Posted on: September 26, 2023 Posted by: Zefren-M Comments: 0

On September 12th to the 15th the I had the most rewarding experience at Stanford University. This experience was originally scheduled for the fall of 2020, and little did we know then that it would take three years for it to be completed. This trip wraps up 2023 full schedule of flights and collaborations that were all reschedule because of the pandemic.

In the late winter of 2020 I met with Amanda Knox Sather and Sara Shaughnessy, both are instructors at Stanford University’s Product Realization Laboratory (PRL) and Arts Intensive. It was during a workshop created by the Tuba City based non-profit Change Lab. They had organized a sort of roundtable discussion of jewelry-based CAD and 3D printing. Little did we know then, that the global pandemic was brewing and how much of an impact it would have on all of us. 3 years of Navajo citizens waiting and battling generations of  inequities on the Navajo Nation. So when restrictions and COVID-19 the threat lessened, Robert Blackhat Jr. and I were invited to offer our expertise in Navajo jewelry making to undergrads at Stanford University.

Now some background on the Product Realization Laboratory (PRL). Within the Humanties Department at Stanford is a place “where students design & create objects of lasting value”. Standford in the past had whole floors and buildings dedicated to instructing students on the creation of the parts and designs they drafted on blueprints. Huge buildings with floors that were full of metal and wood machinery, mould creation and foundry pours. Spaces that gave way to new technology and maker techniques. As materials and Mechanical engineering advanced the workrooms gave way to specialized labs, clean rooms and design spaces. So, in a space created as a support room for the old Stanford Print shop and Maintenance sits the legacy tools of creation. Their roles are now liberated, any student from any major can come learn to use the equipment. The operators are far more diverse than ever, in contrast to your average late 19th century mechanical engineering student. Art and creativity now rule the intentions of the operators. Here now, theater, art, business, medical, and computer science students learn to fashion their abstract thoughts into items real and tangible. In a lasting fashion as the PRL website quotes.

But more so the invaluable amount the engineering student’s investment in knowledge, experience, and self-esteem that can gain in this program. The work entailed in their plans, to held in the hands, will help them interact with future contractors that have to create their work. The chance at an increase in quality, in execution and review can only build an engineer’s integrity and safety record. Now this is the PRL at Stanford, so you may ask. “What does that have to do with two Navajo Silversmiths?”

Well….Mandy and Sarah are successful jewelers that use the same legacy tools and instructions garnered at Stanford to instruct students in the same way early engineering students may have experienced. Only now there is a scale reduction in design, and more creative play into the creation of fine jewelry. 3D printing, wax craving, micro casting and soldering replace large scale milling, mould making, foundry work and welding. I was shocked to hear some students have also taken those courses within the PRL. They reach within their minds, take a thought and with their hands create an item of great value and beauty. Sarah and Mandy wanted to see what generations of expertise and knowledge would do to the student projects. so, I must say the results were awesome.

Robert and I, merely didn’t want to teach Navajo design but use our knowledge and techniques to create art. We did not want copies of Navajo design but for each student to be unique. The students free will and story is what we wanted them to tap into. The experience impressed even myself to a degree that it inspired me to be a little bolder in design and fabrications. I just need to set some time to work in the silver studio. I hope that both of our careers are elevated and evolved from the trip. and I can say that for me personally the takeaway is that when I get too old to weave professionally that I want to become a teacher in retirement. This is becoming a growing possibility the more that I am giving a teaching opportunity. Well, that’s the end of another blog and I’ve posted below some examples of the students works and candid shots of the time at Stanford. Thank you to the Change Labs, Mandy, Sarah, Craig Milroy, and Stanford University.

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