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.