Rick Manuel is a talented and unique southern Arizona jeweler. His tribal affiliation is with both the Akmel O’Odham tribe which is the Gila River people aka Pima and the Tohono O’Odham tribe which is the Desert people aka Papago. Rick makes his jewelry using the overlay technique in different pictorial designs depicting life in the Sonoran Desert. Whether Rick creates the powerful clouds and lightning of an approaching monsoon, or the Saguaro and other cactus life with Boboquivari, their sacred mountain peak rising in the background, he brings forth the beauty of the desert of southern Arizona.
Rick was born in Sacaton, Arizona in 1950. He is registered with Gila River Pima through his mother and with the Tohono O’Odham through his father. He grew up on the Tohono O’Odham reservation in the Santa Rosa Village and is usually referred to as Tohono O’Odham. Rick is a self taught silversmith. He began experimenting with overlay in 1976 having honed his cutting skills by sawing out the bison and Indian head on coins. His first overlay pieces used desert scenes from the area around his village. Rick’s work draws upon the land, people and the traditions of the Tohono O’Odham. His creation bracelet draws inspiration from the maze motif found in basketry of the Tohono O’Odham. Overlay jewelry has become his trademark. Rick now gains inspiration for new designs from ants, horned lizards, plants, basket weavers, games the tribe plays, collection of the saguaro fruit and the traditions of the Tohono O’Odham. Rick has sold his work in Montana, Taos Pueblo and New York to the Museum of American Indian. Several people who have been apprentices of Rick’s now pursue careers as silversmiths.
Rick’s father (Tohono O’Odham) was a chief tribal judge, while on his mother’s side his great grandfather(Akmel O’Odham) was a traveling orator of tribal history, stories and traditions. He carried a Story Pole which was a wooden staff with notches carved into it representing different important events in their history.