Choctaw Silver Works is more than just an online shop that sells handcrafted jewelry. It is also a marker of pride and tradition for the Choctaw people. Having made sterling silver jewelry since 1790 R.J. is continuing his ancestors traditions not only in the form of adornment but he also creates gourd rattles and other ceremonial items.
For those unaware please give a brief description of the Choctaw Indians and the tradition of Native American jewelry.
The Choctaw are a southeastern tribe that lived prior to European contact in Louisiana,Mississippi and Alabama.Beginning in the early 1800’s and continuing through the Civil War era ,the majority of the tribe was removed from their ancestral homeland,their houses and crops burned and forcibly relocated to Indian Territory which is now Oklahoma.Almost one third of our people died along the way or within a month of arrival from starvation and exposure.This was our holocaust.Many Choctaws,fearing extinction, hid out in the swamps and heavily wooded remote regions of Louisiana and other southern states.Their descendants comprise the various bands of Choctaw who still reside here.Our family is enrolled in the Louisiana Band of Choctaw Indians,a tribe of almost 1,000 people whom I serve as a tribal councilman.Our family speaks Choctaw,dances in pow wows and is involved in various Indian crafts.
Choctaws of long ago enjoyed wearing shell gorget pendants,strings of freshwater pearl necklaces and anklets as well as copper bracelets.Early explorers wrote in their journals that Choctaws were fastidious about their appearance.
When did you become involved in jewelry design?
I began making jewelry when I was 17 years old.I started out making stainless steel rings and pendants.They were plain and industrial looking with no stones in them.One day I made a large cuff bracelet out of hammered pewter with a carnation design chiseled into it.This stuff was a hit with hippies living in New Orleans.
What influences your work the most?
There are several things that continue to influence me to this day.One influence stems from my time owning an ornamental iron shop in New Orleans, where I replicated old European balcony railings,columns,gates and spiral staircases.Another influence comes from viewing old Caddo,Choctaw & Chitimacha jewelry in museum collections.My strongest influence of all comes from my own dreams.I quickly sketch them upon waking up so I won’t forget them.
Where else can people buy your work, besides Etsy?
I sell my work at Louisiana venues such as pow wows and art sales.I also will be at the oldest Indian art sale in Louisiana.It will be the first Saturday in December at the Williamson Museum in Natchitoches on the campus of NSU hosted by Dr.Hiram Gregory.I also sell at the Louisiana Folklife Festival in July at NSU.
Define southern style.
Southern people are known for their independent spirit.We don’t like being dictated to, whether in regards to fashion,cooking or lifestyle.We tend to question authority and enjoy charting our own course.We wear what is beautiful in our own eyes and decorate our home likewise.We stand out as different to the rest of the country and are glad for it.We buy what makes us happy!
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