Navajo sculptural jeweler Fritz Casuse finds inspiration for his art all around him — his wife, son, students, poems — but regardless of where the idea germinates, he intends to enjoy the process of creation. “Have fun, that’s what art should be about: fun,” he says, adding, “Enjoyment in creating art is my main goal.”
A 1996 graduate of the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, Casuse spends his free time having fun in two- and three-dimensional Art. He's knowledgeable about several processes and techniques, but with no particular favorite. “They all relate to my creative process as paintings evolve into sculptures and jewelry, all centered around one main idea.”
An award-winner at both the Heard Museum Fair and Market as well as the Santa Fe Indian Market, the folks at Native Treasures Indian Arts Festival simply say that “His designs truly break the mold of Native American jewelry.”
One of his most recent triumphs was a delicately crafted hummingbird ring, an entry piece started just six days (albeit 10-hour days) before it ran away with a blue ribbon at the 2013 Heard Museum Indian Art Fair and Market. “The hummingbird concept came from my son’s native name and from a poem on a card I was sending him, a card with a lot of detail about hummingbirds.”
Despite the mental image of the end product, this particular ring went through a lot of iterations before it saw completion. "There were a lot of prototypes made out of copper to refine the petals of the flower, the bending of the metal, to avoid any scrap materials. Although mistakes and errors in judgment can often be crushed, re-melted and used again, I’d rather make sure I have the right measurements by doing a lot of mock-ups first. When you work with gold, you don’t want to make things too long or come up too short."
It took a lot of mental exercise before that particular imagery became clear. "I didn’t know how I was going to create this hummingbird, but I knew I wanted to try and capture the concepts of fluidity and movement and I knew I wanted it to be hand-fabricated, carved and done exclusively by hand."
This concept of flow is a consistent in his work. At Poeh Arts Center where he teaches, Casuse told the Pojoaque News: “I consider my jewelry to be miniature sculptures with forms both traditional and contemporary and paying particular attention to lines and balance. There’s a sense of movement within the subtle colors I use.”
How he does what he does is partly a result of his upbringing. “As a child and throughout my teens, my father (a carpenter and welder) was always creating things of use with his knowledge. Often times, instead of playing with neighborhood kids, my father and I would sit at the kitchen table and talk. He’s my inspiration. The memories of the many adventures we discussed have helped me to draw upon my imagination.”
Despite his academic training of acrylic and oil on canvas, ceramic stoneware, traditional Micaceous clay, silver, shells, beadwork, stone, and photography, he is hungry to learn more. “Creating artwork is my future, learning new methods, working with different media and sharing ideas with other artists — that’s the balance I seek.”
He teaches that concept of creativity to his silversmithing students who range in age from early teens to octogenarians. “They asked me to teach and I love it. It’s a way of giving back to the community. I have them draw out their pieces so I can visually see what they are wanting to create, then I can gently walk them through the creative process. I’m their guide to wherever conceptual direction they want to go in. My message to my class is — a lot of schools will tell you what to do, what the project is going to be, but with my students, I just let them jump right in there and make those little mistakes that people learn from. You have to trip and stumble a little in order to create forward momentum.”
Casuse heads into the future wherever the Muse guides him. “Whatever strikes me in the moment,” he says. “Sometimes I have a plan and sketch out designs, other times I just go with the flow…whatever shapes and colors I see, I go from there.”