Standing among today’s artistic innovators is jewelry designer, silversmith and goldsmith Melanie Kirk-Lente. Working with her husband, Michael Lente (also Isleta), Kirk-Lente creates exquisite pendants, earrings, and rings in precious metals, inlaid with colorful stones. The pieces incorporate Australian and Peruvian opal, sugilite, pink tourmaline, turquoise and coral, and most recently; emerald & sapphire. Multi-strand necklaces with hand-rolled opal and gold beads also are a new creation.
Recently introducing more abstract designs and various casting and finishing techniques, Kirk-Lente has taken traditional Native jewelry making into the realm of fine art. “There has been such a big change in my work recently,” she explains. “Moving into more contemporary and abstract designs, and using more nontraditional stones, has taken me in new directions, creatively. Some see change as a bad thing, but I’m striving to remove the barriers between the two genres of traditional and contemporary art.”
Fusing traditional design elements and tribal motifs with modern, minimalist elegance, Kirk-Lente work reflects her cultural roots as well as contemporary sophistication. In one work, the serpent, or Avanyu, a sacred pueblo spirit being, is presented in 14kt gold, executed in fine detail. Father Sun, Grandmother Moon, and Kokopelli are also depicted, expressed through a unique and refined metalworking style accompanied by precisely cut and inlaid gems and stones. Kachinas, bears, and nature symbols; water patterns, lightning and shooting stars, come to life through the artist’s mastery of lost-wax casting and fine-line etching techniques. Other skills were fine-tuned during her formal academic pursuits; she earned her degree from the Gemological Institute of America in Carlsbad, California. In addition to her formal training, Kirk-Lente refined her art through the invaluable education she received from her late father, celebrated silversmith Andy Lee Kirk (Isleta). “I learned so much from my father,” she says. “He taught me about stones and different setting techniques, and how to be resourceful and efficient with my materials. It was intimidating to see him create one great thing after another. Trying to come up with new pieces was challenging, and there was pressure on me to stay within the defined style of traditional work. It has only been recently that I have begun to go forward with new ideas.”
Kirk-Lente has amassed quite an assortment of ribbons from the nation’s most prestigious art markets, including Indian Art Northwest, the Eiteljorg Museum’s Indian Market and the Santa Fe Indian Market. Her work has also been included in Blue Rain Gallery’s annual Show on the Road for several years, and many other shows as well. Along with new jewelry collections in silver, gold, platinum, and inlay designs, Kirk-Lente has already begun work on her first cast-bronze sculptures.