Industrial Design

American Indian body jeweler reshaping career in metalwork

Date August 21, 2008 at 10:00 PM

Categories Local News & Sports


It€™s a long journey from nipple rings to wedding rings. But Pat Pruitt has grabbed his experience in the body piercing industry, shaping and forging it into fine jewelry. The 2008 Southwestern Association for Indian Arts Fellowship Award recipient will mark his second year at the 87th annual Santa Fe Indian Market this weekend when some 80,000 collectors, tourists and gawkers swarm the Plaza for the largest market of its kind in the United States. The market showcases the pottery, jewelry, textiles, carvings and bead work of about 1,000 artists.

Pruitt grew up at Laguna Pueblo, a €œmixed breed native, ¼ Laguna Pueblo, ¼ Chirachaua Apache, ½ White Boy,€ according to his Web site. He€™s owned his own body jewelry company, Custom Steel, for 15 years, where he refined the techniques of working with this shiny alloy. About eight years ago Pruitt stepped out of the industrial box and began working in what he calls €œpersonal adornment.€

His forms are decidedly geometric €” lines zig and zag, stair-step and flute, some set with industrial diamonds and other faceted gems.

€œI wanted to push the limits of this metal,€ he said. €œThere€™s really no artists in the U.S. that I know of that work exclusively with stainless steel for jewelry.€

Pruitt learned silver jewelry-making skills from a local silversmith 20 years ago. In college at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, he worked in a machine shop building components for various mechanical devices. The set of skills led to his body piercing line, but he craved more. And he didn€™t want to backtrack and relearn silversmithing.

€œI€™ve always wanted to do it,€ he said. €œIt was, €˜Well, let€™s see if I can do this in stainless.€™ €

Not just any stainless. Pruitt uses 316-grade, one of the most corrosion-resistant alloys.

€œIt has a beautiful luster to it,€ he said. €œIt can take a flawless polish or have a machine finish to it, and it still looks good. The thing I enjoy the most is it€™s such a precision material. I can cut down to 1/1,000th of an inch. A human hair €” I can divide that into three pieces.€

He also incorporates oldschool European engraving techniques lifted from old knives and guns. His prices start at $75. He€™s already attracting the attention of some prominent dealers.

Art historian and former Chicago gallery owner Martha Hopkins Struever started working with Pruitt about two years ago. Struever wrote a book about Hopi jewelry star Chares Loloma and gave Gail Bird her first show.

€œI think he€™s very much an innovator,€ she said. €œHe€™s got a great sense of design. He knows when to stop. A lot of designers don€™t.€

Like any artist, Pruitt culls his designs from the world around him €” everything from pueblo pottery to bicycle parts. His €œGear Head€ bracelet was inspired by the motorcycle being auctioned at the 2007 Santa Fe Indian Market. He also made €œThe Pottery Is Half Full,€ the undulating skeletal steel outlines of a vessel form. He incorporates €œfound objects€ into his pieces €” the rubber timing belt of a car, stingray leather from Thailand.

€œIt€™s one of the most durable leathers you€™ll ever come across,€ he said. €œThe skin has hard knobs that are very similar to fingernails.€

He€™s still working on a topsecret Indian Market piece with artist Cody Sanderson.

In the meantime, body piercing pays the bills.

€œIf there€™s a hole in your body, we can fill it,€ he said, €œand I mean that very literally. We make some very unique items.€

If You Go

WHAT: 87th annual Santa Fe Indian Market
WHEN: Opens at 7 a.m. Saturday and at 8 a.m. Sunday
WHERE: The Plaza
CONTACT: (505) 983-5220 or