PHOENIX, AZ – My dad and my brother picked me up from the airport last Friday night. Our vibrant conversation about recent family events made the ride home short. When I am home, I can notice the minute changes from my previous visit. Nothing seems to have changed during the 30 days since being home. Health-wise, we had all recovered from some form of cold or sinus infection. My mom began making food. The sweet aroma of frybread and mutton stew fill the air and I begin to observe my dad. We both sat at the table eating our mutton stew. I’m in an almost primal mode of eating the mutton from the sheep my grandmother had butchered. My dad enjoys seeing my pure delight in eating mutton; it is one of many connections we share. I see him leaning over the table and holding the mutton in hand. His thumb catches my attention. The nail looks infected and his hands have more cuts; a change did happen. I remember my dad cutting his thumbnail when we were working long nights for the 2012 Santa Fe Indian Market show. Yet, despite of the wound, he kept working with the machines he has had since before I was born. As for the cuts, he told me the machine blade cut deeper than usual. He didn’t feel the pain so much as he saw the blood flow from the wound. In pure Victor Beck style, he washed the wound, took the torch, and applied enough heat to disinfect the cut, then super glued the cut shut. This process isn’t something I am surprised by anymore.
He has retold the story about the moment one becomes a jeweler: When you absentmindedly pick up a just heated piece of silver or gold. Thirty years have gone by and he continually injures his hands. My dad is a jeweler.
For years, I’ve been witness to my father’s schedule of working and marketing his jewelry. However, only in the past 16 years have I assisted him in creating countless creations. My tasks began as a dutiful buffer who could withstand the long periods of standing. The black soot found its way under my nails and into the dry crevices of my fingers. My dad would tell me about the “dragon scale” remnants on the back of a silver bolo. “Keep buffing but lightly until it goes away” by using a light buffing compound. The brand name of the buffing compound has changed over the years, at present, it is Zapp. He taught me how to hold certain pieces so they would not fly out of my hand and “knick” the silver. After a knick is accidently made, I sigh, knowing that I have done two things: first, added more time to standing with my head slumped downward, and made the silver thinner by a minuscule. Nonetheless, I find that it is better for me than my dad to do such a tedious task. The aching neck, tense arms, stiff shoulders, slightly slouched back, and burnt fingertips are part of the way I chose to help my dad. I love the moments I share with my dad. It is a mix of quiet moments with the hum of machines or conversations about life moments over the loud television sounds.
We have listened to audio books, Johnny Horton, Johnny Clash, music from the 1950s to the 1970s, and Radiohead. The different genres of music have changed along with the evolution of stereos. From the small two tape portable boom box to the Pioneer sound system to the white CD, FM/AM, Mp3 player that I bought for him to use. Listening to nothing but music and radio stations has morphed to listening to forensic and crime scene investigation television programs. My dad has a routine that I love and he sticks to what he likes. He enjoys listening to my music then questions my music after 8 hours of listening. He can only pay attention to audio books for so long before becoming completely immersed in creating his pieces. His creative process lies around the shop. Old brass models, random sketches on the wall or shop counters. He has binders full of measurements showing or reminding himself of the materials needed for preparation. And so, I have become an assistant and midnight marauder in helping him make commissions and orders.
The shop became our space many years before. So, I feel a sense of nostalgia stepping into this space. It reminds me of the many mornings and nights seeing my dad tirelessly create jewelry. Like my father, in his younger days, I work better at night. So, I step into the studio that is setup in the garage. Most, if not all, of the machines are older than me. The thick wooden countertops are usually littered with pliers, files, a torch, hammer, soft hammer, brass mock ups, wires, and lots of masking tape. The masking tape, during the busy summertime, lines the edge of the countertops. They show measurements needed for a bracelet, ring, bolo tie, or necklace. I view the numbers and fractions used to weight the amount of gold or silver needed for one of his creations. I’ve not paid much attention to the amount of silver or gold he has bought over the years; I do know the thickness of those particular metals have been slightly reduced over the recent years. The reduction reflects the price of gold increasing and cost of silver following the same trend. His creations retain the same amount of skill and patience needed to create the elegant pieces. Moving to the end of the studio and walking towards my usual station, the diamond cutter. I glance at the work waiting for me. There sits a long 8-inch stand of 1-inch thick natural turquoise waiting for me to shape into round beads for the back of a signature Beck creation.
I don’t know the exact moment I started assisting my dad in his shop. I can’t recall if he asked me or if he saw that I wanted to help and asked. I remember being more involved by the time I was in 7th grade. I had made small pink coral earrings for a friend of mine, my dad told me to charge her $6. It was the first time I thought, “Why would he choose that price?”