Interview by Dawn Karima, Native American Culture Editor
DK: Your creations are breathtaking, Michael Adams! Please tell us about your culture and traditions?
MA: I was born and raised on the Hopi reservation in Northern Arizona. There are 12 villages that stretch across 90 miles and are grouped by first, second and third mesa. I am from the village of Tewa on First Mesa. As Native people, it is important to connect with others and we typically do that by our clan affiliations and familial relationships. My clan is Parrot/Katsina and Hopi name is Koohotivu-tiyo (Matches boy). Our nearest Wal-mart is 60 miles
away, which gives you an idea of how rural and secluded our homeland is. However, this seclusion has
protected our way of life so we as Hopi-Tewa people remain strong in our traditional practices.
DK: Does your tribal heritage influence your designs and styles of jewelry?
MA:I started creating Jewelry the way I did because I wanted to provide Native women with symbols of their heritage that they could connect with. In Hopi, we have many clans that relate to animals and symbols of nature that have roles and responsibilities in community activities. Therefore, I wanted to create symbols that they could connect with because families have so much pride in their clan affiliation. Little did I know, other people from other tribes would connect with various animals and make suggestions of other animal symbols to incorporate.
DK: How does your heritage show in the symbols that you use in your jewelry?
MA:The symbols I use in my work are reflective of my heritage. I started drawing in high
school and I would typically draw what I was most influenced by.
Art and ceremonies exist as one, there is no separation. So as I grew up participating and experiencing all the symbols in traditional clothing and social dances, I reflected those symbols in my drawings. I carried these symbols in my drawings for years and now they are reflected in my jewelry. I love to bring an idea to life that will allow a person to connect with their native heritage.
DK: When you create art, what are some of the feelings and lessons you hope to convey to everyone who sees it and wears it?
MA:I created my art as a means to express the beauty that I see around me. I think it is also my responsibility to share the teachings that I learned for others. The messages behind symbols talk about reciprocity, being happy and respect, which are all important messages for a person to incorporate into their life. Therefore, I try to live the life that I have learned about through creating Hopi art. I have also had to put myself out of comfort zone during the business process, which is a great tool for growing and expanding beyond what you currently think you can do. I think life begins outside your comfort zone.
DK: Where can we see more of your creations or even order some? What are your favorite pieces to make? Why?
MA:You can check my current line at www.gourdjewels.com, here you can purchase and see my back-story. I also connect with my audience at www.facebook.com/gourdjewels. I love to run raffles and give away pieces to my fans, so be one of our facebook fans if you are interested.
My favorite pieces to create are definitely the all wood, clan symbol collection. They are a collection of different animals intertwined with Hopi symbols of clouds, prayer symbols and stars. I love the design process, being able to envision something then bringing it to life. Out on Hopi, the primary form of jewelry is Hopi Silver Overlay. I was never taught to make jewelry in a formal way. However, I have been a painter and woodcarver for many years. Therefore, when I had the idea of creating a pair of earrings for my wife using gourd and wood, it was a pretty self explanatory process. I shaped each pair by hand, painted by hand, then assembled the hooks.
DK: Have your techniques changed over the years?
MA: I now use some high tech equipment to create my earrings. I use a laser engraver that requires me to convert my designs in a computer graphics program and finally use the laser to cut out the shapes I want. After I get a piece cut, I then hand paint it to bring it to life. If you look at my work history, you will notice that I love to experiment… my mind is constantly turning over new ideas on various ways to do something.
DK: What defines your art and makes your business unique? How do your Native ways shape how you do business?
MA: I think the unique thing about my business is the style in which I depict my designs and work. Yousee the final pieces and you will automatically see the precision detail, color, and shape. I do put a lot of love and positive energy into my work, so I believe that is reflected in the final piece. I love to provide my fans with symbols that connect them to their heritage and makes them feel proud to be native, knowing that their jewelry piece makes a statement about who they are. The Native Women are the target customer I serve and as long as I know that I am helping them feel beautiful and bring a sense of connection to their native heritage, I will continue to grow the business.
DK: As you grow your business, what is a lesson that you have learned that you would like to share with other artists?
MA: An elder once told me, “You were given gifts from the creator, that
were meant to help or be shared with others.” Once you figure out what your gift is, it is your responsibility to share that knowledge with others, it restores our connection to each other and to our teachings. Therefore, I approach my art in the same sense. I encourage people to share. In my experience, once I started sharing… the business opportunities started opening. If what you do is something you are passionate about, it is important to pass that knowledge to others.
DK: Much appreciated!
MA: Thank you!
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