Orville Tsinnie (1943 – ) Acknowledged as a master silversmith, Orville Tsinnie, a Native American of the Navajo Nation, was born in Tuba City, Arizona and now makes his home in Shiprock, New Mexico.
The son of Ann Yellowhorse, Tsinnie never studied silversmithing and was content for many years with his job as Assistant Director of Personnel for the Navajo Nation. While he has been making jewelry since the 1970’s and continues to create new designs, Orville held several indirectly related jobs before becoming a jewelry artist.
At an early age, he learned welding from his father and an older brother. With this skill, he earned spending money welding pipe into cattle gates for trucks hauling livestock. He used this knowledge of working with metal to teach himself silversmithing.
When he was 27 and visiting his sister who was married to Hopi silversmith Horace Emerson, he created his first piece, a pin fashioned in the shape of a squaw, which he inlaid with stones. Once Orville decided to become a jeweler, his natural talent and attention to detail were nurtured by his sister who also worked with silver. She provided tips and encouragement as he started on his new career. Orville soon pursued the silversmithing craft using a traditional Navajo style leaving inlay work and the Hopi style behind.
The Navajo people are widely recognized for having one of the oldest metalworking traditions on the continent. The continuity of this tradition is beautifully demonstrated by Tsinnie’s jewelry creations whose work is distinctive and stylish.
He is known for his hand-fabricated and heavy stamp work jewelry. At first, he used turquoise as his primary stone surrounded by silverwork borders. Now he also works in sugilite, dinosaur bone and lapis.
Even with its contemporary stylings, Orville’s creations are strongly rooted in traditional Navajo design. Large bold lines characterize much of his work that is often embellished with a variety of stamped designs. A smooth, sleek, highly polished dome of silver with an outline of a few stamps is as typical as a heavy silver bracelet covered with deep stamp work. Tsinnie’s creations bridge the gap between traditional and modern themes.
His pieces of subtly textured handmade beads that also use of unusual and uncommon stones for his settings are an update of the classic squash blossom necklace. Among Orville’s favorite materials are fossilized dinosaur bone that, like petrified wood, reveals surprising color patterns when polished. He also utilizes a variety of turquoise, jaspers, obsidian, and lapis to highlight his silver work.
His designs are flawlessly executed; his soldering techniques very clean, and his finishing and polishing meticulous. This careful attention to detail sets Orville’s jewelry apart and reveals the pride he takes in his work, from a simple understated ring to a lavish and ornate necklace.
All Tsinnie’s work is marked with his signature and the name of his workshop in Shiprock, New Mexico. He hallmarks many of his larger pieces with a stamp of the Shiprock formation.
Orville Tsinnie has won numerous awards, including a Lifetime Achievement award from the Indian Arts and Crafts Association (IACA). Orville’s work is also featured in jewelry and silversmithing publications and he teaches his art to aspiring silversmiths.
A regular exhibitor at the Santa Fe, New Mexico Indian Market, he is often accompanied by his wife, Darlene and, occasionally, his daughters. A steady presence in the world of American Indian art for over a generation, Orville Tsinnie produces elegant, one of a kind, quality jewelry that is highly collectible, unique and elegant.