This is a preview of the full article - Full access is exclusive to subscribers. To read the full article please subscribe to our print or digital version of Ornament Magazine. Subscribe now!
BELT BUCKLES of 6Al 4V titanium; CNC machined, hydraulic press formed, pulse arc welded, electro-anodized, sanded, 2013.
Pat Pruitt

Prototype to Perfection




“Because the tools I use allow for the precision I want, I might take hours perfecting a design,” he notes. Pruitt might go through five to ten versions in order to get the final design he envisioned.

It starts with a sketch and then it is followed by several more. One or two might be selected and refined to make an item of jewelry, a vase, a unique piece. This is a glimpse of the creative process of Pat Pruitt. Although he learned traditional silverworking techniques as a teenager, Pruitt’s later training in mechanical engineering led him to understand the properties of stainless steel and titanium, adapting them first to body piercing jewelry and then to more conventional jewelry forms. For several years, Pruitt has created a line of bracelets, necklaces and other jewelry items as well as one-of-a-kind belts, vases and other distinctive objects like a set of spurs and a tribute dog collar and chain for his beloved Mooch. His entries in regional American Indian art fairs have garnered Pruitt several awards but also the attention of Southwestern art collectors. His jewelry line is unusual not only for the materials he uses but also for his distinctive designs.

Pruitt’s path to jewelry design could be perceived as partly traditional and nontraditional. He was raised in Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico and is of Pueblo, Chiricahua Apache and Caucasian heritage. At the age of fifteen while recovering from a bike accident, he was fortunate that silversmith Greg Lewis allowed him to try his hand at metalworking. Lewis, according to Pruitt, is one of those “unsung heroes.” Lewis is a traditional silversmith who excels at making everything by hand including many of his own tools. Pruitt learned by watching Lewis and by emulating what he saw. When Pruitt was learning to properly bend a bracelet, he tried making and bending one hundred or more copper ones in order to successfully grasp the technique. But if he could not figure out something, he would ask Lewis who was willing to show him what he needed to know. That experience of trial and error would serve Pruitt later when he developed machinery to shape stainless steel bracelets or experimented with other techniques to accomplish unusual surface finishes.

Perhaps one of his more interesting life paths was Pruitt’s choice to attend Southern Methodist University in Dallas. His older brother Dominic attended SMU and the university offered an appealing albeit highly competitive engineering program. Freshman year was framed by traditional classwork and subsequent years allowed students to work and get paid in their fields of interest. But college offered some other opportunities that would affect Pruitt’s creative processes. Pruitt also chose to take classes in studio art electives such as three-dimensional design and sculpture. He found that defending the artwork in class forced him not only to analyze his creative works but also to successfully articulate his design plan. These classes were appealing because they were less rigid than the required coursework for mechanical engineering.  





Diana F. Pardue
Diana F. Pardue is curator of collections at the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona, and has extensive experience with Native American jewelers and artisans across the Southwest. Pardue gives readers insight into the atypical work of Pat Pruitt, distilling his stainless steel jewelry to its essence, the pursuit of precision. She recently co-authored with Norman L. Sandfield the book Native American Bolo Ties: Vintage to Contemporary Artistry. Pardue is also the author of Shared Images: The Innovative Jewelry of Yazzie Johnson and Gail Bird (2007) and Contemporary Southwestern Jewelry (2007).





This article in its entirety appears only in the print magazine.

Keep rich and engaging content in your life, click here to subscribe today.



  Follow Ornament on...