Saturday, December 13, 2008


Shalako refers to a series of dances and ceremonies conducted by the Zuni tribe at the Winter Solstice. It is notable in that unlike many other Zuni ceremonies that are closed to outsiders, non-Zuni are often invited. Sandy and I along with our two little children braved Shalako one year. As is typical this time of year at Zuni elevations, it was blistering cold with wind driven snow flurries. We waiting until late in the night to see the actual Shalako. He was quite tall like Bird of Sesame Street. It's only a quick 45 minute drive from our home to Zuni, but the memory of the cruel weather of that first viewing inhibits me from going for a return visit.
For the Zuni, the Shalako ceremonies are the most important event of the year and the Shalako is their most prominent and distinctive Kachina. The Shalako pendant depicted above is the creation of Navajo silversmith Alvin Vandermir. It is a unique piece and should prove to be a valuable collector's luxury unisex neck adornment for man or woman that is bound to be the subject of many a covetous glance. Indeed this one is a treasure to behold. It measures 2 7/8 inches in length and weighs 1.5 ounces. Price $999.00.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Don Platero's Sterling Silver Salad Set

The Navajo spoon emerged as an object of national passion as commemorative spoons became part of the silverware on proper Victorian tables throughout America. Most of the spoons produced by Navajo silversmiths were bought up by train tourists. Over successive decades these forged and hammered spoons were eventually refined into cherished ornate works worthy of the King's table. The craze began to wane around 1915 then enjoyed a resurgence of popularity during the 1920s only to come crashing down in the depression years when setting a fancy table setting lost it's meaning as rolicking good times gave way to widespread economic depair. Don Platero deserves much credit for carving his place in the interesting history of the Navajo Cultlery luminated in scholarly fashion by Cindra Kine in her beautifully illustrated book, NAVAJO SPOONS. A neighbor of Don's tells me that Don often works late into the night sometimes in melodious fashion as his hammer pounds out the best in modern silverware available today. Salad Set illustrated is set with natural Turquoise Mountain cabachons. Cost $659.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Turkey Season

For centuries turkeys have played an important role in the lives of Native Americans. Besides providing a source of meat, their feathers were used to stabilize arrows and decorate ceremonial dress. The spurs on the legs of wild tom turkeys were used as projectiles on arrowheads. There is no definite proof of the 1st Thanksgiving dinner in the autumn of 1621 when some 90 hungry Pilgrims and Native Americans are said to have gathered in grand celebration. Turkey was probably not among the meat dishes served. A first hand account pened by the leader of the colony stated that the food included, ducks, geese, venison, and fish. For omnivores turkey consumption season extension extends through Christmas in large part thanks to Charles Dickens' The Christmas Story.

Our beloved Wild Turkey as depicted by the Zuni artist Dale Edaakie in the buckle /bolo set as shown here nearly followed the DoDo bird to extinction, but thanks to convervation repopulation programs it survives in relative abundance in all states except Alaska.

The Zuni often celebrate birds in their art although I rarely see the turkey incorporated in their jewelry. This sterling silver creation set with multiple stones and in etched in fine creative detal should be worn with pride and should appreciate reliably in value in the years ahead. Cost $769.00.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Halloween Spiders

Spider Woman is one of the important deities of the Navajo. She is most honored for saving the ancient Navajo people from free roaming monsters. Spider Rock is one of the most awesome sights in the world. It stands in dignity some 800 ft above the canyon floor in Arizona's Canyon de Chelly National Park, which is part of the Navajo Nation. I do not know what inspires E. Spencer to make these sterling spiders, but I suspect his motives are ancient in origin and not from their adopted Halloween Night which is vigorously celebrated throughout Indian land. The sterling silver pin/pendant spiders you see in the image here range in price from $15 to $69. They go well especially with high fashion.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Dale Edaakie's Bird Bolo and Buckles

Dale Edaakie's Zuni inlay work is simply outstanding. To learn more about him refer to his biography at the American Masters of Stone website. The buckles measure 3 x 2 1/8 inch. Each sterling silver buckle bolo set sells for $729.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Paul J. Begay's Tobacco Flask

His hallmark is "PJ Begay." I've run across his fine work frequently and I've occasionally bought and sold some of his bracelets. He once worked for the late Harry Morgan and was no doubt influenced by Harry's technic and old style revival work. Even though Mr. Begay lives in Gallup, we've not crossed paths, but I hope to meet him in the near future now that he has risen to the top tier of my list of outstanding Navajo smiths. My interest in his work was heightened early this week when I was shown the canteen picured above. Such containers were historically created to be used as tobacco flasks, but the market for those is severly diminished, but a good whisky flask still has great market appeal. It is generally only the best of smiths who are willing to craft canteens. This canteen holds 140ml and measures approximately 2 3/4 inches in diameter, 1 1/4 inches in thickness, and is crowned by a #8 Nevada mine turquoise gem stone. Price $1000.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Andrea Lonjose Shirley

Andrea Lonjose Shirley's lapidary work has no equal that I'm aware of. A distinctive feature of Zuni jewelry is exacting fit that often goes beyond what one expects of mere mortal hands. The casual observer might mistake the piece shown as a masterful example of a small Champlevé painting. Champlevé is an enamel technique in which troughs are carved into the surface of a metal framework then filled with a vitreous enamel. The piece is then fired until the enamel melts then polished after cooling. The "Zuni Ball Eye Kachina" shown is inlaid on sterling silver with mother of pearl, acoma jet, coral, and sleeping beauty turquoise. On close-up inspection there is no mistaking it for a Champlevé piece. It stands 3.5 inches tall and can be worn as pin or pendant. Cost = $599.00.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Silver Spurs

In the days of chivalry spurs and the metal from which they were made were a mark of rank. Hence the expression "to earn your spurs." Today they are a standard piece of cowboy equipment; designs vary widely. I've found only three Native American Silversmiths willing to rise to the challenge of crafting spurs. The first was the late Harry Morgan. I located a pair of his excellent spurs in a showcase at an area dealer shortly after starting this business. When I asked about price, I was clearly told--not for sale. This year, much to my delight, I found two pair entered into competition at the 87th Gallup Intertribal Ceremony. Both were dazzling. One pair was done by Gary Reeves (Navajo), the other by his equally talented brother Sunshine Reeves. I passed on the opportunity to buy, somewhat to my regret which was reversed today when I found and bought the winning blue ribbon pair by Sunshine Reeves. At an appraisal price of $6000, these sterling silver blue ribbon winning spurs may indeed be hard to earn.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Stanley Parker's Traditional Old Style Navajo Jewelry

Stanley Parker (1952..) was born and raised on the Navajo reservation in the shadow of the great Shiprock located in the 4 corners region of New Mexico. Unlike many of his contemporary competitors who had the early advantage of childhood home schooling in the fine art of silversmithing, he learned his skill later in life. As a young man, he began working in the electronics industry soldering circuit boards, but he was subsequently drawn to silvermithing as a career after watching others work in the medium. He told me that his experience soldering electronic circuits facilitated his transition to working with silver. I was very impressed with his work I first discovered at a wholesale distributor in Albuquerque. I met him two years running at the Santa Fe Indian Market, but it wasn't until last week that he called me and asked to visit me here in Gallup. Two things about Stanley's work that really stand out are: 1) master silversmithing and 2) choice of natural turquoise. His silver work is so precise that it looks machine made, only on careful inspection in most cases can one see "maker-marks." Stanley is very careful in his choice of stones and finding satisfactory "cabachons" for mounting is his biggest production frustration. He used to cut his own from raw materials, but now finds he doesn't have the time to cut and polish. His fine work understandably commands high prices. The bracelet above featuring the rectangle of King Manassas turquoise is $435.00.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Zuni Canteen

The ability to craft a good canteen is the mark of an accomplished silversmith, an art among the Navajo that goes back to around 1880. It was in that year that Washington Matthews, a Ft. Wingate, NM army officer, published an account of silversmithing in which a silver canteen was described and illustrated. In that era they were popular among the soldiers as tobacco flasks. The great modern Navajo canteens I've seen among the Navajo were crafted by Harry Morgan, Sunshine Reeves, and Gary Reeves. The above mini-canteen was made by Carlton Jamon of Zuni. The canteen shown measures only 3 inches from top to bottom and about 3/4 of an inch in thickness. Thus, it is clearly designed for use as a perfume carrier as they were popularly used by Navajo women in the early 20th century. They would buy perfume at the trading post then put their pleasant fragrance in one of these small canteens to carry securely tied to the bottom of a strands of beads. The above sterling silver canteen is accented with the 12K gold petroglyphic hand, sleeping beauty turquoise, and malachite. The silver surface is both textured and shinning. I was able to buy only this one piece, but Mr. Jamon appeared anxious to make more for me, so I hope to keep them on hand in EBay store. Price $700.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Tohono O'odam Jewelry

I had the privilege of living with my young family among the Tohono O'odam (formerly Papago) Indians on their reservation in the Sonoran Desert of Southern Arizona for two years in a decade past. It was there that I met Nick, a full blooded Papago, who became one of the best friends I've ever had. The friendship came about when Nick refused to sell me a horse; but interestingly, he had no hesitation in loaning me one indefinitely. So it was that I spent many hours mounted high in the saddle of my stallion named Gu-Achi. Nick would frequently invite me on wild horse round-ups with his Tohono O'odam buddies and he's take me out to hunt javelina, deer, quail, or to round up beef on the hoof for slaughter. Hardly a week passed that Nick and I missed adverturing in the desert mountains or home on the range in that beautiful, but hostile desert land where the stately Saguaro cactus, lifespan up to 200 years, weigh in at thousands of pounds each, and grow 40 ft upward to skies that are rarely cloudy all day. The Papago are noted for their remarkable tightweave, decorative baskets made from native grasses and Devil's claw. Their mini-baskets are woven and shaped from horsehair. Sandy and I collected quite a few baskets, but silverwork was scarce and we acquired only two pieces I showed in a blog entry several months ago. And so it is that we learned first hand to appreciate the people and land of the Tohono O'odam.

The James Fendenheim buckle shown above is a byproduct of another highlight (that of meeting James) at this year's Santa Fe Indian Market. I first encountered James at his booth where we talked silver and he told me how to get in touch with the other notable Tohono O'odam jewelry maker. He was not interested in selling wholesale to me so I could market his work worldwide, but he was happy to sell me the buckle above at show's end to feature in this blog. If you would like to see more of James' fine quality work click here. The above Western style buckle retails for $900 dollars, it is accented with 18K gold and features, the saguaro cactus and the Man (James calls the figure Star Man) in the Maze, both are very commonly depicted in Tohono O'odam art.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Gene Billie's Sterling Silver Sculptures

I did not have long to spend at Gene Billie's (Navajo) booth at the recent Santa Fe Indian Market. It was buzzing with folks admiring his table top size silver sculptures. I was intrigued with a small corner of his table where he was exhibiting small jewelry derivates of his larger works. as you see in the image of the pin/pendant here. The petroglyph figures are small cut outs. This piece is entitled Native Spirit's Celebration. It measures 1.5 x 2.75 inches.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Harlan's Birds

Harlan Coonsis (1958- ) is recognized worldwide as a Zuni master jewelry maker. In the early days when he collaborated with his first wife, Rolanda he did the silverwork; she did the stonework. He now collaborates with his present wife Monica. When working by himself and with Rolanda, Harlan signs his work H. R. COONSIS ZUNI. When working with Monica he uses H. M. COONSIS. His work commands high prices and includes the customary broad range of Native American jewelry offerings including pin/pendants as shown, belt buckles, rings, concho belts, and bolo ties. He is especially well known for his inlaid birds. The above 2 1/4 inch tall pieces market in the range of $250 to $400 each. Inlay includes, mother of pearl, turquoises, Acoma jet, coral, and abalone. The birds come alive with his precision etching. Harlan's birds are widely distributed for sale throughout the Southwest. The birds above all have a stylistic similarity and each is identified by script etching on their back side: Cardinal, Steller's jay, Roadrunner, and Blue jay. They are all native birds of the Zuniland.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Beyond the Jewelry: Pouch, Purse, or Bag?

For several months Sandy and I have been in search of well crafted leather Native American made purses to complement our Native Amerian Indian jewelry. Finally, on Santa Fe Indian Market weekend we found these superb creations by the small Ma-Chris tribe of Alabama. They have obvious appeal as Native American or Western wear. I understand that several versions are also popular with Harley riders.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Bringing Home The Blue Ribbon

(click on image to enlarge)

As I wrote earlier, Sandy and I felt like two kids at a State Fair at the 87th Annual Santa Fe Indian Market. In fact, had you seen Sandy carrying home the blue ribbon with her happy, confident smile, you might have thought she'd just won it for a competitive mince meat pie or pickle competition. But no, the true prize belonged to the husband and wife team of Ruddell and Nancy Lanconsello of Zuni, New Mexico. Blue Ribbons for superior jewelry creations are commonplace in their lives. They've been winning them for more than a quarter of century. The ribbon pictured was awarded for the fabulous sterling silver concho link belt they entered this year. It was a thrill for us to acquire this stunning belt, and we were absolutely delighted to meet both artists for the first time at this year's show. The belt is 10 ounces, each concho is 2 inches in diameter, and the belt measures 32 1/3 inches in overall length. The belt is a product of an overlay, inlay technique. Designs are first drawn on paper then cut out in silver and placed over a base sheet of sterling. The colorful gem stones are then individually cut and inlaid with tight precision. They are then indivdiually etched to add additional depth. Appraised value of concho belt: $12,000. Blue Ribbon Thrill: well you've heard the commercials. Matching Bird Image with gemstone depictions; well that's fun too, the list includes: Blue crowned Motmot, Toco Toucan, Hyacinth Macaw, Sulphur Crested Cockatoo, Blue and Gold Macaw, Gould's Finch, Scarlet Macaw, Plate-billed Mountain Toucan, Greater Bird of Paradise, and Cock of the Rock.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Elephant Man

Sandy and I enjoyed the annual Santa Fe Indian Market this year like two young children at a State Fair. We circulated from booth to booth observing, discovering, absorbing, and establishing contacts with many Native American artists. One of the absolute highlights came with our discovery of Darrell Jumbo, the Elephant Man. I had just finished a careful overview of Dina Huntinghorses' high end, gold laden jewelry pieces; as I rounded the corner I noticed a distinctive tall, lean faced Navajo man with a prominent pony tail dressed in a top hat and tails. His pants were informal sterling silver studded shorts. Beaded conchos held dangling backward leaning feathers at both shoulders. He wore boot moccasins. I thought I was in for a treat when I heard him discussing one of his pieces called "Damn Sam." As I moved forward to listen intently, he flashed his broad smile. He said the inspiration for his comic creation "Damn Sam" was from his childhood years when he and his buddies would steal vegetables from a neighbor's farm patch and hide in his irrigation ditch to consume their purloined fresh harvest with salt and pepper garnish. The farmer never caught on and blamed the "damned rabbits" for his crop loss and so it was that rabbit Sam was one who had to endure the stinging wrath of the farmer's BB gun. On hearing this tale, I so wanted the sterling silver "Damn Sam", but the man beside me had arrived first hand and pulled out cash to seal the deal. Fortunately, Mr. Jumbo had several other creations and I chose the 18K gold nosed "Oh Dear" pin to carry home. Having noted the enthusiasm Sandy and I showed on discovering his art, Jumbo talked with us at length. I finally extended my hand in friendship as a prelude to my exist, but he appeared to ignored it. Instead, much to our delight, he stepped out of his booth and gave us both a big bear hug.

Darrell was most fortunate to have received his initial silversmithing training under Master Silversmith Norbert Pleshlaki. It was Norbert who gave him his artisan name, Elephant Man. His hallmark is an elephant symbol as shown in the image above.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Anticipating Indian Market

Every August I attend the Gallup Intertribal Ceremony jewelry exhibition in search of emerging local artists and to get a look at the winning show pieces which seem to go to the same established old masters year after year. Although definitely worth my time, the Gallup show pales in comparison to the Annual Santa Fe Indian Market where the hallmark is quality and jewelry treasures seem endless. Santa Fe Indian Market, the largest annual event in Santa Fe, has been held each August for the past 80 years. In year 1922 first prize was worth $5; this year it's worth $12,000. 1,200 artists from about 100 tribes converge in the Plaza to who show their work in over 600 booths. The outdoor event attracts an estimated 100,000 visitors to Santa Fe from all over the world. It's a great opportunity to buy directly from the artists. For retail dealers like myself, it's primarily a time to see new work and meet artists, many of them otherwise elusive. My list is growing. Near the top is JD Coriz from the nearby Santo Domingo Reservation. I've begun purchasing some of his masterwork through one of the Albuquerque wholesalers, but I have yet to meet the man. I will be taking my computer and camera equipment so I hope to be adding a few blog entries at this year's showing. Pictured here is one of JD Coriz's masterworks. Cost about $2400.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Ev'rythin's up to date in Kansas City

Zuni Silversmith Don Dewa began his career as a jewelry maker in 1970. His name is now one of the top in the business. Don doesn't like making buckles, so I feel fortunate to have acquired this Western buckle and the ranger buckle set earlier shown in this blog. Don's craftsmanship is perfect in most every respect. He is now especially noted for his use of the spinner in his products. The buckle shown here has three sunface spinners and the center piece has a circular red spinner for a total of four. This is his first of this design. When I look at this exquisite buckle, I can hear Cowboy Will Parker from Roger and Hammerstein's landmark musical Oklahoma clearly singing out: "Ev'rythin's up to date in Kansas City. They've gone about as fur as they c'n go!" Yep, this buckle is a picture of artistic perfection, definitely worthy of Will's vision of Kansas City and the glorious things he found there. I think Mr. Dewa has gone about as far as he can go.

Don recently accepted an invitation to personally visit and show his work in Japan. Now that trumps Kansas City.

Retail value of Western Buckle: $4800.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Clayton's Cosmic Bear

Last week I was asked to write up a promotional piece on Clayton Tom. Even though some of the information has been previously presented in this blog, I thought I'd include it anyway. I chose the cosmic bear as the best example of his work. The bear shown here is actually signed inside the bale as a Calvin Begay piece, but the inlay and front design are what really bring it to life so it's credited more Clayton than Calvin. Last night I asked Sandy to string it on turquoise and wear it to the Santa Fe Opera. As we knew it would, it proved to a be an irresistible eye catcher. Once the silver is cast, it takes Clayton about 3 days to do the full inlay and deliver the finished product. This piece retails for around $1400.

The name Clayton Tom is well woven into the fabric of celebrated Native American artists of the new century. His brilliant jewelry has consistently earned him top awards at major jewelry art shows and led to his recognition as one of the great masters of micro-inlay design and technique. His name is always a contender as tops in his speciality, but most often seen now as a credit to his jewelry when displayed in books or periodicals that feature Native American Art. Frequently in short supply and hard to find, his jewelry is always in high demand as showcase inventory among Southwestern jewelry dealers. It is similarly prized among Native American jewelry collectors, and readily coveted by those who just see his masterful creations. Clayton’s award winning work includes concho belts, necklaces, and ranger belt buckle sets, but his personal favorite and most beloved is the cosmic bear pendant which celebrates the Yei-bi-Chai, supernatural beings in the Navajo culture who are sometimes referred to as the "Medicine People", the "Holy People", or "Winter Gods". The "Winter Gods" reference arises from the Yei Bi 'Chai ceremony held in the late fall or early winter. In Navajo culture, they are believed to be the source of healing powers and blesser of the corn.

Even though Clayton’s jewel creations are hailed as the crème del crème of the microinlay world, the artist himself avoids the limelight and there is little published on the man himself. I caught up with Clayton in his workspace. It’s impressive to see him grind away at tiny pieces of stones to precisely fit tiny allocated slivers and dots into channels of sterling silver. When I asked about the particular pendant design he was working on the day I interviewed him, he looked up and pulled down a piece of ratty corrugated cardboard to show me his inception drawing. His reverence for traditional Navajo ways was apparent as he went on to explain that he was not supposed to be doing Yei-be-Chai image work in the winter. He elaborated by describing the physical consequences of violating this taboo. I was glad to hear that said consequences weighed in on the minor ailment scale. He told me much more, but between the grinding wheel and his loud rock music, I did not hear much of what he had to say.

Clayton Tom was born in Denver, Colorado in 1970 while his parents were away on job-site. He was raised on the Navajo reservation in Tse-Yah-Toh, New Mexico. He graduated from Gallup High School and now lives with his family a few miles South of Gallup in Vanderwagon, New Mexico. His hobby is building car and truck engines.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Master Silversmith Alex Sanchez

Alex Sanchez (Navajo) is something of newcommer on the block here in Gallup. He's been silversmithing for a half-dozen years and marketing his work through merchants in Santa Fe & Albuquerque even though he lives just outside of Gallup. One of my wholesaler friends met him at the prestigous annual Native American Treasures Arts Festival in Santa Fe and persuaded him to market some of his items through her trading company. That's where I first met Alex and was introduced to his rather unique work superbly crafted with a mix of old vintage technique bursting with Native American symbols and yet ignited by contemporary flair. I cannot think of any other artist who compares. There is but a hint in the image above, but Alex dutifully stamps the back of his pieces with decorative imprints. This year I made sure to drop by his booth in Santa Fe; he was having a very good day. Alex is a fairly young man, I expect him to have many good days ahead and to see his name one day in our own sidewalk hall of fame if we ever get one. At any rate this man's work is highly collectible, very reasonably priced considering the top-of-the-line quality and unique individual design of each piece. It is worthy of any museum that honors Native American Jewelry. We at Wilford's are exceedingly proud to be promoting Alex's fine art.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Our Best Seller

Some site visitors who write to me comment that the merchandise of Wilford's Trading Post is just too expensive for their budget. It is true that I sure like to purchase and display high end window show pieces like the Quandelacy Fetish Necklaces, the Don Dewa ranger set or the Harry Morgan concho belt. In response to those who have written asking for an array of merchandise with a few more items on the lower end of the spectrum, I have begun stocking many more items that sell below $50. One item, the hair combs, as pictured here have been up since the beginning. They are our best seller. We buy them 100 units at time and ship them around the world. At $18.99 a pair, they are inexpensive, elegant, and meld the two most common ingredients of Southwest Native American Jewelry, sterling silver and turquoise, into a practical eye-catching hair piece.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

The Apache: Spirtuality but No Jewels

My trading post acquisitions have recently been very limited; but no problem, half the fun is in the research. Last weekend I spent in Santa Fe at the annual Native American Treaures Show. I didn't buy any new stock, but I did meet some of the current top jewelry artists. This weekend I decided to retreat to the high elevations of the tall Ponderosa Pines to explore the White River Apache reservation, but once again I came back rather empty handed. I met the owner of one of the trading posts of Pinedale, AZ who claimed to have come from a line of Indian traders going all the way back to namesake of the famous Hubbell Trading Post in Ganado, Arizona. I noticed he had a limited supply of Zuni, Navajo, and Hopi jewelry in his shop which is located in town just few minutes from the White River Apache reservation. I told him that in all my explorations of the day I had seen precious little that was Apache derived: some buckskin clothing, beadwork, and a few baskets. As he talked he also worked without hesitation attaching ceremonial bells to straps of leather for his Apache clients. He explained, "The Apache do not care about crafts or jewelry, they are into Spiritual expressions." I left grateful for the information and the fact that he directed me to a place for a beautiful evening hike overlooking the famed Mongolian rim. But before my sunset hike I continued exploring and discovered the sign shown here. So for all my market research which included a trip to old Fort Apache, I returned with no jewels, no beads or buckskin, but I can proudly point to my one image of the trip: someone's manifestation of Apache spirituality.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Buckle & Bolo Sets of Isabelle Simplicio

I had seen Isabelle Simplicio's work on multiple occasions in wholesale rooms, but I paid little attention to her bezel set horse head cameos until just last week when our paths crossed in the showroom of Ray's Trading Company. Isabelle in a quiet manner stepped in next to me and handed Ray the bolo / buckle set you see here. As she turned around and exited Ray said to me, "that lady was Isabelle Simplicio and here is her work." At that moment I had a flashback to one of my cherished references published in three volumes in 1975, "ZUNI, The Art and the People". I proudly left with the set along with one of her watchbands of similar design and on returning home confirmed my vague recall. The book shows her in 1975 sitting at her work bench working on the same product. The limited write-up notes that she and her husband had been making the horsehead jewelry for 15 years and "when asked, they mark their jewelry with an engraver." The husband is apparently no longer involved, but it appears little has changed. Her work is still a big market success and is still signed rather crudely with an engraver.

I have now moved her jewelry to my top 10 Indian Jewelry favorites in large part, I think, because for me it evokes action memories of the late 1950's and 1960's when Westerns ruled the cinema and as country boys we dreamed of growing up to be handsome cowboys in fancy dress complete with broad rimmed Stetsons, pearl snap buttons, tall shiny boots, big Western buckles, and colorful bolos.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Art of Helen and Lincoln Zunie

For months I've wanted to feature the mosaic inlay jewelry of Helen and Lincoln. This past week I finally rounded up enough of their gemstone horse creations to shoot a composite image. Their work has been time tested since at least the early 1970's and no Zuni collection can be considered complete without at least a sampling of their work. Their hallmark "HL Zunie", stands for both Helen and Lincoln. Sadly, Lincoln carries on with the work alone now that Helen is deceased. Like Effie's Serpent jewelry creations, Helen and Lincoln's horse bolos, buckles, and pendant/pins will endure as highly valued art creations until the end of time as we know it.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Navajo Inlay Pocket Knives Part II

The knives pictured here are another manifestation of my aforementioned conversation with Eddie of the East Mountain Inlay Cutlery Co. The stones used in these knives are again stabilized. The wood is packa. The core knives are manufactured by Bear & Sons cutlery. Located in Jacksonville, Florida, they have a long history of making high quality knives. The knives shown are made of 420 carbon stainless steel, bolsters are made of nickle silver and each one is inscribed Navajo on the bolster. These knives are now being inlaid in Gallup by the dozens. Retail cost is around $65.

Navajo Inlay Pocket Knives / Part I

A few weeks ago the owner of the recently formed EMI Inlay Cutlery Company asked me for some advice in arranging for Native American knife handle inlay work. Most of the current products on the market are imports. The knife pictured here is a high end pocket knife born of our discussion and collaboration. The inlay was done by a Navajo inlayer at Sunrise Indian Jewelry in Gallup. The stones are enhanced and stablized to resist chipping. The knife itself is a Boker-Tree made in Soligen, Germany. The company was founded in the late 17th century and has since been known world wide for making knives of the highest quality carbon steel. Unlike stainless steel, these blades need to be periodically oiled, but they yield a sharper blade. The bolsters are of nickel-silver.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Eddie & Johnathan Beyuka

The late Eddie Beyuka started producing jewelry in 1956, at first working with his wife Madeline who did the inlay to his silverwork. After separation, Eddie began doing both the silver and lapidary work. He was honored as a contemporary master in the ARIZONA HIGHWAYS magazine Hall of Fame in August of 1974. The entire inside back cover was devoted to showing 7 of his distinctive kachina creations designed primarily to be used as a bolo tie, but also fitted with a small stand for stand alone exhibition. Eddie's son Jonathan has carried on his Father’s work. Jonathan’s kachina bolo ties are readily available at many of the jewelry outlets here in Gallup. I had never seen one of Eddie’s kachina bolos for sale, but I had seen them in museums and of course in nearly all the books that deal with Southwest Native American jewelry. A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to view a collection of the Father’s work first hand and even do side-by-side comparisons with the work of his son. I agree with others that the son’s craftsmanship is somewhat better than that of Father’s. Eddie (who’s work currently sells for as much as 10 fold than that of his son’s work) deserves historical artistic honor a notch above the son for having pioneered this unique bolo jewelry. The piece you see above is a multi-stone Hopi Snake Dancer set in sterling silver by son Jonathan. It measures approximately 3 3/8 x 2 inches. Cost = $249. Click on image for a more detailed view.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Bev Etsate's Grand Ram Dancer Kachina Bolo Tie

Here is a fine example of a very prominent bolo tie again showing stone on stone in a silver casing. You will find no tortoise shell in this newly minted master work, the black background is Acoma Jet, the other stones, include white and yellow tipped mother-of-pearl, sleeping beauty turquoise, and red coral. It's hard to see in this image but this Ram Kachina has a nifty sterling silver wrist adornment compete with tiny cabochons of turquoise and red coral. The main piece measures 5 3/4 by 2 5/8 inches. You might be more comfortable with this work on shelf display, but it certainly shouts to be worn on special occasions, particularly here in the heart of bolo tie country where the bolo has been declared the office necktie of both Arizona and New Mexico. The cost of this bolo is $1500. A 1970's vintage piece by her Mother and Father will cost at least twice as much if you can find one.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Vintage Zuni Shalako Bolo Tie

I submitted an entry to this blog on the relatively unique work of three dimensional inlay specialist Bev Etsate a couple of months ago. Bev learned the craft from her famous parents. I recently had the opportunity to see a stellar example of her parent's work in a museum case at a showing of the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian in Santa Fe. I was impressed and began to long for a side-by-side comparison of work done by their talented and obviously well trained daughter. It was a challenge to find vintage work of the parent's for sale, but I finally located a few pieces, the most impressive is the Shalako Kachina shown above. The Zuni Shalako is a diety that comes to Zuni every year near the Winter solstice to bring blessings of fertility, long life and prosperity to Zuni. I also found a similarly sized Ram Dancer Kachina bolo tie by Beverly that I plan to feature on my next blog entry. On careful inspection I did find what a few others have noted, e.g. the parent's work is slightly more refined. Stone upon stone inlay set in silver definitely belongs in the historical and contemporary Zuni domains of this family. Any book showing examples of Zuni jewelry will feature either the work of the parents or daughter. The oval center piece measures 5 x 2 1/4 inches. This piece was made prior to 1975 and contains tortoise shell which is no longer legal. Today's maket value is approximately $2800.00.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Ms. Cowboy's Jewel

I was listing various little treasures to sell through the Ebay store last night when I pulled this piece out of the bag. I bought it about three weeks ago at a wholesaler outfit with decades long connections here, a hearty little business that specializes in the low to middle end of the Native American Jewelry spectrum. The pendant really impressed me at all levels on careful inspection. The silversmithing is excellent with appealing design cuts and a twisted wire boundary below the plain bezel. The semiprecious stones with perfectly rounded outer edges are well selected and inlaid in an appealing mosaic pattern with great precision between very slender slivers of sterling silver. The slider bale is plain but perfectly cut and shaped. Then last of all I noted the tidy double E hallmark imprint stamped to a desirable uniform depth on the plain silver back. Not perfect, but this pendant was, I thought, without doubt the work of a thrifty master jewelry maker. My guess was that he or she had been employed at one of the many jewelry manufacturing outfits here in Gallup because this work is an evolutionary looking creation bridging the gap between the old traditional and new style jewelry created by specialist teams. I started to call this blog entry, "Jewel of an Unknown Artist," but then I decided to make some inquires today so I carried the piece back to my buying source and learned that its creator was Kristen Ella Cowboy (Navajo), an experienced jewelry maker of many years who does have a background in the jewelry manufacturing business but also works for herself. I asked my good dealer friend to relay to Ms. Cowboy* my admiration of her fine work and to order in some more products for me to pickup.

*Cowboy is a very common Navajo name

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Covered Wagons of Virgil Dishta

The Dishta artisan legacy goes back at least as far as Frank Dishta who was born in 1902 in Zuni. He is best known for his channel inlay, ground flush, and often composed of tiny circles, diamond shapes, and tear drops. His artistry anticipated the modern micro specialists like Ervin Tsosie, Clayton Tom, and Sammy Smith. Frank's son Virgil Dishta, Sr. distinguished himself with a prestigious award in 1950 from the Inter-tribal Ceremonial in Gallup, NM and subsequent recognition that year in Arizona Highways. Covered Wagons were his favorite design subject. Theda and Michael Bassman in their very well illustrated book Zuni Jewelry show an example one of his covered wagons pins made in the 1940's with wheels that turn and a brake that moves. The family jewelry traditions and skill live on through Virgil M. Dishta who also produces covered wagon pieces as illustrated above. Note the intricacy of the design and the small flush pieces of turquoise and red coral that bring bright color to the piece and reflect the work of his Grandfather. There are no brakes on the wagons, but on the bolo tie end pieces the wheels turn freely. The beauty and bountiful linear family heritage embodied in this jewelry pair makes them real Western classics.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Homage to the Hopi Corn Maiden

The days of the Hopi corn farmers running 10 miles from their high mesa top pueblo homes to tend their cornfields are long gone, but they still utilize centuries-old techniques for nurturing corn seed into a treasured and often bountiful crop on their bitterly dry and harsh reservation homeland. Their horticulture technique starts with finding areas of the valley floor prone to flooding, planting multiple seeds in widely spaced holes at a depth of about one foot so the roots (that may grow down as much as 20 feet) can absorb moisture from the sandy subsoil. The green plants then come up in communal clumps that have a better chance of resisting the harsh dry, high desert winds. Chances for a successful harvest is further enhanced by seed planting at differing times in a variety of locations. A successful Hopi cornfield is a triumphant sight and looks so different than the nearly impenetrable cornfields that dominate so much of the landscape in America's Midwest. I found the beautiful barrette shown above on my recent buying trip to Hopiland. I was hesitant to make the purchase when I saw it was marked $295, but given what it represented and that it was a product of Hopi master silversmith Berra Tawahongva, I could not pass. The barrette shows a corn maiden tending to a single corn stock. The hand on the right represents the medicine she is giving to the corn and the two crescents facing each other within the hand represent friendship. It is a beautiful piece showing a heritage of survival that should never be forgotten.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

From the Indian Jewelry Hall of Fame

The August 1974 edition of ARIZONA HIGHWAYS featured an article representing a special collection of Indian jewelry called The Arizona Highways Hall of Fame Classics. Three masterworks of Dennis Edaakie were shown and he was hailed as a Grand Master of his medium. In 1975 in Vol I of ZUNI, The Art and The People, Ed and Barbara Bell wrote "Dennis and Nancy (Edaakie), without a doubt, two of the best known silversmiths in Zuni, are all the more remarkable because they have been practicing their art for the relatively short time of 10 years. Their beautiful inlay work may be seen in most of the finer collections of Indian jewelry. When found in the finer collections of Indian jewelry, it is usually marked 'Not for Sale.' " Sadly, Nancy Edaakie was not given even a footnote's worth of credit in the ARIZONA HIGHWAYS article. I featured the Edaakie's in a brief blog entry a couple of months ago, see Birdman and Ladybird of Zuni.

What impresses me about the "Hall of Fame Jewelry" masters is that their work is so reasonably priced. Once a noted jewelry artist stops producing, their work tends to skyrocket in value, but even long lived artists often find their early works very highly valued as vintage pieces. Regardless of how much longer Dennis and Nancy remain productive, their work will live on through their well trained children.
A few weeks ago, I placed a special order with the Edakkies for a Trout Bolo tie. I'm still patiently waiting.

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Humor of Clarence & Russell Lee

The Navajo psyche characteristically resonates with good humor, but it is rare for it to be expressed in their jewelry. I was most impressed and amused this past summer when I ran across the Lee's distinctive booth at the annual Santa Fe Indian Market. Unfortunately, I was out of inventory money that day, but I left determined to follow-up in the months ahead. Clarence and Russell are a father-son team who travel the country selling their work throughout the nation, mostly at art shows. They are widely represented in museums and their award list now numbers 8 full pages. Last week I sat with Russell and his Lady at my kitchen table and poured over their wide selection of jewelry. Russell said to me, "Jewelry making is all we do. During the day we make jewelry. At night we dream jewelry." Note the goat which is modeled after a pet that once roamed their reservation property eating indiscriminately, everything from a stuffed teddy bear to a can of beans. The Russell's great smithing skill is evident in all their work. Even though the Lee's live within an hour's drive of Gallup, they don't sell to the dealers here. Ah, but now Wilford's is the exception. I am honored to promote the Lee's unique brand of story and humor laced in phenomenally well crafted silver.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Crotalus viridis nuntius

This spectacular sterling silver overlay Hopi rattlesnake ring was made by Berra Tawahongva from the Coyote Clan village of Mishongnovi. It held me fixed in fascination when I first saw it on one of my winter Hopi buying trips. My first thought was that it was a perfect fit for a HOG who freely boasts of his affiliation with an outlaw bikers group. You know the kind of husky, beer-bellied man who sports his leather clad trophy woman around on a fierce looking hard-tail chopper; the kind of biker who likes little better than to conclude his riding day by strutting in loud, proud, and pushy to the nearest beer joint for a triple-meat green chili cheeseburger and never less than 16 ounces of Coors on tap. So much for my imagination, I've discovered that this fine serpent creation has almost universal appeal even to those of delicate sensibilities. Several women have expressed disappointment that this ring was forged in a man's size (11.5). It would be interesting to know it's history many generation from now. There is no question that it should eventually find a home in museum display.

note: the skeleton Kachina symbol in the upper left hand corner is Berra's distinctive hallmark.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Parrot by Little Known Artist

I regularly receive email communications from folks telling me how much they enjoy going through my Ebay store and this blog. A few go on to tell me they would love to buy but cannot afford pieces from what has been my showcase tilted toward the higher end, brand named items like those of the late great Navajo silversmith Harry Morgan and the Zuni master Don Dewa. So in recent weeks I've been concentrating on finding works of excellence that fall within a more affordable range and that means leaving the famous names behind for awhile. The parrot pin/pendant represented here is by a little known Zuni artist. I had never heard or seen his name prior to picking up his excellent creation and reading his name inscribed on the back. My search for information on him yielded nothing. The wholesaler who I originally bought the parrot from him told me his first name was "Kordell." Many buyers on lower end items don't even bother with asking an artisan's name or checking to see if the piece is signed. Kendell Shebola is obviously an accomplished artist. One of the first things I note (which is common to all good Zuni work) is the tightness of fit of the stones. Zuni jewelry is made with sterling silver which is very much of secondary importance unlike that seen in Hopi work where the artistry comes alive in the exquisite pure sterling silver creations. The beauty of Zuni art emerges through the use of stones and shells complimented or merely held in place by a sterling silver base. In some pieces the silver is even invisible in the dominant front view in which case the final product with its meticulously cut, almost invisible stone boundaries may look like a champleve' product (jewelry finished by a smooth enameling surface process. Zuni artisan Harlan Coonsis often produces champleve' looking stone jewelry. The parrot above has tiny silver strips separating the stone which include mother of pearl, jet, pink mussel, abalone, and turquoise. At this point I know Master Kendell only through this one piece of art, but his name has gone into my little book and I'll be inquiring about him and his work as I merily go about my jewelry study, exploration, and acquisiton.

Hummingbirds by Ella Gia

I am committed to promoting our local Native American artists, big names and small, so I was very happy when I ran across the pictured hummingbird bracelet by Ella Gia a few days ago at one of my favorite wholesale dealers who works the middle to the lower end of the market. I was impressed that her very worthy work was marked at such a low price especially given that her inlay, in my judgement is equivalent in quality to that of the big names such as the Edaakie and Lanconsellos of Zuni. Sadly enough, the dealer even gave me the wrong name of the artist when he sold me the work. Fortunately, I could read her engraved signature without difficulty so I began my usual research. She is in none of the most commonly cited reference works which I keep at hand. A Google search led me to one web reference only which also included her jewelry making daughter, Lenora. The two lines on Ms. Gia read, "Ella is an excellent maker of inlaid jewelry! She like many Zuni crafts people, has another job. She works at the Zuni Head Start during the day, while following the making of jewelry at night." Her story is so familiar; nearly all of the independent Native American jewelry artists need to have a primary job as their mainstay of making a living. Now that the cost of silver is again skyrocketing, the cost of buying supplies and selling in a very competitive market which includes cheap "Native American Style" jewelry from foreign sources is constantly eroding incentives to continue the good work.

Now that Ella Gia has entered my blog and I've put her bracelet on EBay, she will have at least 3 Google hits by tomorrow. I love her work, and I'll certainly be on the search for more.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Zuni Mudhead Jewelry

Beverly Etsate is a three dimensional raised inlay specialist. She like her famed mother Rosalie Pinto portrays Zuni mudhead kachinas by inlaying them stone upon stone. In the example here you see an Acoma jet background set in sterling silver with skillfully set cuttings of jet, coral, mother of pearl, and turquoise set in a pattern to reveal a delightful clown kachina. Bev's mudheads are the same as her Mother's, but much of her Mother's work is now vintage and as such commands much higher prices. Any serious Zuni collector should have at least one of these works.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Million Dollar Buckle

This buckle is another triumphant design of Calvin Begay. I saw the inception sketch months ago then I had to wait patiently to get the final product in my hands. Calvin initially conceived this buckle as a solitary horse head surrounded by gemstones, but he changed his mind when it was suggested that a wide angle view showing a running horse would be dazzling. So following a familiar formula first used by John Ford which put Monument Valley--the most famous of all Navajo scenic vistas--on the movie map and made John Wayne a movie star in Stagecoach (1939), Calvin crafted a Monument Valley representation incorporating the two stately Mitten rock formations as his background. This buckle is individually produced and makes a fabulous collector piece. The rim gemstones include sleeping beauty turquoise, spiny oyster, sugilite, Chinese spiderweb turquoise, Acoma jet, mojave green, mother-of-pearl, and lapis separated by tiny slivers of sterling silver. Okay, maybe it's fair market value is a mere $750, but anyone lucky enough to dress up with it should feel worth at least a million.

Friday, February 22, 2008

The Hearts of Rick Tolino

I came to appreciate Rick Tolino as one of the great contemporary Navajo silversmiths by examining his art first hand, but his discovery as a highly talented jewelry designer was made years ago. His work has won him an abundance of awards, and his lovely jewely has been widely represented in numerous publications such as Arizona Highways, Cowboys and Indians magazine, and Theda Bassman’s exceptionally well illustrated book, The Beauty of Navajo Jewelry. I hope to interview Rick personally in the coming months for my fact file on him is rather barren. I do know that he was born into the great American Southwest here in Gallup in 1961 and he grew up a few miles away on the reservation in Coyote Canyon. He began his work as a silversmith in high school. Rick’s work covers the usual array of jewelry adornments: belt buckles, bracelets, pins, rings, and pendants. Hopefully, I’ll have much more say after meeting him in person a few moons from now.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Doris' Kachinas

Doris Smallcanyon (Navajo) is a master silversmith. She is both prolific and elusive, not a bad combination. She specializes in making these enormously popular kachinas in multiple sizes for use as bolo ties, rings, pins, and pendants. She also produces beautiful squash blossom necklaces. She even does a kachina necklace in the squash blossom style. I buy her work from two different wholesalers here in Gallup. Her work is surprisingly affordable especially given the beautiful craftsmanship and striking visual appeal of her kachinas. She signs her pieces with either her distinctive hallmark or a hand engraved signature. There is precious little information about her in the public domain.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Made in Heaven?

As I was listing this masterwork of silver by Berra Tawahongva, I was struck with the precision & beauty and thought it made an excellent example of quality that you might expect to find only in heaven. We can be fairly certain it's not from heaven for there silver probably doesn't rate as a precious metal as it does here on Earth. Still this precisely made work of art should satify the most discriminating of upper crust consumers. The central image is that of a Sunface, on the left is a Kokopelli musician, and on the right a corn plant which has been so important to the survival the Hopi's. One reason this buckle pops in such an artistic way is the contrast of the shinny sterling silver surface against the textured silver areas. One of the Hopi traders told me is a comparatively new innovation in Hopi silversmithing. Berra Tawahongva learned his silversmithing at the Hopi Guild which has been responsible for training so many master craftsman. His hallmark is the symbol for Masau'u (Skeleton Kachina), the only kachina who does not go home at the Niman Ceremony and thus may dance at any time of the year. Because he is a Death Kachina, he may do many things by opposites, for the world of the Dead is the reverse of this world. For instance, he comes down a ladder backward or performs other actions in reverse. As I often say, I can't wait to get back to Hopi on another shopping trip. As soon as Sandy gets home, I'm taking her for fried chicken then a 4 wheel-drive trip out onto the snow saturated, muddy reservation in search of Navajo Clarence Lee whose work I hope to soon feature on this blog. Little did I know a few months ago that dealing in Native American jewelry would be this much fun.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Effie's Serpents

The name Effie is recognized the world over by Native American jewelry aficionados. So much so that her last name Calavaza need not be uttered. My friend Sammy the owner of Desert Indian Traders here in Gallup says, "If you don't sell Effie's jewelry, you are not in the Native American jewelry business." Effie was born into the Zuni tribe in 1928. She learned silversmithing from her husband Juan Zuni in 1956. She has been producing prolifically ever since. Snake dieties are central to the designs found on her work. The snake in Zuni culture is symbolic of defiance that gained renew significance with westward expansion and subsequent broken treaties in the 19th century which resulted in forced tribal relocations and thousands of deaths. The Zuni tribe successfully hid from the U.S. Army atop what's now called Zuni Mountain. Effie gained widespread recognition for her vigorous defense of her creation which lead her all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to obtain the rights to her snake symbol which was being widely copied and coming back into the markets here via imports. Effie has taught her daughters silversmithing so we can be assured that her special brand of Zuni jewelry will go on for the forseeable future. Effie's work is rough cut, old style. I am somewhat surprised that it is in such high demand everywhere. It must be the allure of the her Serpents as seen on the belt buckle here.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Roger Skeets, Jr.

I have run across Navajo Roger Skeet's work on numerous occasions, mostly concho belts of all sizes and ketohs (bow guards). His work is traditional old style. In reviewing glimpses of Mr. Skeet's story as revealed by Mark Bahti in his book Silver + Stone - Profiles of American Indian Jewelers, I was struck by Mr. Skeet's statement, "I would like to have gone to school and served my poeple on the tribal council." Born in 1933, he was the oldest of eight children. His Father chose him to stay at home to work while the other kids were sent to school. Roger's apprenticeship as a silversmith began at the age of 8. He is now in his eighth decade and scaling back. The bold concho buckle here is 4 x 4.5 inches and weighs almost 1/4 lb. This is the first adapation of a concho I've seen used as belt buckle. I think it is a clever idea and I believe it has as much appeal as a hard-won rodeo buckle.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

There are No Mansions in Hopi Land

Life has always been a survival stuggle for the Hopi people. The Hopi Tribe’s reservation land base is located in the northeastern section of Arizona with a total area of approximately 1,622,511 acres bounded on all sides by the Navajo Reservation. This land area is distinctive for Hopi villages that sit atop 600 ft high espcarpments and for the visually striking fact that the land is so inhospitable. In years of the not-so-distant past men had to walk 10 miles each day to tend to their little patchs of squaw corn while the women struggled to negoatiate the steep cliffs with jars of water on their heads. Years ago when I first visited the Hopi's, I was amazed to see the sparcity of the corn plants in their fields. There are obviously no mansions on Hopi, the depressed economy of these noble natives are evident everywhere; nonetheless, their artistry whether it be baskets, Katsina (Kachina) carvings, pottery, or jewelry is all done with world-class precision. Several of the Hopi traders and jewelers themselves told me that production of jewelry is way down; in large part, due to the escalating cost of silver. I have been very impressed with the vital role of the Hopi Cultural Center in training the Hopi people to produce precision jewelry. I was saddened to see their big roadway sign in disrepair, but what really pained me was reading the notice* posted on the entry door.

I am really proud to be in the business of the promoting the Hopi jewelry artisans. Sandy and I bought generously this weekend. We spent two days there and finally had a trecherous trip home in a blizzard. I took a wild spin off the road near the summit of a peak near Window Rock, Arizona were we remained trapped in the snow for about an hour until a Navajo policeman and a kindly Navajo family joined forces to rescue us and send us on our way back to Gallup. The 5 buckles pictured are a few of the artistic treasures we brought back from Hopi today.

*click on image for enlargement, if that doesn't work the most relevant detail reads:


Clayton Tom is Back & Working with Calvin Once Again

Calvin Begay and Clayton Tom make a powerfully creative jewel duo. They are both tops in their repective fields, Calvin as silversmith and Clayon as a micro-inlayer. I posted a piece on my 11/09/07 blog entry stating that the team had split, but they are back under the same roof once again and working together on unique pieces such as the one shown here. Calvin did the silver work all by hand. It appears to be a cast piece, but in fact, it was done by silver overlay. Calvin demonstrated to me on Friday his technique for cutting out the silver. Calvin is soft spoken, but I still heard him fairly well over the din of his county western music. Calvin's a real cowboy, I note that he wears a good size rodeo buckle. Clayton works in a backroom where he grinds away at the tiny pieces of stones on his wheel to get them to fit into their tiny alloted spaces in the silver. I asked him about his design on this piece whereupon he pulled down a shred of ratty, corrigated cardbord from above his work station and showed me the inception drawing. From the conversation, I can be certain he is a very traditional Navajo. He said he are not supposed to do Yei-be-Chai image work in the winter, but he does. He went on to describe the physical consequences of violating this taboo. I was glad to hear that said consequences weighed in on the minor ailment scale. He told me much more, but between the grinding wheel and the loud rock music, I did not hear much of what he had to say.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Count the Tommy Singers

When I started the jewelry business, the name that stood out was Tommy Singer. I went searching first hand through the maze of jewelry dealers here in Gallup (later Albuquerque then Santa Fe) only to be told in various versions, "No, we don't carry Tommy Singer, he doesn't really do his own work." I began to understand that behind that criticism was a man who was not always easy to work with. Then one day I ran across a dealer here in Gallup who had a good stock of Tommy Singer products. The dealer told me that when Tommy calls, no matter what time, he goes to store, meets Tommy, and buys all he has to offer. He added that he is very careful not to offend him. Tommy's necklace's are very popular and knockoffs are bountiful. The true Tommy Singer necklaces carry a small metal tab with his name. He has a number of other products. We sell his belt buckles about as fast as we can list them. Tommy does indeed have employees who help him produce his much-in-demand jewelry. I'm sure he needs the assistance for he is widely considered one of the greatest contemporary Indian jewelry silversmiths of our time. You are correct if you counted 12 necklaces.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Find of the Year

I entered the Native American jewelry business less than a year ago, but I think I just found a piece to celebrate as my find of the year. And you might know it's a Harry Morgan masterwork. The belt is not new. It's hard to tell from the buckle itself, but the 36 inch ranger belt leather shows modest evidence of wear. I joyfully discovered the belt sitting along with some other Harry Morgan pieces and presumed it was new until after I bought it and began a careful inspection. It's 14K gold and sterling silver. The 7 cabachons are high value spiderweb matrix turquoise from the now closed Lone Mountain mine in Nevada. This buckle has it all, gold, silver, gem quality turquoise, and the hallmark of it's master maker. I wish I knew the whole history.

addendum 1/31/08: I went back to the trader who sold me the above belt. He bought it for himself directly from Harry Morgan and wore it for awhile then decided to put it up for sale along with some other items by Harry.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Comparisons--Crude vs Elegant

In the halcyon days of our early adult years Sandy and I wiggled out our deep Texas roots and moved to Sells, Arizona located deep in the heart of the Papago Reservation (now called Tohono O'Odam). That reservation is roughly the size of the state of Connecticut. The Papago have always been well know for their elegant baskets. In that era there was only one known Papago silversmith; he kept a few pieces for sale at the Quijotoa store. We bought two pendants, both can seen here. We had always thought of them as priceless treasures. Sandy wore them frequently until they finally ended up buried for years at the bottom of her jewelry box. A couple of days ago, I asked her about them and after a short search she retrieved them. I was shocked to see how crudely made her "jewels" really were especially when compared to the simple, elegant, refined Hopi silver work as illustrated by the center piece in the image above. We were obviously enamored with the subject matter from those days when we enjoyed a wilderness lifestyle surrounded by the stately giant Saguaro cactus which provided a historically important food source from their bright fruit harvested annually by Papago women bearing long poles made of cactus ribs. The back pieces of these two Papago pendants are exceptionally crude; they bear the marks of the stamping and gouging out of the designs from the front. Still given the time period and subject depicted these "jewels" may one day find a place in a museum.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Harry Morgan's Unfinished Gift

Imagine my delight when Robert Chee showed up to personally meet me today. As I often note, he is one of my favorite silversmiths and a cousin of Harry Morgan's. They chummed as teens and both supported themselves doing silversmithing. Mr. Chee is a quiet man so I was reserved and careful not to ask too many questions. His work is exceptional, but he does not produce canteens, jewelry boxes, and other more complex items Harry excelled at making. Nonetheless, his bracelets, buckles, rings, and pendants done in the old style are all Morgan equivalents. Mr. Chee wanted to know of me what items were selling best and which ones are proving slow to move. I bought all 8 pieces he brought which included the three buckles show here. When he got up I asked him if he had made the belt buckle he was wearing. He said, "No, it was a gift to me from Harry." He smiled in an amused sort of way as he continued, "he was supposed to make the rest of the pieces for me [to complete the ranger set-- it needed the keepers and the belt tip], but he never did." Harry is gone so he can't now; nonetheless, it was a beautiful buckle and a gift to be cherished. I regret that I never met Mr. Morgan, but I am very honored to have met Mr. Robert Chee.