Former special forces soldier found healing through silversmithing and his own Cherokee heritage

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EL RENO, Okla. - Rocks and minerals come from dark places within the Earth, much darker than Steven Morales' little basement workshop.

"I try to keep everything," he says at his work table. "I even collect my dust."

He knows that for his silver to become a beautiful piece of art, for his rocks to be polished, takes fire and a sharp edge.

"Sterling silver, copper, and yellow brass," he lists.

His own life mirrors that process too.

"I grew up, not the poorest, but not the richest either. We struggled," he recalls.

Steven wasn't much of an artist in school.

He didn't think of himself as much of a soldier either, but his superiors thought otherwise.

Morales was an Airborne Ranger, deployed for multiple combat tours from 2002 until the summer of 2006 when, as a staff sergeant on patrol, one of his men stepped on a huge land mine.

"He stepped on a pressure plate," explains Steven.

Morales came away with a traumatic brain injury, a back full of shrapnel, and the invisible wounds of post-traumatic stress.

"I felt like I let my soldiers down," he says. "That's part of my problem with PTSD, I know."

It was a vocational program at a California veterans hospital where he first saw through the fire of his own experiences.

They gave him a start on something new; how to take those lowly looking rocks and minerals and make them into something new.

"I just looked at it and said, 'Ok, that's what these people do,' and I just ran with it."

Some artists credit their level of concentration for taking away destructive thoughts.

Retired Sgt. Morales credits the process itself; swords to plowshares, dull to shiny, ugly to beautiful, for bringing him through his own fire.

Of potential customers, he says, "I don't care if they buy or not. Their responses. That's my therapy."

Morales is a recipient of the Red Earth Emerging Artist Award for 2019.

The 33rd Annual Red Earth Festival takes place June 7 - 9, 2019 at the Cox Convention Center in Oklahoma City.

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