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Frenchglen silversmith puts new shine on traditional designs

Antonio Sierra

East Oregonian

Published on November 3, 2017 7:32PM

Last changed on November 3, 2017 8:54PM

Nevada Watt of Frenchglen demonstrates metal engraving at a GRS Equipment booth Friday at the Pendleton Leather Show in the Pendleton Convention Center.

Staff photo by E.J. Harris

Nevada Watt of Frenchglen demonstrates metal engraving at a GRS Equipment booth Friday at the Pendleton Leather Show in the Pendleton Convention Center.

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Nevada Watt of Frenchglen demonstrates how to use a tool to Glen Adams of Crane at an GRS Equipment metal engraving booth at the Pendleton Leather Show at the Pendleton Convention Center.

Staff photo by E.J. Harris

Nevada Watt of Frenchglen demonstrates how to use a tool to Glen Adams of Crane at an GRS Equipment metal engraving booth at the Pendleton Leather Show at the Pendleton Convention Center.

Buy this photo
Solid sterling silver engraved cuff bracelet with turquoise stones created by Nevada Watt.

Contributed photo by Neveda Watt

Solid sterling silver engraved cuff bracelet with turquoise stones created by Nevada Watt.

Sterling Silver cuff bracelet with hand engraved scrolls and a stamped overlay created by Nevada Watt.

Contributed photo by Neveda Watt

Sterling Silver cuff bracelet with hand engraved scrolls and a stamped overlay created by Nevada Watt.


The Watt family insists it’s a happy accident.

Nevada Watt shares a name with the Silver State, but her silversmith father said he just liked the way the name sounded.

“She’s named Nevada because we didn’t know how to spell Connecticut,” Jeremiah Watt joked by phone.

The younger Watt picked up the family trade and ventured to the Pendleton Convention Center for the Pendleton Leather Show, a two-day trade show where Western gear companies from across the country sell their wares.

While the strong scent of cowhide delivered on the implicit promise of the leather show, silver was also in heavy supply on the trade show floor. After all, boots need spurs, belts need buckles and reins need bits.

“Bank robbers are attracted to shiny things,” Pendleton Convention Center Manager Pat Beard said. “So are cowboys.”

Beard, a former rope maker and stock contractor, said Watt’s work was a departure from the “staid” style of conventional silversmithing.

The jewelery Watt creates incorporate traditional Western design with left-field elements. Classic silver engravings like scrolls with geometric shapes like triangles, diamonds and crosses. On her Instagram page, Watt calls herself the “Western Eclectic Maker.”

“You can move traditions forward,” she said. “If you don’t, they die.”

Despite her creative leanings, Watt, 23, spends Thursday leading a pre-show workshop covering one of the traditional design elements of Western silver — the scroll.

As a finished product, the scroll resembles a gnarled vine, a looping series of leaves, flairs and twists. But as a start, Watt has her three students draw a “backbone” of spirals on a piece of paper, adding layer of design elements before moving on to the actual engraving.

As the group works on their designs, Watt moves from student to student, mixing light critiques with encouragement and self-deprecating humor.

“I couldn’t draw a person if you wanted me to,” she said.

Watt said she’s no prodigy, only committing to learning her father’s craft while still in high school.

After her parents moved from Ontario, Canada, Watt’s family settled in Coalinga, a small town in California’s rural San Joaquin Valley.

A silversmith who specialized in spurs and bits, Jeremiah said he wasn’t surprised when his daughter approached him about getting into the family trade. Jeremiah didn’t dispense any allowances, so his kids sold handmade crafts for pocket money.

From the start, Watt said she wanted to try something different in her designs, inspired by the things she saw while accompanying her father on teaching trips around Europe, Australia and other locales. Jeremiah said he encouraged his children to develop their own voices.

“Don’t hide your blessings under a bushel in a basket,” he said.

Watt went to Montana State University and got a degree in exercise science, but she returned to silver after graduating.

She moved with her boyfriend to Frenchglen, a settlement deep in southeastern Oregon, a place much closer to the Nevada and Idaho borders than to Pendleton. Wikipedia counts 12 people in Frenchglen, but Watt said there’s less than that.

Without her jewelery in tow, Watt spent Friday and Saturday doing engraving demonstrations for GRS, a Kansas-based engraving equipment company.

Watt guided attendees as they made their own copper engravings, and in-between sessions, Watt said her work does receive pushback from traditionalists.

Watt said she holds nothing against traditional designs, but she would be bored if she stuck to them. She thanks critics for their input and continues to imbue her work with her own style.

She had only been to Pendleton a few times before she came to the leather show, and has never made it for the Pendleton Round-Up. In previous years, Watt said she’s spent Round-Up week recovering from the Lake County Round-Up, Lakeview’s annual September rodeo.

But Watt is already planning her return to the Round-Up City for the Pendleton Cattle Barons in May, where her jewelery will be on display.

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Contact Antonio Sierra at asierra@eastoregonian.com or 541-966-0836.







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