Carl and Irene Clark are well known for the extremely fine quality and detail that goes into their micro fine intarsia inlay jewelry. Carl and Irene are both Navajo and were from large families. Carl was born in Winslow, Arizona April 10, 1952 and is from the Manygoat-Redhouse Clan and is related to Bitterwater people. Irene was born in Bird Springs, AZ and is from the Edgewater Clan and related to Towering People. Clans are very important to the traditional Navajo, especially the maternal clan. Clans tell the Navajo where they come from as far back as 900 to 1,000 years ago. Both Carl and Irene came from families with rug weavers in them.
Carl and Irene use the water symbol as their trademark because they are both from water clans. The “I” in the sign is for Irene and the “C” is for Carl.
The Clarks have been making jewelry since about 1974. Carl was self-taught in 1973 and then taught Irene in 1974. They then taught their son, Carl Jr. (who has since passed away), their art when he was in high school and also Irene’s brother Tom (Monk) Baldwin in 1974.
“There was no teaching handed down to us. However, I do have a great-uncle Peshlakai Atsitty, whom was known as one of the first silversmiths, taught by a Mexican blacksmith. We have many cousins and nephews that are silversmiths and painters. I learned all my smithing and inlaying techniques by trial and error without a teacher or predecessor. Once I began to inlay, it took 2 years of progression to perfect my micro-fine inlaying techniques. There was no category for my type of inlay back then, so I classified it as “micro-fine intarsia.”
Carl and Irene work together to handcraft their beautiful jewelry. They both cut, assemble and inlay the stones and Irene hand fabricates the gold and silver. Irene does much of the design work and Carl does the tufa stone casting. They very often stamp the inside or the back of their jewelry and often incorporate traditional Navajo figures such as the Yei figure.
The Clarks did not pattern themselves after any European or American jewelers even though they found out after 5 years of creating their jewelry that there were other micro-fine jewelry artist in the Art nouveau style and Art Deco Era. “We take pride in our own original creations using our traditional reflections, for example, Rainbow Man Yei that is in our inlay represents the “jewelry of protection” theme. Artistically speaking, we use the inlay as a picture and metal work as a picture frame. As of late, we developed the micro-fine rug design and color blend (day to night) inlay techniques to stay ahead of “copy cats” that are constantly duplicating our techniques.”
Carl and Irene take pride in their work and it shows in the detail. They feel that it reflects the Navajo tradition.
“ We use good feelings and make jewelry traditionally with precision and care without rushing. Our jewelry takes much longer to make than common piece of jewelry.”
Carl and Irene’s work has been featured in these books and publications:
- The Beauty of Navajo Jewelry by Theda Bassman, 1997
- The Cutting Edge by Diana Pardue, The Heard Museum 1997
- Enduring Traditions by Lois and Jerry Jacka, Northland Publishing 1994
- Field Guide to Southwest Indian Arts and Crafts, Random House Publishing 1998
- Navajo Jewelry by Lois and Jerry Jacka, Northland Publishing 1995
- Southwestern Indian Jewelry by Dexter Cirillo, Abbeville Press Publishers 1992
- Indian Jewelry on the Market by Peter N. Schiffer, Schiffer Publishing Ltd. 1996