Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Road to Indian Market 2010: Diné Jewelry Designer Fritz Casuse

Unalarming, unassuming, unconcerned with time constraints describes the vibe I got from Diné (Navajo) jewelry designer Fritz Casuse when I recently went to his home and studio just outside Santa Fe to interview him. His young son, Mossimo, whom he shares with jewelry designer and birch bark biting artist Wanesia Misquadace, grabbed my hand immediately and then excitedly attempted to drag me out back to see his new puppies. From the minute I arrived, I could tell that the house was an inspirational place, full of love, fun and bursting with creativity. Of course, the art on the walls spoke loads about the friendships that the couple share with other artists. Fritz went into the garage, which houses his workshop, to “straighten up.” Apparently, there were toys everywhere and things were in disarray. I explained that I had seen worse, and the less organized it was, the better visual for an interview, because I wanted to catch him midstream--in the midst of absolute creativity.

The interview began only after I had the opportunity to see a cavalcade of his work in gold, silver, set with diamonds, pearls, agate, jasper, coral and more. This included his SWAIA Indian Market submission piece, which took 2nd place on Friday afternoon's judging. What I saw, floored me. My jaw is still dragging, and my brain is reeling with “how did he do that?” and “that is the most exquisite thing I have ever seen!” And that’s how it is…the “Fritz Experience” as I am calling it, is a paradox when you consider the genuine meekness of the artist and the pomp and circumstance of his works. Relatively quiet about himself and his work, Fritz gave me the first ever in-studio interview and really opened things up for people to see how he does what he does and get a glimpse into the mind that creates extraordinary one-of-a-kind works of art.

Upon entering his studio, I noticed a number of football action figures, still in their original packaging, hanging on the walls. Fritz was quick to explain that the artist, Todd McFarlane, creator of the comic book series Spawn, is one of his inspirations because of the level of detail he puts into his designs. McFarlane is also the artist that creates figures of professional football players. One might not quickly associate football with fine handmade jewelry, but it’s those details in the design work that remind Fritz what he is striving for every time he picks up his tools. All technicalities and immense creativity aside, Fritz points out that above all he wants to have fun when he teaches and creates in the studio. He also explained that his attention to detail comes from a disciplined background of painting and sculpting, which helps him when he creates what he calls his wearable “miniature sculptures.”

Impressively, Fritz is the main collaborator on a piece designed for Carolyn Pollack Jewelry. Fellow designers Cody Sanderson, Veronica Benally and Roderick Tenorio all joined forces to build the piece and then donate to SWAIA for its annual auction. While a truncated cast version of the garden-themed squash blossom will be available to the general public through QVC and, all four artists donated their materials and time to mastermind this original, handmade piece, which is a series of flowers, insects, including lovely butterflies and lady bugs. The necklace will be auctioned off this evening.

In spite of his reputation for being relatively quiet, in an interview setting, this bona fide “nice guy” seems very at ease and is, perhaps, one of the most articulate artists I have ever interviewed. I found myself getting wrapped up in his natural charm and his ability to talk clearly and thoughtfully about his jewelry as well as what he does to get ready for Indian Market. See what Fritz Casuse has to say about his work in my studio chat with him HERE:

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