In the days before he took up silversmithing, Mark Stevens used to spend his weekends poking around Laguna Pueblo, New Mexico, picking up broken pieces of ancient Anasazi pottery. He’d bring the old pot shards home and store them in a bucket for his wife (photographer Shannon Carr-Stevens) to eventually turn into a poster.
That was before deity announced its presence and sent Stevens down a new career path. “Of all the pot shards I had run across, there was one particular shard that was I drawn to and I kept it on top of my workbench for inspiration. I’d admire it every day, pick it up, hold it in my hand and wonder what the sliver sample would have looked like as a whole pot with a full design.
“One day five years ago, I was alone at my work bench about ready to make a turquoise ring," he recalls. "I picked up the inspirational shard piece and heard a voice out loud that told me to ‘make it into jewelry’. I looked around and, sure enough, I was the only one there in my studio. I realized that God the Creator was speaking to me and the first words out of my mouth were -- ‘How can I do that?’ I was shown how to re-create the pattern and contours of the shard using an overlay technique, the beginning of my pottery shard replica series and a generous gift given to me by God the Creator that has touched so many people.”
Stevens took that first piece of craftsmanship to a show in San Francisco, immediately sold it, and raced home. There he began working -- every day, day and night -- to produce 6 more original pieces which instantly sold at a Texas show. “That’s when I realized this is what I needed to be doing,” says Stevens. “I work harder now than I ever have in any of my previous jobs -- but it’s the creative aspect I enjoy that keeps me going.”
Made entirely by hand in sterling silver (.925), Stevens uses an overlay technique to create a 3-dimensional format that accurately captures shapes and design details. Each shard is replicated only one time and after the replica piece of jewelry is sold, the buyer receives a photograph of the original pottery segment that inspired the craftsmanship. Then the original shard is returned to its home in Laguna Pueblo…never to be replicated again. “I do not sell or give away the original ancient pottery shards. These are artifacts that belong to our native people,” Stevens says.
“I know of some artists who use the actual shard in the finished product, using it as a cabochon and incorporating it into the jewelry or some who drill a hole through the top of the shard and wear it as a pendant. But, for me, neither method is culturally or morally acceptable. I use each fragment of broken earthenware as a reference, making only one design replica and then returning the shard to its home. “
As an enrolled tribal member of Laguna Pueblo, Mark (half Laguna from his mother’s side and half Italian from his father’s side) adheres to traditional values. “By working designs from pottery pieces of the past into my contemporary silversmithing, I’m linking the long-ago with today --- bringing our history and art from hundreds of years ago that people may never have seen before and sharing it with the world today.”
Not only is his work distinctive (“Customers tell me they’ve never, ever, seen this kind of work before”), the original handmade jewelry is readily identifiable. Mark’s Laguna grandfather gave him the boyhood name of ‘He-ta-weh’ or ‘corn pollen’ and customers will find that name and a cornstalk symbol next to his copyright stamp.
For more information and examples of his work, visit markdstevens.com.