Native American Jewelry Artist Paul Szabo: Keeping it Simple

Renowned for his ability to fuse modern metalsmithing techniques with traditional Plains Indian imagery, the work of Paul Szabo radiates with a simple elegance in both design and purpose.

Imagery: Northern Plains spirituality with a universal message
Growing up on the Rosebud Indian reservation, Paul says the imagery he uses in his jewelry designs is a direct reflection of where he's from and what he was surrounded by as a child. He also says he uses his art as a way of educating people about the Native Plains culture and making it more approachable for non-Native people.

Paul's use of the Dragonfly image illustrates his unique way of relaying traditional Lakota spirituality to others. He explains that some Native people see the Dragonfly as a particularly dear spiritual symbol:

When one prays to the spirit after a loved one has moved on, the sight of a Dragonfly signifies their thoughts and prayers have been transmitted to the departed loved one.

...this beautiful belief is easily understood, and often adopted by others, regardless of their background.

Technique: Hopi inspired approach to metalsmithing
When asked about his flawless technique, (smiling) he simply says:

I also want to make work that is artistically interesting to look at...and I do occasionally make mistakes, but most of the time they become pleasant surprises.

Paul is best known for his metal overlay technique. A self taught artist, he is inspired by the powerful technique of Hopi metalsmiths and their approach to the medium.

Materials: Argentium sterling silver, semi precious stones & gold
His most recent work explores the subtle contrast between the shine of the polished silver with the textured, natural matte qualities of a silver overlay. He says because the rustic surface quality of the overlay will invite tarnishing; his material of choice is Argentium sterling silver, which is more tarnish resistant than basic sterling due to the lower copper content.

Gold and other materials do occasionally find their way into his pieces, but only in addition to his exquisite silverwork.

Result: honest simplicity
When asked about the austere, yet powerful presence of his work, he says he "tries to keep it simple" and likens his minimalist approach to the honest simplicity of a Lakota song - each word spoken has meaning and the intent is very clear and uncomplicated:

Every thought, every feeling doesn't need to be expressed all at once; a single piece can simply just be about one thing.