Chris Nieto

Each stage of Chris’ early life brought him a step closer to becoming the jeweler he is today. He first began making silver jewelry as a student at the Santa FE Indian School. But his experience with heishi beads dated from his early elementary school. When only six years old, he started cutting heishi from melon shell and baby olive shell in the centuries-old tradition of his pueblo. By the time he was ten, he was doing inlay work with little leftover pieces of shell, het, serpentine, and turquoise. After an early start, Chris left jewelry making while serving in the military from 1990-1993 during Operation Desert Storm. He says he “always had jewelry and all sorts of designs running through [his] mind.” Upon returning  from abroad, he took advantage of his military training to learn culinary arts. He then pursued his new career as a chef at local casinos but always with jewelry on his mind. In 2004, he decided to make jewelry his full time job and has been creating mosaic inlay ever since. Chris’ design inspiration comes from research in museums and through studying old pictures in his relatives’ homes. His grandfather was one of the Santo Domingo inlay artists who used car battery casings to back mosaic jewelry when traditional materials were unavailable during the depression era. Show and tell from Chris’ grandmother and mother were other sources of design ideas. One of his motivations in his jewelry making is to keep the Santa Domingo traditions alive.  As part of his effort to pass traditions down to new generations he has started taking his own children to selling trips or shows and is teaching them the art.