Monday, August 17, 2009

Natay Carroll

Lawerence W. Cheek in his book The Navajo Long Walk referred to it as the "The Navajo Holocaust." These darkest days of Navajo history began in 1863 when General James Carleton assigned Kit Carson to break the Navajo Strongholds, especially Canyon De Chelly, with series of military raids and heard the survivors to Ft. Sumner, New Mexico. The lands they were forced to inhabit essentially became a concentration camp, the hated Bosque Redondo. It is estimated that 1/5 of the Navajo died of exposure and starvation as a result of their forced relocation. Cheek writes that this tragic chapter of legendary horror "preserved Navajo identity instead of destroying it." Natay Carroll, son of the well known silversmith Stanley Parker, in an effort to encourage young people to reconnect with their history took that long walk solo in 2001, a distance of approximately 400 miles. Natay continues to keep the memory of his heritage alive in silver art work. The shiny silver Western belt buckle shown above portrays in relief the face of the great Navajo Chief Manuelito as seen in his famous portrait photographed in 1874.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Ray Roanhorse - Nickel Silver Artisan

Early on Saturday morning a few weeks ago Sandy and I stopped for breakfast at one of Gallup's McDonalds. As we ate we noted a tall Navajo man going table to table offering bowguards (also known as Ketohs) for sale. Bowguards are an ancient leather-based invention designed to protect an archer's wrist from string slap. They are also used as a personal adornment and are frequently worn for ceremorial dress. Although everyone else had waved him on, he found a welcome reception at our table. We learned that he was Ray Roanhorse from Klagetho, Arizona who was taught the craft by his sister Flo. We saw that each bowguard was uniquely stamped and accented with a piece of turquoise from the Sleeping Beauty mine in Arizona. I bought all he had for sale at a price considerably more than he asked.

I have a particular interest in our regional nickel silversmiths. They work with nickel silver because it is much cheaper to buy than sterling, nonetheless the products are just as labor intensive. Unfortunately, there is very little demand for nickel silver jewelry which sells at a fraction of the cost of sterling based creations. Mr. Roanhorse was pleased that we appreciated his work and that I wanted to ackowledge him as a noteable artist on our internet sites.

Our discovery of Mr. Roanhorse and his work in the midst of our McMuffin feast made for a great start for us on yet another day in Indian Southwest.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Virgil & Shirley Benn

Virgil & Shirley Benn have been crafting unique channel inlay products for years. Their names shine along with a few other top notch Zuni jewelry stars. They are particularly well known for their inlays depicting animals such as coyotes, birds, bears, and pumas. They have even done a lion and last I heard were working on a tiger. Their work is accented by expert etching of the stones to give added life to the feathers, fur, and hair of their subjects.

Virgil is of Zuni and Paiute ancestry; his wife Shirley, granddaughter of famous Hopi potter Nampeyo, is Hopi/Tewa. Their collaborative work dates back to the 1950's. Even their current production work is some of the most expensive, but most collectors will agree well worth the cost.

The Tewa clown kachina head above is a brilliant example of their work. The bolo measures approximately 3 1/2 inches by 4 inches. Cost = $1650.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Butterflies and Caterpillars

I've not posted for awhile mostly because I've been distracted in putting together a website to showcase Native American jewelry artists. Although not up and running the website is I think the site holds great promise for giving a name recognition boost to individual artists. Meanwhile, I've also signed on to as wilfordofgallup where I've started posting matters related to the buying and selling of Indian jewelry.

Pictured above is my latest acquisiton which may well go down as the find of the year. Our team is always on the search for blue ribbon prize winning jewelry. I was surprised to find this unsold LC Charley (Navajo) masterwork in a display case at one of the area dealers. I've bought a number of Mr. Charley's very well crafted ranger buckle sets, but never have I seen any of his work as captivating as these silver butterflies which earned him a 1997 blue ribbon at the Gallup Intertribal Ceremony art show.

I hate to part with blue ribbon work, but offering for sale some the very best collector's pieces of Southwestern Native American jewelry is an important aspect of our ongoing ambition to be one of the best sources in the business. The buckle above is of Western design with hook and swivel back. The bolo has a double loop holder for the braided leather. Cost $1799.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Our National Jewel

Sandy and I left Gallup on Friday, our initial hopes of meeting up with Sedona Wolf had been dashed early that morning. They maintain one of the very best Native American Marketing places on the web, one of the few places I frequently visit regularly: . Perhaps on another day, we'll have an opportunity to meet in person in Gallup, Sedona, or elsewhere. We felt consoled on learning that the last great railroad hotel, La Posada, in Winslow had a room for us. Staying there--I prefer Einstein's spacious room--is comfort enough, but the true treat is dining in their historic old Turquoise Room--my favorite culinary spot in the whole Southwest. Dinner for me always begins with their famous black bean-corn soup; the dish that followed was comforting enough to calm with lullaby-effect the most demanding gourmet food-critic: smoked pheasant tamales, a sizzing Navajo churro lamb cut, spicy Colorado Elk sausage, and roasted duck over a base of Tohono O'oodam tepary beans. Sandy's meal was more traditional, a chicken based dish off the old 1930 Fred Harvey railroad menu which they faithful recreate every day. The next morning we drove to Museum of Northern New Mexico for an overview of their Native American jewelry on display. It was rather sparse, I should have asked if what we saw on display represented only a sampling of a vast storehouse located elsewhere on their campus. From their parking lot we called the El Tovar Hotel on the off chance they had had a cancellation for the night and they had. So two hours later we were nestled in our tiny room circa 1905 just off the Canyon Rim. I like to visit the El Tovar Hotel periodically just to see what Native American pieces are on exhibit for sale in their two prominent lobby showcases. I am sorry to say that although there is some individually crafted jewelry there, most of their pieces fall in to the category of modern manufactured jewelry which comes from two primary souces BG Mudd and SuperSmiths both New Mexico companies that employee Native Americans to produce jewelry, usually in an assembly line fashion.* How much more satisfying it would be to have one of their staff act as buying agent and allow individual Native American artists to have a coveted shot at a spot in their showcase. What they have in that elegant lobby is two of the best placed showcases for Native American Jewelry in all the world. Dinner at the El Tovar dining room is always good, but I think rather lackluster when compared to the cuisine at the Turquoise Room in Winslow. Nonetheless I must uptick it one point for their raw buffalo appetizer place. I was up well before sunrise to a blistery cold rim hike with my camera & tripod in hand. Sunrise just doesn't get better than what one sees at the Grand Canyon--our premiere national jewel in full spotlight glory.

*I contracted with a company last week for a commercial website to be used primary for the introduction of individual Native American artists so the story of thier work may be told and thier products placed on world wide display. After the first 50 entries, I plan to publish as the first volume. The fledgling site can be found at .

Sunday, February 1, 2009

In Pursuit of Cody Hunter

When asked who is the best Native American silversmith of all time, the name Cody Hunter instantly rolls from my tongue. I had seen only images of his work until my Hopi trip yesterday. We know where he lives and have tried to get in contact with him to buy directly, but without success. I do not know of anyone who carries his work in New Mexico so my pursuit has been an exercise of frustration. Much to my relief, I found a wholesaler on Saturday who carries Cody's exquisite silver and gold work. It's expensive so I couldn't buy all that I was shown, but at least the one buckle again gives me representation of his work. Cody seems to be living the good life at the mouth of Canyon de Chelly, one of the most beautiful scenic areas in the world. He grew up riding horses that idyllic setting and now enjoys his avocational specialty of rodeo team roping. The buckle above is amazing. I measures a diminutive--at least by cowboy rodeo standards--3 x 1 3/4 inches. It is designed for belt sizes up to 1 and 3/16 inches in width. The petroglyph figures and sun are 14 K gold fill. The amazing aspect is the story teller central area which involves 5 separate layers of silver overlay and depicts in miniature a Navajo scene that has become increasing rare as the Hogan has given way to trailer homes and prefab housing. I just marvel at the detail he brings into such a small area. Layers of clouds, sand stone formations of that area made famous by the ones seen in Monument Valley, the fire and cooking canopy, juniper tree, goats, mounted rider, and 3 individuals sitting by the fire. He even includes a rabbit and yes, if you look carefully in the door of the Hogan the ubiquitous reservation mutt. Wow, what an artistic treasure! I'm sure I'll be going back for more. Price $1,000 This buckle is my #1 candidate for find of the year for 2009.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Another Grand Hopi Buying Trip

I'm fond of saying that Hopi jewelry is good by definition. Since the middle ages they have survived in their hostile high desert land that would have decimated other civilizations in short order. I believe their well honed survival skills have lead in part to a discipline that is manifest in the near perfection one sees so consistently in their art, especially their jewelry and Kachinas. The Hopi's are vastly outnumbered by their Navajo brethern thus their products are quite limited when judged by comparison. I'm surprised products we list do not sell as briskly as I would expect given their consistent excellence of quality and rather scant supply. Perhaps it is only a few traders like me, collectors, and the Japanese that have really discovered Hopi jewelry. Even though we have a good supply of Hopi products on hand, I wanted to get in another day of shopping so Sandy and I took off early this morning under clear skies for a day trip to Hopi. We had no trouble finding additional products to market and intereacting with Hopi artisans was once again delightful. Our buying was compete in short order so we decided to stop at the Hopi Cultural Center for some blue corn fry bread based tacos and on exit encountered Kachina maker Lawrence Mahle of Polacca on 1st Mesa. We do not deal in Kachinas for a variety of reasons the two principal ones being that the jewelry business keeps us busy and shipping of Kachinas is not something we want to do. Nonetheless on seeing Mr. Mahle with his well made products, along with his young wife and child, I wanted to support his art and so bought the Healer Bear Kachina you see pictured. He explained the role of the healer bear whose magic healing is derived and delivered from juniper root he gives to chew on. He is also said to answer prayers and Mr. Mahle suggested that we try directing some of our own prayers to the Bear. I walked away feeling quite good about my acquisition of the bear. I had taken only a couple of steps in toward my car when Calvin Pavetea, a Hopi also from Polacca, pulled up in his pickup truck to ask me through his open window to take a look at his butterfly Kachina that he was offering for sale. When he quoted his price, I informed I had just depleted my cash reserves on the Bear. He agreed to take a check. Meanwhile, he explained to Sandy the construction and meaning of our new Butterfly Kachina then he pulled a piece of raw cottonwood root to show her. Hopi Kachinas are widely acknowedged as the best and their carving depends on a source of cottonwood root no longer available on their reservation land. It was just a wondeful day once again out here in the West, I even picked up a piece of jewelry that will be a candidate for find of the year. Stayed tuned for a look at Navajo Cody Hunter's storyteller belt buckle.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Splendid Red Bear Coral Choker

Sandy loves the occsional call from Ruddell Laconsello announcing that he has another ‘show stopper’, one of a kind jewelry piece that he will complete in the next few hours; he then invariably follows, "Will Wilford be interested in it?" I am of course always interested in the Laconsello's work which I regard as the creme' de la creme' of American Indian Jewely. I am particularly interested in unique pieces, one-of-a-kind treasures such as this coral bear choker. It doesn't take long for Ruddel to drive up from Zuni and knock on the door with a satisified artist grin on his face and prize in hand. If you've followed this blog you will recall we bought the couple's prize winning concho belt at this year's Santa Fe Market. Even at $10,000 it did not rest on our inventory shelf longer than a week. The Red Bear Coral Choker master work is only 16” in length, a nice choker size, with the center inlay pendant flanked by two side pieces. Ruddell noted that the design also has a Rococco style embellishment in the clouds and water above and below the bear. The bear's image began with the eye, then silver was laid in for the ‘heartline’ (with red arrow point). The bear was then completed with coordinated shades of red coral pieces. To complete the piece, he used beads which are handmade and fluted. The clasp is the final detail which cleverly compliments the rest of the choker. The large hook and eye clasp each have a heart motif.
We are proud to have acquired this masterwork for sale. Cost $849.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Claudia Peina

Claudia Peina is a highly celebrated Zuni fetish carver whose finsihed work is quickly absorbed by collectors worldwide. Her masterworks are generally too large to be incorporated into wearable jewelry. The Zuni Maiden shown here stands just over 5 1/2 inches tall. It is carved from antler and inlaid with turquoise, coral, and jet. Note the maiden's coral necklace. Cost: $389.