DC celebrates gold with a little silver

Navajo Times | Ravonelle Yazzie
“Beacon” is a sterling silver squash blossom necklace made by Samuel M. Slater and is on display at the “50 Years of Silversmithing at Diné College” exhibit at Diné College.


This year marks Diné College’s golden anniversary. But it’s starting out the celebration with a little silver.

An exhibit titled “50 Years of Silversmithing at Diné College” is now on display in the R.C. Gorman room upstairs at the college’s library. Sponsored by the college’s Navajo Cultural Arts Program, it features the work of silversmithing instructor Wilson Aronilth and his students, with pieces dating from the 1960s to the present.

“People know Wilson the Diné College instructor, or Wilson the NAC roadman,” explained Christine Ami, who administers the Margaret A. Cargill grant that funds the NCAP, including this exhibit. “They don’t know him as we know him: the master silversmith.”

But they will after visiting this show. The exhibit traces Aronilth’s own work from his early stamped bracelets to its culmination – a powerful horse bridle and breastplate commissioned for this particular event. It will remain part of the college’s permanent collection. Ami explained she asked the artist to make the bridle set after hearing that a similar piece had set Wilson on his path more than 50 years ago. “He had made a bridle set and went to California to sell it,” she said. “He sold it for quite a bit of money. It changed his life.”

Aronilth had not made a bridle set since, according to Ami, and was not sure he wanted to take on the challenge in his 80s. “Then one evening, he shows up at my house,” Ami recalled. “He says, ‘Get me a piece of paper. I have an idea!’” Aronilth sketched out the bold, elemental silver-and-turquoise pieces he later cast for the exhibit. Ami kept the drawings and they are on display along with the bridle, breastplate and leather whip Aronilth braided himself, resurrecting a leatherwork skill most Navajos knew by necessity when he was a child.

Creating the piece also made Aronilth recall a wealth of traditional horse tack knowledge, which he shares on a video that is also part of the exhibit.

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Categories: Arts
Tags: Dine College

About Author

Cindy Yurth

Cindy Yurth is the Tséyi' Bureau reporter, covering the Central Agency of the Navajo Nation. Her other beats include agriculture and Arizona state politics. She holds a bachelor’s degree in technical journalism from Colorado State University with a cognate in geology. She has been in the news business since 1980 and with the Navajo Times since 2005, and is the author of “Exploring the Navajo Nation Chapter by Chapter.” She can be reached at cyurth@navajotimes.com.