- by Chris Stewart
Snuffy Curtis' Delicate Art
Frank Snuffy Curtis calls nature his "successful source of stimulation" in his goldsmith work. One look at his new collection of 20 hand-crafted pieces of unique gold jewelry confirms that he knows his subject well. Curtis' new creations are on display at the White Mountain National Bank in North Conway in a special preview show before he takes them to the Massachusetts Horticultural Society's annual Spring Flower Show in Boston. Everyone who takes the time to see Curtis' display won't be disappointed.
Each of the 20 pieces in the show was created over the past two months especially for the Spring Flower Show, and each reflects a botanically inspired theme. The tiny "potted philodendron" necklace - roughly the size of a quarter - blends the subtle tones of yellow and green gold while the "cactus in the desert" demonstrates Curtis' skill in the goldsmith's craft. That piece alone took more than 30 hours to complete.
"In making a piece like that you use as many as 20 different files," Curtis explained. "The larger shapes are cut with a fine saw." To produce the rainbow of colors on the silver background of the "cactus," Curtis patiently dipped the piece in a sliver-of-sulphur solution. By varying the length of time he exposed different parts of the silver in the solution, and through careful polishing and buffing, Curtis highlighted different shades of red, green, brown, and blue for the "cactus" skyline. "It's a technique I just started working with," Curtis added, "but it can add a lot to each piece."
As proprietor of the Eastwind Jewelers in North Conway (located inside The Penguin) Curtis has achieved widespread acclaim as a skilled goldsmith and craftsman in a relatively short time. He moved to the Valley in 1974, in part because the area reminded him of New Zealand, which he had come to know while serving in the Coast Guard. "The Valley had the same kind of mountains, a similar climate and the same friendly people I had known in New Zealand," he recalled. "I loved it then and I love it now."
Having decided to settle in the Valley, Curtis made his living as a musician playing alone or with different friends. Gradually, however, he found that his part-time interest in beadwork and other crafts led him toward a career as a goldsmith. Five years ago he decided to pursue his present vocation. "I just listened to everything everyone said and read as many books as possible," Curtis said, "and a lot of people helped me along the way."
Among those lending assistance, Brian Smith from North Country Fair and the staff at Firesigns helped Curtis learn the ropes. "They taught me a lot," he added. "Brian gave me a space in North Country Fair where I worked for a year as a sort of apprentice and John, Henry, and Hank from Firesigns always answered any question I had." A little over three years ago Curtis branched off on his own, opening the Eastwind Jewelers - named after his Coast Guard ship - in the Penguin.
While many people have come to know about Curtis through his copy-righted "horseshoe" earrings - seen in such magazines as Yankee, Country Journal, and Seventeen - his characteristic style stressing nature and simplicity can be found in all his work. "Everywhere I look, there's a potential piece of jewelry in nature," Curtis pointed out. "Too many additions to a piece can clutter up the feeling for the whole design. Some pieces become so cluttered and ornate that their original intent is lost."
Because of his preference for nature and primary designs, Curtis has begun to incorporate his ideas with those of the Japanese "Bonsai" art. Loosely translated, "Bonsai" can mean "plant themselves into the earth", a statement which mirrors Bonsai's focus on the natural world. "In many ways, these designs are the ultimate since they're based on simplicity," Curtis continues.
Aside from attending the Spring Flower Show this month and entering Intergold's GOLD '81 Design Competition in New York City in April, Curtis is working on a variety of designs that he hopes to market with nationally-known companies. In between these activities he still makes time to run Eastwind, study more about Bonsai and occasionally spend an evening playing his guitar with local groups. What keeps him going? Curtis answers that the support of his wife Jane and the inspiration of goldsmiths like Pierre Tulane and Snowville's Louis Ferron give him all the encouragement he needs. "These men have been working all their lives and they're great artists," he noted. "They've forgotten more than I'll ever learn, but they've made me see that it can be done."
**NOTE: Frank "Snuffy" Curtis is living in Citrus Springs, Florida, and is currently doing art shows, selling his photographs and framing them with his handmade wooden frames decorated with natural materials. He does come up to the valley each summer and plays with local musicians.