammer, texturing the surface with the hammer and applying designs with various dies and stamps that Peshlakai makes himself. Six or seven stamps may form a single motif.
The top half and lip of Peshlakai’s bowls are cut from silver in different patterns and soldered onto the domed portion. After the shape is complete, the entire bowl is oxidized and hand polished with very fine emery paper to remove the oxidation.
Peshlakai’s stamp work includes geometric, abstract shapes as well as imagery of people, plants and many animals such as quail, rabbits, dogs, owls, fish, turtles, horses, bears, butterflies and jellyfish.
Works in the show are from the Wheelwright’s permanent collection and loans from the Heard Museum and private collectors. Also on display are a selection of Peshlakai’s sketchbooks and tools.