For Wyatt Lee-Anderson, a fourth generation silversmith, working with silver started as a way to buy more clothes, sodas, and skateboards when he was just 12 years old. Now 29, Wyatt is an accomplished artist with a passion for form and design who is driven by his desire to work with his hands. He not only loves the trade and the work, but he loves the lore of what he does — the stories of the gems and of the craft continually renew Wyatt with a sense of wonder for this work. Wyatt loves to recount the tales behind silversmithing, how the naja came over with the Spanish settlers and how the Navajo were first taught to stamp silver in order to counterfeit their own coins in a time when they were given none of their own. These stories connect Wyatt to his work through the generations that came before him.
“A piece of turquoise in the ground,” he says, “is only a bird or fragment of the sky that hasn’t yet flown.” His viewpoint of his materials and of his tools is that they are a source of wonder and personal craft and identity; Wyatt makes not only many of his own tools such as files and chisels, but he makes his own storage spaces for them as well. Both his personal tools and the places he keeps them Wyatt makes out of simple materials like the polished down stump of wood pictured next to him, which is adorned with his tools and makes them easily accessible at all times while he is working.
Having come to the craft at such an early age and driven by design, Wyatt, won a youth award at the Santa Fe Annual Indian Market when he was just in 8th grade. But, despite early success, he decided to go to college for architectural design. However, that field’s increasing use of digitally-based modeling and drafting programs wasn’t what he wanted out of an art; the lack of hands-on engagement was something that Wyatt missed deeply and he soon returned to jewelry, albeit with a greater grasp of the design mechanics of his work.
For Wyatt the processes that he’s involved in, the intimacy of holding and shaping and stamping silver, is something that connects him to the four generations of silversmiths that came down through his mother’s side of the family and the three generations that worked silver on his father’s side.
Every creation of Wyatt’s, any piece of jewelry that he touches, is a whole piece of his vitality, knowledge, and creative energy, but more importantly, it’s something he’s worked with his own hands from start to finish. And every new piece, in Wyatt’s story of the craft and of himself, remains connected to his first pieces, those bits of silver and copper that he molded as a boy in his father’s shop.
What Wyatt ultimately makes is physical manifestations of his abilities, knowledge, creative energy, and genuine passion. He makes once still birds fly, effortlessly.