Gerald Lomaventema is a Hopi jeweler and recipient of a 2016 SFA Master-Apprentice Artist Award. Lomaventema teaches students the Hopi overlay technique, which was first developed by Hopi artist Fred Kabotie and his brother-in-law, Paul Saufkie, in the 1940s. After World War II, the artists taught returning Hopi veterans through the GI Bill and went on to create the Hopi Silvercraft Cooperative Guild in Second Mesa, Arizona, which included a showroom for teaching and showcasing jewelry. Lomaventema began a formal apprenticeship at the Guild when he was 19. He sat down with BorderLore last spring to converse about his craft and his mentoring.
Can you talk about how you first came to jewelry making?
I learned traditional Hopi overlay and other techniques from other fellow Hopi artists. I went to school for a while but then we had our first child and trying to manage that and paying my rent and going to school at the same time–I couldn’t do it. So I just went back to the Hopi reservation that’s where I learned.
My great uncle Fred Kabotie–I didn’t know he was a famous artist until I got older–and another elder, Paul Saufkie, were mentors. They taught the GIs after they came home. They didn’t want the men to leave the Hopi reservation. At that time, the men came home and some went off to work in the city. But they wanted most of the men to stay and participate in what we do throughout the year in our religious cycle. They were 19 or 20 when they came back from the war but when they got older some of those men became our religious leaders.
That was the 40s up to 60s, after Vietnam. I learned about 20 years later, in the 80s and 90s. I had to find something to take care of my wife and my kids. When I was learning at the Guild there used to be like 30 men working in a big room in rows. It used to be a fun place, you know, because people would be joking or we’d be listening to some traditional music. We had customers coming, international. That was a good place until management happened. It started losing money.
And now you are teaching apprentices?
I’ve been mentoring for the past three years. I use that same language. I tell my students, “Well, there’s an option for you, going to school. Or you can find a job somewhere.” But with this, they can stay and learn our culture. I tell them, “The only way you’re gonna learn anything from our culture it’s through the language. If you don’t have the language you won’t understand anything.” I tell them we should speak in Hopi all the time. A lot of younger Hopis understand the language, but when they speak it sounds funny and they get ridiculed. But that’s how Hopis are–we’re kind of like a joking people, we’re not always serious.
Altogether I have three main students, 10 altogether. They’re all equal in their skill. I picked one for [the SFA] award program. Delwyn Spyder. I’ve seen his progress form the start. He kinda just attacked it right away. He was very skilled. He said, “I’ve been thinking about this for months.” He approached me first and asked me, “Hey can I be part of your group. I’ve been drawing designs and thinking about and even buying tools.” So he was the first one I called.
The award has allowed me to do a lot of things. Not only to have more time, but to get things that we were lacking, material-wise, tool-wise. When I started it wasn’t that easy. I had to buy all of my stuff. I’ve been able to give them with whatever they need. Hand tools mainly. Now I’ve told them, “If I threw you off the mesa, you should fly.” To me, they’re ready to explore. I’ve equipped them with tools.
Me and Delwyn, we’re from the same fraternity, from the same kiva, our church. So sometimes when the other two aren’t there I talk to him about what our purpose is in our religious order, our fraternity. It’s our religion. It’s an old religion. So that’s what we talk about. And also relationships. You know, sometimes there’s alcohol involved in a lot on the reservation, and drugs, so we talk about those things, too, what it does to the artwork. It doesn’t work. I give examples. Look, you know so-and-so, you should have seen his work 15, 20 years ago. But now he’s still at it, and look, your work is better than theirs. This is what happens. You lose your eyesight. Your hands are valuable, your eyes are valuable.
What are the most important teachings you offer your students about craft?
When we were first learning, the elders used to tell us that everything about the pottery—even the ancient pottery that was laying on the ground—means something, those geometric designs and figures they all have a meaning to us. So on our jewelry, that’s the same thing we’re doing. We’re expressing a little bit about of ourselves and our culture into those pieces. I tell them, “You have to make jewelry that makes sense; you have to make jewelry that has a meaning.”
Some people can actually feel it. I have some customers that have cried. There was a lady that one time in the Museum of Northern Arizona started crying. She was looking at this one piece and didn’t know what to do. I said, “Hey, what’s wrong? What happened?” She said that she saw her child in that piece. She lost a child, I guess. I wanted to give that piece to her–“Here just have it.” But she wouldn’t take it. She said, “No, I’ll buy it.” Some Hopis are like that, they can feel that energy coming like that.
What we’re working with is from the ground, from the earth, so … we have to respect it because if we don’t respect even this thing it will not want to be with us. It has its own karma, its own spirit. This is how we think about everything, the trees, the animals–respect for the earth. When we hear about, you know, the pipeline and the thing they want to build in the Grand Canyon–those places are like shrines to us. We don’t agree with the Caucasians on how they make their money and their disregard for the environment. One thing our ancestors believed in is taking care of the earth. And there’s certain times of year that we don’t do anything with the earth. It’s time to rest. The earth has taken enough punishment, so you have to leave it alone for a while.
When you look back over work, are there any common themes that come through or something that identifies your style?
I like to compete in the juried shows. Two years ago I won the division and category in the Santa Fe Indian Market in jewelry. That’s a big thing for any artist, especially jewelry, because it’s a fierce competition. They have all these techniques that people use nowadays with modern technology. There’s tools being made, or machines being made, and jewelers with degrees come and enter their artwork. But for me I just use traditional techniques that I’ve learned and I combine it all together. I’d been winning other awards, but that was the biggest one, a milestone I think. Now people, when they see a certain bolo tie or bracelet—“Oh, that’s a Lomaventema.” It’s the way I do it, my signature.
That’s what I also tell [my students]. You have to find yourself, your identity. People will know who you are through your jewelry. It takes a while, a lot of sacrifices and a lot of disappointment too at the same time. But I think it’s worth it.
Learn more about SFA’s Master-Apprentice Artist Award here.
A good description of Hopi overlay technique is here.
More information about Fred Kabotie is here.