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Hogan is known for his tufa-cast, hand-forged najas set with Royston turquoise. (Courtesy of Dennis Hogan)

‘To me the patina adds soul and character to hammered silver, and the technique can be as detailed as the creation of a piece’

The naja—an inverted crescent—is an iconic shape present in Navajo jewelry since the mid-1800s. And it was that tradition that led Dennis Hogan, a silver, turquoise and leather artist in Santa Fe, New Mexico, to create a series of tufa-cast, hand-forged najas of silver and turquoise. “I was just fascinated with it, because it’s just one of those great, archetypical designs,” explains Hogan. “I love the history behind the naja.” But while many believe the naja a true Navajo design—consider the squash blossom necklaces that dominated the Southwestern jewelry scene in the 1970s—Hogan believes the design is much older. “I don’t think we can put any ownership to the design,” the artist says.

It is known that Spanish Moors added crescent-shaped pendants to their horses’ bridles to ward off evil spirits. And when conquistadores arrived in the Southwest, the Kiowas, the Utes and the Navajos soon picked up on the design. When the latter began silversmithing in the 1860s, they incorporated the naja. “The Navajos adapted a lot,” Hogan says.

So has Hogan. Reared and educated in Indiana, Hogan shucked a career as a financial planner and the Midwest lifestyle in 1996 to become a “corporate dropout, almost a society dropout,” in New Mexico. “I studied painting at DePauw University,” he says, “and always enjoyed the Western landscape.” He first landed in Abiquiú, N.M.—Georgia O’Keeffe country—and tried his hand at fine-art painting. Then he met Charlie Favour, who taught him the art of braiding leather. Before long Hogan was making a name for himself as a leatherworker. He still does leatherwork, and his silver and turquoise pieces often incorporate hand-braided Italian leather.

Hogan’s love of history then led him in another direction. “I became interested in the history of early Southwestern art and admired the jewelry of early native silversmiths working long before commercial production,” he explains. Once again he adapted. Having learned such classic methods as tufa casting and hammering ingot silver, Hogan creates his jewelry using late 19th-century techniques. “Silver became my canvas,” he says, “and hammering became my process.”

Hogan’s signature might be his antique-style patina. “I find the patina to be as important as the design of my jewelry,” he says. “To me the patina adds soul and character to hammered silver, and the technique can be as detailed as the creation of a piece. I hope people find my jewelry to be simple in design with the feeling of handcrafted work.”

Upscale stores such as Garland’s Indian Jewelry in Sedona, Ariz., and Ortega’s on the Plaza in Santa Fe carry his creations. The Sundance catalog has showcased his works, and he has designed logo-branded jewelry for the nonprofit Western Writers of America. “I’m just interested in history and Southwestern art,” he says. “Jewelry has allowed me to combine those passions.”

To see more of Hogan’s work visit his website.