Navajo artist Leon Martinez says he was influenced by his parents, Leo and Edith Martinez, to become a jewelry artist as early as 1970. “At the age of nine, I was assisting my parents with buffering, solder, and setting stones,” recalls Leon. He also helped his parents make squash blossom necklaces, rings, and bracelets during the high demand for Indian Jewelry in the 1970s. Making jewelry soon became a passion for Leon and his talent grew enormously. “I was a self starter artist using nature from plants, flowers, rocks, and landscapes for designs and structures. I use everything that’s in my environment, even clouds. Everything God has made. The designs are used for bracelets, rings, conchos, bolos, and earrings. I do my art work for competition, and the jewelry gives me unlimited joy,” says Leon.
In addition to his parents, Leon considers many people and artists his teachers and influences, including Calvin Martinez, Kirk Smith, Sunshine Daniel Reeves, Ernest Begay, Tommy Jackson, and Tommy Singer.
Leon’s jewelry is described as early 1900s old style mixed with contemporary style. “In making designs, even making one piece has made me to become patient, putting quality time into the smallest item. This helps me to perfect my work - soldering, setting stones by size, measurement for perfect fitting, and selection of stones for each piece of work. I try to make each piece of jewelry close to its perfection,” says Leon.
Leon has won several first place awards at the Navajo Nation Fair and Gallup Intertribal Ceremonial, known as the largest fair and annual event.