A silversmith’s Black Sheep

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Winston Mason gets to his shop at 6 a.m. every morning and usually stays until 7 or 8 p.m. However, if he is working on a particular project, he can work up to 15 hours a day.

Mason is a Native American silversmith and has spent the last year welding, melting, carving and piecing together jewelry—in a restaurant.

Black Sheep Cafe, situated on University Avenue in Provo, has been open since October 2011. Co-owned by sisters Kat and Bleu Mason, the restaurant includes the dining area and the metal shop where Winston Mason and his brother-in-law work. Apart from being the cafe’s resident silversmith, Mason is also the father of the owners.

At 20-years-old, Mason attended the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe. While attending, Mason first went to school for painting. But, seeing other silversmiths making jewelry ignited his interest.

One of Mason’s instructors was Charles Loloma, a Hopi silversmith who is considered one of the preeminent Native American artists. Loloma had shows in Paris, was the Artist in Residence in Japan, was featured on PBS and was commissioned to make a piece for the Queen of Denmark.

Although Native American jewelry-making is evolving toward a more contemporary style, Mason still uses traditional techniques. He noted that there is a resurgence of young Native Americans taking up the craft.

“I’m happy to see it. It’s a revival and a lot of young people are taking pride in what they do and do the best they can,” Mason said.

Mason told the story about a young Native American man who uses silver coins in his work, which is a traditional technique. The Navajo silversmiths used Mexican pesos in their work. Back then they would put the coins on railroad tracks to be flattened. The silversmith would keep the coin there until it was flattened to the thickness he wanted to use in his jewelry making. Now silversmiths like Mason can just buy whatever thickness they need.

Mason’s typical day of work is anything but normal.

“I come in at six to open the doors to let the prep people in,” he said. “Then I make a pot of coffee and have some coffee while I’m working.”

Mason works till 8 or 9 a.m. then gets breakfast. He also explained that he makes his own wire. He never throws away any scrap but instead makes them into ingots then he flattens or pulls it to whatever thickness he wants.

“It’s much more lucrative to reuse it than to sell it because you wouldn’t get the going rate of silver,” he said.

Mason typically uses silver and turquoise in his work but will also use unique and different colored stones. The different pieces of jewelry Mason makes can sometimes be done in just a day.

“Rings can be made in a day if I have everything at hand,” Mason said. “But it depends on complexity of a piece.”

Originally from North Dakota, Mason used to travel to rock and gem shows around the country. Now he does not travel as much because he has an established clientele, including Robert Redford, founder of Sundance Film Festival, and Richard M. Daley, a former mayor of Chicago, Ill.

“When I make a new piece, I send them a picture, and if they like it, they send me a check,” Mason chuckles.

Designing these pieces is a lot of work, but for Mason, the inspiration drives it forward.

“With a lot of it I just wake up in the middle of the night with an idea and can’t go back to sleep,” he said.  “I’m eager to go into the shop to start working on the piece. The hardest part is that before I’m finished with something, I’m thinking of something else.”

Mason said he remembers when he used to hurry to finish a piece so he could pay his rent, but he loves that now he does not have to rush his pieces, but can enjoys taking his time.

“After all those years, I still wake up anxious to get to studio to create; it’s a great time in my life, and I’m just having a ball,” he said. “I’m at a part in my life where I don’t have to create to live; at this point I live to create.”

Jin Bateman contributed to this article.

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