Navajo Silversmith (1959)

Film features primarily Tom Burnsides' silversmithing of a buckle, trading at the post, and close-ups of his wares. Also, striking views of Monument Valley and family herding their flock across the landscape.
Cultural Narrative: 

Narration in 2019 by Crystal Littleben, Program Coordinator for the Navajo Cultural Arts Program at the Diné College and Miss Navajo Nation 2017-2018. Facilitated by Rhiannon Sorrell, Instructor and librarian at Diné College.

Language of narration is primarily English.


Navajo Silversmith won top prize in the second annual American Film Festival in New York in 1960.

Lancaster New Era, April 26, 1960

Lancaster New Era, April 26, 1960


Opening wide shot of Monument Valley (Tsé Biiʼ Ndzisgaii), then a closer view of the Totem Pole rock formations and nearby spires, then West Mitten Butte; a shot panning up the Totem Pole; the Three Sisters rock formation, with possible abandoned hogan in foreground; panning shot of cliff wall; a Navajo man on horseback and Navajo woman near a herd of resting sheep (dibé) and goats on a sand dune near Totem Pole rock; same group from another angle, big sky behind, woman walks into the herd; similar shot of the two herding the flock down the incline of a sand dune; various shots of them walk across the dunes and down to a mostly dry riverbed where they continue; closer view of the horse drinking from standing water surrounded by mud, then camera pans up to reveal the woman holding its reins, horse in the background eating grass; close-up of a woman washing a baby’s face with her hand; back to the man and woman herding sheep along the riverbed, through the canyons; close-up of six symbols (animals, people, gods) cast in silver on a flat brown background; opening titles: “Navajo Silversmith, Photographed by Jack Breed, Writing — James Sieger, Sound and Editing — Hoyt Griffith, Narration — Douglas Rapp” superimposed over the couple herding their flock through the landscape, then outside a summer hogan a woman weaves at her loom (dah iistłʼǫ́), a woman sits nearby and a toddler runs towards her, with the Three Sisters in the background; close-up of a cast silver (Ketoh?) bow guard; close-up of an open Tufa stone mold with a cast bow guard still inside, then a hand removing it and placing it alongside; close-up of a sliver necklace with Naja pendant, then another with colored stones, coral and Naja pendant; man (identified as Tom Burnsides) mounting his horse outside of a building, then a wide shot of him riding down a dirt road through desert scrub, an riding up to a building where a man in a hat stands smoking under a wooden porch outside a trading post; the man walks over as Burnsides dismounts; the two men standing in a doorway as the man with the hat hands Burnsides a piece of paper, and each turns and walks away, and a horse and carriage pass by; Burnsides seated on the ground with a volcanic ash/Tufa stone between his legs which he beings to saw off a slice, then closer view of same; close-up of his face, and back to his hands sawing until he breaks off the sawed piece, then cut to him picking up two pieces of the same size he’s removed and inspecting them; shots of him filing a piece smooth with a metal file and then he rubs the pieces together to smooth; with a metal spring-bow compass he measures the width of a design on a previously used form and puts it down, then begins to measure a design into a fresh piece of Tufa stone; close-up of an outline of a buckle design drawn in pencil on the stone; various shots of his hands as he draws in the decorative outline and carves it out with a narrow file handle; he then uses the file to carve channels onto the rock between the design and the edge; Burnsides stoking a fire in a bucket over a fie, with a metal wind-guard behind it, then he picks up a bellow to blow the flames; close-up of him holding a piece of the carved stone over a Shilling Coffee can out of which comes a flame, then picks it up to expose the scorch marks; close-up of his hands holding both sides of the mold now scorched; he places them back together and wraps them in a buckskin thong, and places it upright on the ground with the hole for pouring in the silver facing up, he then flips it around to show the other side; with metal tongs he places a small round white stone carved like a shallow bowl (a crucible) into the bucket, then with the tongs picks up small scraps of silver sheet from a metal cup into the crucible; shot of his face concentrating and then panning over to as he applies a blowtorch to the metal pieces; close-up from above as the torch melts the silver, and back to his hands as he keeps the torch on the crucible he carries with a wrench, then pours the silver into the hole in the mold; his hands unwrap the buckskin thong from the mold and he exposes the cast belt buckle inside; close-up of the removed piece with rough edges in his hands; with a small hammer and stake he cuts off the still-attached neck from the channel grooves; close-up of his hands over an anvil snapping the neck off, and then a center bar; various shots of Burnsides filing the rough edges of the piece with a file, then rubbing the piece over sandpaper and cloth; close-up of his hands placing a center piece and then bends it pliers; close-up of him using the blow torch to solder the middle piece to the buckle frame, then bending the silver tongue onto the center bar; back to filing, then his hand turning the finished buckle, an unfinished cast buckle sitting nearby; Burnsides riding his horse down a dirt road through trees; sign on the pediment of a building reads “Kinteel Trading Post, Wide Ruins, Arizona” painted within; wider shot of the man from the post standing and Burnsides and his horse outside the front of the post, then he take out a pouch; close view of him unfolding a bandana and dumping silver buckles onto a piece of velvet cloth the other man holds; close-up of Burnside’s face in profile and then looking at the camera; closer view of a buckle, bow guard and a silver cuff he’s made and the metal figurines from early on in the film and the trader picking pieces up; close-up of four different silver rings, some with turquoise and other stones on a brown background, then closer view of two; then extreme close-up of the two, one at a time; then a silver horse headstall (?) with Naja pendant, then a bow guard, and the buckle he made earlier; back to the couple herding sleep on the dunes; the woman walking by rock formations, and juniper trees, the bottoms of Totem Pole and more Monument Valley in the background; then the woman seated looking out over the valley.

Closing titles: “The End, ACI Productions, New York City.”


Tom Burnsides was a featured silversmith (béésh łigaii ííłʼíní) in The Navajo And Pueblo Silversmiths By John Adair

Tom Burnsides

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