Byron K. McCurtain, Artists Statement
I consider myself a jeweler/lapidarist extraordinaire. Allow me to share briefly where I've been, what I've learned, the way I express myself, and some of how I cam to be 'as I am," ... and perhaps a glimpse of that which I've yet to become, as a story that still unfolds.
Born on a storm record busting winter morn of February 14, 1958 in Lawton,Oklahoma I entered this world blest to have a family. I am of the Kiowa People (pronounced like "Iowa" with a "K", and means Principal People") who ended up in southwest Oklahoma. Born to the Bontone (Boe-Tone) Family clan, direct descendant from Chief Lone Wolf, last principal chief of the Kiowa Bands.
My mother's maiden name is Eula Bernadine Thompson, my grandparents are Emily Bontone and Bennie Warren Paugattuodle Thompson. In my family I have one brother (deceased) and seven sisters. To all my relations I politely extend my greetings.
I grew up on the plains of southwest Oklahoma east of one traditional landmark, known as Rainy Mountain. There I spent time with my Grandfather beside Sugar Creek. I was told the stories of my lineage, my people, the landmarks, many fragmented, both humorous and sad. The world I could see to the horizon was my playground of wonderment and in it I was comfortable and safe.
When I became of age to attend school my family was located to the city of Dallas, Texas where I began to receive a public education. I remember how being in a city it smelled bad with car and factory fumes, and regretfully I adjusted, and too, the horizon became so closed in.
But summers were spent back in Oklahoma with my grandpa.
In elementary schools my art teachers noticed I could draw and paintand encouraged me to do more. So too in high school I was encouraged yetI thought not much of it as it was enjoyable to do and I felt that all people could do such just as well.
In Jr. High school I was entered into an area of art competition witha pen and ink drawing.
Didn't think much of it even though I won the area Scholastic Art Achievement Award with my work being exhibited in the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts onthe State Fairgrounds in 1973.
My brother took me to see the student exhibit and even as I walked past paintings, sculptures, the collected world masters, I still had no idea of its significant importance.
Not until I matured, coming to know such renowned artists work, did my world vision grow allowing me to become aware that at one time my simple work was displayed in a building filled with the collected struggles, aspirations, revelations, and expressions of such world masters.
How fortunate. They had a tea and cookie reception for me, as best I could tell I wasn't notified.
In High School I won a few other awards probably as a result from my need to examine all the books on art I could, both historic and modern. And then being a rather introverted reclusive individual at this time, it fueled my imagination so that my art could soar, sing, and play. I was a painter.
After school I entered the work market gaining employ with a title of Administrative Aide/ Arts and Crafts Coordinator under two CETA Title programs with two supervisors - one at the Dallas Inter-Tribal Center, and the other with the Dallas City Arts & Parks Program. It was an experimental experience.
As a painter in this program I encountered an individual who by vocation was a color analyst who by viewing my work equated and dubbed me a "Classic Incurable Romanticist." At that time I wasn't sure what that entailed.
It was in this program that I met Red Streak Water of Dine (Navajo) decent. That is his native name, otherwise known as Elmer Milford. It was he who introduced me to the galaxy of jewelry and stonework. He told me he had learned this as an apprentice for Charles Loloma (Hopi). Regretfully, I did not know of this man he spoke of. Elmer showed me books that contained pictures of Loloma's work.
What I saw definitely wasn't a painting, but oh, some of the choices of color and placement in the character of design spoke of painting in three-dimensional form. When time permitted, and the paperwork of suites was finished, I would join Elmer and learned by helping. This is my earliest introduction, and application to jewelry making.
At one time Elmer told me that anyone can acquire metal and stone, cut it, pound and shape it, but it takes somebody to put it together. It means a lot in how one approaches such work to completion.
Sure I can laugh now about my early attempts to put what I learned to test in making jewelry, and yes, truthfully, I did have my share of meltdowns and mishaps. But, I was observant, persistent, and learned the story that unfolds as metal is put to flame. How it speaks its softening to its point of saying now I am ready to be joined, solder me. Loloma became my "Super-Hero"
With Loloma in mind I began exploring multi-stone, colored material assemblage. All this was crude in comparison to where I stand now, but still it was born from this heat's vision or dream to see it completed and in my hands.
There, also in the program, I met Merle A. Thunderhawk (Brule Sioux), a more accomplished painter than I who graduated from the world renowned Institute of American Indian Arts.(IAIA) in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I really enjoyed watching his manner of approach to canvas and paper and wondered as to how I might acquire a further understanding and application as well.
By Merle's urging, I applied for entry into IAIA to pursue a higher educationin painting, and the interest I had in film making. Filmmaking because I had so many thoughts, feelings, and ideas that I wanted to see in motion. I had no idea, when I arrived at IAIA in the fall of 1979, my life wouldn't be the same ... ever.
Arriving I found film making class was no longer offered, painting was. I entered a time of extreme crisis in the IAIA's survival. Upon arrivalI was informed that I may not have a school or grounds to graduate from.It was a shadow upon that sunny day we were informed that a pending closure was growing. I was within a Native American Art school which had achieved national and world acclaim in her young life, whose very existence was upagainst local, state and national interests.
Realizing that I could have chosen to ignore what was at hand and try to get my education and maybe graduate, I instead chose to become embroiled if not enamored to enjoin the struggle for her existence and for her continuance. Needless to say I incurred the worst grades of my academic life for such a pursuit.
It is in and of itself a long story deserving a full count, but for the sake of brevity it unfolded placing me as a student into a position of leadership. Through all those wounded heart felt moments gathered eternities we did manage to save our art school, granted changes were intense, as questionably necessary for our school was young, as I, and growing. I was 23 yrs old.
Survival and change can oft never be easily made, yet overall it wasa situation that unfortunately happened. And the struggle continues.
Spirit and Heart speak a language so much purer than written or spoken word and if such an event in my life were to be called the reason or cause for how I've come to be as I am and for how I am yet to be, whether in part of full parcel then and now in respect I would not ever surrender nor disavow such a heartfelt experience.
1982 at age 24 I finally limped through and graduated with a two-dimensional degree in Photography. Photography being as close to Filmmaking as I could get, and having had difficulty with my being able to pursue painting.
It was then that I gained employ with Lapidary Gift Line Manufacturer called Santa Fe Stone Works. I got the job after answering their ad whichread "Like to work hard, not affraid to get dirty? Call Dave."Laughingly there was no Dave there.
I worked the job for two years and learned lapidary. Lapidary defined as on, or expert, in precious and semi-precious stones cutting, polishing, or engraving ... that technique or art used in cutting and engraving them... of or pertaining to the cutting or engraving of precious stones, ...characterized by an exactitude and extreme refinement that suggests gem cutting. At this job it was mass production sludge slinging by the one and five gallon bucket load.
Cutting stone in this manner enlightened me to fully realize that there is (at times) a grain pattern in stone, to realize there is an approach to cutting material that could yield cuts showing good character and appeal. And just as important to choose material that might hold up and yield productively. All this along with visible flaws, discoloration, and fractures were taken into account prior and during the process of cutting production.
The primary lapidary production was overlay. Stones and material were industrially epoxied onto wood or metal items of their gift line. That is on top of, hence over-lay. In such a heavy production mode one becomes used to color combinations that in final finish were appealing. But such a mode didn't allow fully the time to apply ones new aspirations, such became considerations that one day would be born or attempted.
When I left the Stonework's I was finally enabled to apply my lapidary skills and considerations as apprentice to Mr. Gibson Nez (Dine) Jeweler/Lapidarist.
By Nez's directional urging I grew to use my head and eyes toward applying another lapidary technique called inlay. Inlay being the stone, material is adhered by placing within a recessed area or channel, hence in-lay.
Gibson is my example of extreme dedication and application to be a jeweler/Lapidarist. By hard work and by putting good strong feeling into your approach to work he became my example for how I would work.
One day he was talking about entering competition and winning ribbons for his work. I asked how many do you have? He produced boxes and boxes till the couch and floor swam in blue and gold and numerous other colors. He has earned his standing.
The day finally came, some two years later, when Gib told me "..you have to go." I asked him "Why, what am I doing wrong?" "Nothing,.."he told me, "your too good to be working for anyone."
My thanks to my friend Gibson Nez for I returned to the IAIA for a degree of study in Jewelry making. At this time I had already immense background in lapidary skills and was in need to further my metalwork abilities.
This was achieved and I received a three-dimensional Degree in Jewelry under the tutelage of my instrurctor Millard Holdbrook. It was this time that my signature stamp, ( a marking, logo, hallmark) was brought into being. Coming from the symbology study it contains much of who I believe I am butits most primary form is of an upraised key. I've encountered many closed doors and most were opened or were opened for me.
Soon after I was approached by Yellowhorse Art, a wholesaler manufacturerof jewelry, and offered me a unique separate situation to work there, use their equipment and material to do my work. I incurred a heavy material usage bill, but I'm not complaining a I was finally able to more fully playin and with the color and quality of stone material as much as a painter revels in a palette fully loaded in color.
During this time, another two years - seems to be a two year thing going on here doesn't it? I was presented a lapidary polishing technique composed of pad of polishing material. Its usage was refined to the point where the quality finish of my stone work became benchmark and helped bring lapidaryby Native American artists to attain or achieve a better finished presentation.
Quality material can and should be polished to a glass finish, for inviewing it one can actually see into the stone below its surface. This presented wonderfully the color and depth of material, some as if it were liquid.And too, such a finish is what ardent collectors come to expect, or become pleasantly surprised.
Entering competition at this time caused quite a stir as judges, collectors, and fellow jewelers wondered who I was to come seemingly out of nowhere brining forth work that perplexed, awed, and caused great wonder of how I achieved my work.
In a short space of time I took numerous awards as my work grew dancing in color and design. One compliment I received on my work as "...somethingthat came from an Atlantean Priest-Kings Tomb." It left a lot to my imagination.
Attention to detail says little of what I do. Details like splitting a stone and placing each half to one side and the other side. This create sbalance or a mirror presentation for that stone, and its called matching, or paired, something I do often through out my work.
More work and time is belabored into the multiple-stone, cushion type, lapidary pieces as the same steps to labor on one single stone is multiplied upon all of its other stones. Itself a maddening patient remembrance towards its finish. Even tiny slivers of stone merit this attention and treatment, hence my fingernails get progressively ground and polished along with the material. Minimal finger abrasion equals practice.
Sure some would belabor me with it takes too long, or none but you will notice, but I have my standards I follow and live - even if, and it does happen, the time I spend becomes unrecordible.
It is because I love my work that I do it, and I offer thanks for this gift beneath the many. I hope to be as many people say; "To be in good relations to all things."
And it is my belief as an individual, an artist, that the intensity of one's work is a direct reflection of the intensity of that individuals life lived.
"Indeed there are those who say their work speaks for them. My worksings for me."
As I am. Byron K.
"Perfection the ultimate aspiration....Precision the rigor de mode."- The Famous Unknown Kiowa Silversmith Byron K. McCurtain
Among his customers, Byron McCurtain IS famous. Individuals who wea rhis multi-stone, cushion type inlay jewelry also share the notoriety as targets of admiration and envy. Because of the time required to complete his jewelry, precious few of his bolos, bracelets, earrings, rings, necklacesor pendants are made, and for this reason Byron says that he is relatively unknown.
As a lapidarist working alone, Byron cuts and polishes semi-preciousstone. Gripping each tiny rock between his thumb, finger and finger nail, he carefully fits and assembles turquoise, red coral, lapis, and his favorite, black opal. Byron rounds and polishes the edges of the exposed stone surfaces. Rounding enhances the refraction of light and distinguishes his work from more common flat inlay. The term cushion refers to the rounded shape ofthe inlay stones that intersect like cushions on a sofa.
Byron builds sterling silver mounts and bezels that hold and display the stones that he has cut. He carefully rounds the edges of his stone cabochon sto prevent the silver bezel from cracking when bent.
Byron Kent McCurtain, was born on Valentines Day, 1958, in Lawton, Oklahoma. His artistic talent was publicly recognized when he was only 15 years oldfrom his Junior High School for pen & ink drawings. Twenty years later,while working at the Dallas Inter-tribal Center, he was encouraged to considergoing to the Institute of American Indian Art, in Santa Fe.
Byron is a descendent of Chief Lone Wolf and a member of the Botone family clan. Historians record that in 1867 Lone Wolf refused to sign the Treaty of Medicine Lodge Creek. In 1872 Lone Wolf became the principal chief of the Kiowa representing his people before the commissioner of Indian Affairsin Washington D.C.
For centuries the Kiowa have been artists. On the plains they used crushed colored earth's and rocks as paint to record battle scenes and their history on buffalo hide.
The name "Kiowa" (KY0oh-wah) comes form the word Kaigwu, meaning "Principal people" in the Kiowa language. Although the Kiowa are linked by language to Native Americans of the Southwest, the first known homeland of the Kiowa was in the 1600s in what is now western Montana. Through the years the Kiowa moved south- to the Rocky Mountains near today's Yellowstone National Park, to the Black Hills of eastern Wyoming and southern South Dakota, and then to the southwest plains of Oklahoma.
While living in the Black Hills in the early 1700s, the Kiowa first made use of horses. With the increased mobility provided by these animals, the Kiowa were able to better follow the buffalo herds. The Kiowa used sturdy and portable tipis as dwellings for their hunting way of life. They made use of what the land offered - cottonwood trees for fuel, acorns from oak trees to be eaten or made into a drink; and the thorns of the prickly pear fashioned into arrow points. Kiowa women prided themselves on their beadworkthat was stitched onto soft hides to be fashioned into moccasins, clothing, and cradle boards. For special events and religious ceremonies, the Kiowamade circular dance arbors out of wooden poles covered with tree boughs.
In 1868, when the Kiowa moved to a federal reservation in southwestern Oklahoma, they were joined by two other tribes, the Comanche and the Kiowa Apache. The three became known as the KCA tribes and adopted a joint constitution in 1932. In 1963, the KCA Constitution was abolished. In 1970, the Kiowa adopted their own tribal constitution. Today most of the Kiowa lands are in Caddo County, Oklahoma, with tribal headquarters in Anadarko. The Kiowa make their livings in all professions, including farming, oil rights leasing, and jewelry making.