Mitchell Zephier was raised in South Dakota on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation. He started working in metal in the 1970’s during a high school exchange program in Rochester, NY, learning from a friend, Frank Standing High who was also an art teacher there. Frank was a major influence in Mitchell pursuing the arts. Mitchell later learned inlay techniques from his cousins’ wife at the Zuni Pueblo.
Mitchell has combined his metalsmithing and inlay skills to create his own signature work that is based on Northern Plains designs and symbolism. He says while his jewelry is decorative and wearable, it also “conveys a legend or cultural concept.” It is about generosity, bravery, respect for motherhood and the elderly and about honoring the earth. Mitchell’s work has been featured in numerous museums and has been awarded in many juried American Indian arts shows.
Mitchell has shared his knowledge throughout the years, teaching classes and helping other Northern Plains artists develop and market their work. Today, his jewelry is a group effort, created by himself, his brother, Roger Herron (Lower Brule) and Belle Star Boy (Rosebud Sioux).
Mitchell stays with earthy colors for his inlay work because they are representative of those used in traditional hide paintings. Even the technique of creating the colors is somewhat similar, using crushed minerals as a base. Mitchell uses crushed black and red pipestone, yellow sandstone, mother of pearl shell and alabaster among others, which are then mixed with an epoxy holding agent and inlaid into the jewelry. Mitchell Zephier is an innovative artist who takes pride in preserving traditional design symbolism and cultural values of the Northern Plains.