“Don’t feel like you have to hammer softly”
Snow silently falls outside, small flakes sticking to the windows of The Studios. Chickasaw Nation and Seminole artist Taylor Martin sets up in the Flex Studio, her tools and current works-in-progress neatly arranged for prime accessibility. The energy is calm and warm, much like the artist herself. Open blinds cast a soft light on the jewelry-maker and metalsmith, shining on her long dark hair as she bends over, already getting to work.
“I like to push the confines of what people think of as Native art,” the Studio School instructor says. “Even with jewelry, people have such an idea with Native jewelry and what it should look like in a traditional sense. So coming from a more contemporary, urban, modern lens, or even incorporating what is considered fine art, is definitely what my perspective is.”
The Oklahoma-born and -based 29-year-old Studio School instructor has fond adolescent memories surrounding jewelry, her Indigenous grandmother and great-aunts trading and wearing high-quality, handmade pieces. Martin dabbled in wire wrapping, but didn’t fully dive into metalsmithing until her second-to-last undergraduate semester at the University of Central Oklahoma. On a passionate, creative whim, she sacrificed finishing classes needed for a minor in order to take the then-brand-new Intro to Metalsmithing for Non-Majors, a decision she holds close to her heart even now.
“From that point on, I decided I would only wear or consume handmade, quality pieces,” Martin says. “There’s definitely this grit to metalsmithing that I feel like I am attracted to. You start off with this piece that is sharp and rough and bended, and, if you choose to smooth that out — buff, shine and polish it — you change it entirely.”
Gaining the basics and the confidence to pursue this new creative outlet, Martin tapped into the world of metalsmithing and absorbed all the information she could get her hands on. (She hasn’t stopped since.) The artist picked up tips from local metalsmithing friends and took a few classes and one-off courses, but as she progressed further, she realized how limited public programs and resources were. She found a desire to teach and fill that gap.
“I’ve been teaching (at Studio School) over a year now, and my thought with creating a class, I wanted it to be accessible,” Martin says. “There’s really nothing like it provided here in the city currently. Or what is available is in an academic setting that’s not necessarily accessible to anyone, or it’s just one-off workshops and trying to learn online.”
“What I appreciate about teaching is that aspect of community and how it’s a smaller, more-intimate class. I’m able to really be one-on-one with the students and really troubleshoot with them and facilitate the success of these pieces they’re designing. It’s something where every question that a student has, I get to become that better of a teacher.”
Through her introductory courses at Oklahoma Contemporary’s Studio School, Martin has not only facilitated a space for students to learn, expand and grow in their knowledge of jewelry-making and metalsmithing — tackling the vocabulary, specific tools and crafting techniques, and even the scientific process of the medium all the way down to its molecular level — she has simultaneously cultivated a community of creatives. Even if they only gather for a three-hour class on a Tuesday evening.
“At first, I would think, ‘Shouldn’t I maybe keep some of these hints or tips or tricks to myself?’” Martin says. “But then, a huge portion of Indigenous knowledge is sharing. So in teaching, it’s made me realize not only is there more than enough to go around, but when you share with others what you know, it shows you that ripple effect you can create within a community.”
While the proper techniques, tools and concepts are part Martin’s curriculum, she emphasizes to students that there isn’t “one right way to do metalsmithing.” Finding yourself in the piece is just as important as the technical practices.
“There’s definitely a deeper meaning of why we adorn ourselves, so bringing in those aspects of my indigeneity and certain subtle symbolism is important to me, like incorporating hand stamping,” Martin says. “I also push that with my students, seeking that inspiration within themselves, whether it’s in their heritage or nature or even a loved one.”
Martin recently finished teaching an eight-week Intro to Jewelry and Metalsmithing class. She’s offering multiple options in Studio School’s winter term: another introductory class and a single-night, Valentine-themed ring-making workshop. Interested in learning from the metalsmithing genius herself? Registration opens to members Nov. 28 and to the public Dec. 5.
Return to New Light.