‘I was hooked’

David Anderson, living master of metals

By Scott Gerdes
Posted 10/5/18

Quintessential Taos views surround the sprawling Anderson family cattle ranch in Arroyo Seco. The proper home was once filled with impressive paintings, tapestries and sculptures. The middle …

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‘I was hooked’

David Anderson, living master of metals

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Quintessential Taos views surround the sprawling Anderson family cattle ranch in Arroyo Seco. The proper home was once filled with impressive paintings, tapestries and sculptures. The middle Anderson, David, along with his older brother and younger sister, were regularly taken to museums and art shows. He remembers going to local events with his parents, Chilton and Judith, noting the adults all decked out in their finest attire with eye-catching jewelry dripping off their fingers, wrists, ears and necks. His well-known and respected grandfather, Claude Anderson, built a hacienda in Taos, which was later donated by the family and became the site of the Millicent Rogers Museum. His father started the Taos School of Music when Anderson was 3 years old. Functions afforded him the chance to be around some of Taos’ greatest artists such as Andrew Dasburg, Dorothy Brett and Ted Egri. (He is influenced by Egri — the man and his work — to this day.) Little did he know how those experiences and observations would one day mold him into a master goldsmith.

Looking back

 It was a broken silver and turquoise bracelet that planted a seed.

“My best friend growing up was Herman Chavez, a Navajo, who was the same age. He lived across the field from my house with his uncle, Lambert. We hung out a lot and did a lot of stupid things,” Anderson recalled with an impish grin.

Two claws that held the turquoise stones in Anderson’s favorite bracelet had broken. One day, he mentioned it to Herman. It surprised Anderson to hear that Lambert used to make jewelry.

“Herman says, ‘Come on over and I’ll show you how to fix it.’ ”

“I said, ‘You know how to do that?’ ”  

Herman answered, “My uncle is a silversmith.” 

Anderson took his broken bracelet to Herman’s house. Under Lambert’s watchful eye and specific instruction, the junior high-schooler began his first jewelry-repair lesson. Once, Anderson hammered out a copper ashtray with guidance from his father. He had a history of taking things apart to see how they worked. But he had never attempted anything that required so much precision using such foreign tools.

Inside the shop on the Chavez’s property, Anderson removed the turquoise stones. He took the claws out. He took a piece of cloth to the silver. “There was a teeny wire that went into the band and so I cleaned it up and sanded it down,” Anderson recalled. “I got it smooth, got the ends put together and then Lambert told me to put some plugs on it with some white slurry stuff.”

Then he soldered the piece back together and quenched it, following every one of Lambert’s words to a T until the piece was completely intact. 

“So, then I had this bracelet back again, and it was years later when I realize that what he just showed me was really difficult,” Anderson said. “For a beginner, being my first project, I shouldn’t have even tried it. Lambert talked me through it, got me to do it and it was intriguing.”

Getting hooked

It wasn’t until 1981 when Anderson took his first jewelry-making class. He was a student at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque and “had no clue” what career path he wanted to take. He had never forgotten fixing that old bracelet, so he took some jewelry courses and learned how truly difficult it is to solder, especially on a thin wire. “Doing that again made me so happy. I was hooked.”

At the time, Ralph Lewis was the head of the department at UNM. One day he came in to talk to the beginning jewelers. Anderson was working on a belt buckle.

“He gave this little lecture and I just fell in love with the guy. I said, ‘I’ve got to go up and talk to him.’ So I grabbed my belt buckle — it was half done — and walked up to him, introduced myself and we started talking,” he shared. 

Lewis looked at Anderson’s belt buckle, looked at Anderson, looked again at the belt buckle and inquired, “This is your first class?” “And I said, ‘Yeah.’ And he said, ‘Wow, do you have a major?’ I said, ‘No.’ He looked at the belt buckle again, looked me right in the eye and said, ‘I want you for a student.’ Somewhere in the back of my mind I heard, ‘OK.’ I didn't realize I had even said it out loud. And that was it.”

Anderson immersed himself in jewelry, painting and drawing courses for the next six years, working with Lewis for five of them. His metalwork began with silver and some gems. The first piece he sold was at a small holiday fair he happened to join on a whim in Albuquerque. The design for the shield-like pendant came to him in a dream. “It had this black agate stone with white stripes and I recessed it down into the bottom of a shell structure with a flat back. It was almost like the shape of a kite. It had some piercings in it so you could look through the outer shell and see the stone underneath.”

A woman approached his table and was instantly taken with the chain-less pendant. She bought it for $35. “I was thrilled,” he said.

After graduating from UNM, Anderson returned to Taos and took a couple of classes with Phil Poirier at the Taos Art Institute who taught him how to work with gold.

“Gold, at that point in time, was terrorizing,” he confessed. “I was so scared because of its cost. 

Back then silver was $4.80 an ounce and gold was $270 an ounce and that's a big difference.” 

Later, he got a job working with Taos jeweler Emily Benoist Ruffin who showed him how to work with platinum. 

Evolution

Anderson looks at the world in shapes and structures. He dutifully studies the quality of a pencil line on a piece of paper — “the curved line can look really ugly or it can look really beautiful.” He views his job as a jeweler as making stunning works of wearable art. It’s about creating pleasing shapes that people are drawn to. That was something learned that came with time.

“After making jewelry for a while,” he explained, “I got really complex and tried to reproduce leaf shapes and flowers and petals and make them structurally perfect. I reproduce nature pretty accurately, but people didn't want to pay the money for it. All of a sudden I realized, ‘Oh my God, make it simple.’ ”  

He turned 50 lines into six, which dramatically changed the structure of the leaf. All of a sudden, people liked it. That lesson took 10 years and hundreds of leaves. He gets a lot of inspiration from nature, but his favorite pieces to make are rings born from a Japanese wood-grained metal technique called Mokume Gane. “Basically, it’s a series of laminated metals. When I carve into it I expose different layers and colors.”

Over the years, Anderson’s work has garnered many awards including the “Living Masters Exhibition” at the 2007-2009 Taos Fall Arts Festival and “Peoples Choice,” “Best of Jewelry” and “Best of Show” honors at the annual Millicent Rogers Museum Miniatures Show.

Anderson’s work can be found at Tresa Vorenberg Goldsmiths in Santa Fe and in Taos at the Millicent Rogers Museum Gift Shop. Anderson and his wife, jeweler Gail Golden, also sell out of their home studio by appointment and accept commission work. His pieces are for sale online at davidbandersongoldsmith.com and etsy.com. Beyond fabricating original pieces, Anderson is very adept at repairing anything from vintage to contemporary jewelry and is the official repair person for Millicent Rogers Museum. 

It’s all come full circle from that first broken bracelet.

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