Mark Chee, Diné Silversmith
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Navao Nation artist Mark Chee was a highly skilled silversmith and jewelry maker and his creations are very collectible. He stamped his hallmark of a Thunderbird with his name over the bird’s body. His name is stamped as ChEE.
Mark Chee (1914-1981) “was born in Lukachukai, Arizona, and educated in the Indian School system. By the age of twenty, he was working as a silversmith in Santa Fe for Julius Gans at Southwest Arts and Crafts. Chee enlisted in the Army in 1942 and served in the Air Force (sic) during the war. Returning to Santa Fe in 1946, he married a woman from San Juan Pueblo where they made their home.
“At this time, Chee was employed by Al Packard at Chaparral Trading Post in Santa Fe, and he worked in the shop for many years, likely until the early 1960s. He was recognized as one of the most skilled Navajo silversmiths working at that time. He won many awards for jewelry and especially for his sets of handmade silver flatware. A single table service required at least a month of work and was usually accomplished between the time he was making jewelry for orders or for sale in the shop.
“It was reported in the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper in 1958 that Chee made his own tools and only utilized the modern implements of torch, electric buffer, and silver saws. He worked in all techniques of silverwork including overlay, inlay, and hand-stamping, but is best known for his very heavy-gauge bracelets set with high-quality turquoise stones. His most recognized bracelets consist of either heavy solid bands with deep chisel work or split-shank cuffs with turquoise stones set between massive carinated bands. Chee signed his work using a right-facing thunderbird with his last name in the body of the bird. He worked into the late 1970s and died in August 1981 after a lengthy illness.”
Reference: all of the biographical information is courtesy of Reassessing Hallmarks of Native Southwest Jewelry—Artists, Traders, Guilds, and the Government by Pat Messier & Kim Messier, Schiffer Publishing, 2014:107