Friday, July 2, 2010

Bronze Loon by Carol Naranjo

Carol Naranjo, who hails from the Old Laguna Pueblo, created this refreshingly unique necklace. The centerpiece loon was made from bronze cast in volcanic tufa. The beads are composed of pie jasper and black agate. She is best known as an artist, not for her sublime jewelry creations, but for her award-commanding red willow and pine needle baskets. Sandy and I met her for the first time at the annual Native Teasures Art Show in Santa Fe this year. I was so attracted to this necklace that I did not take note of any baskets on her table, surely she must have had them close by or perhaps when we arrived near closing they had all been sold. Baskets are her first artistic love as she reveals in this quote, “I guess you would say I have a passion for these baskets; I wish I could go back and have a lifetime of doing this. I get a sad feeling because I have to go through the whole summer without contact with willows.” In the future I'll be looking not only for her innovative jewelry but also for her baskets. Price of necklace $325.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Acoma Pottery Shard Necklace

Pottery necklace was by Acoma Potter Karen Miller. Cost $44

Monday, June 28, 2010

Turquoise and Chile

Turquoise and chile intermingle freely and often here in the Native American Jewelry Capital of the world. Sandy and I met one day last week at Genaro's, a very popular Gallup luncheon hot spot, for some tongue scorching red and green chile entrees. While we dined we had 7 different Navajo vendors stop by our table. Sandy, bare-necked and hungry on arrival, left the restaurant sodium repleted, gut warmed, and neck adorned. It's all part of the good life in Gallup, New Mexico. Total cost: meal, drinks, necklace, tax, and tip--$98.36.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Hopi Weavers

Mary-Russell Colton, an original founder of the Museum of Northern Arizona, recorded 213 Hopi weavers in the 1930's, all were male. Today, textile weaving among the Hopi people is now a fading memory. So once again, it is historically refreshing to see the work of Edward S. Curtis who in the very early years of the past century captured this image of a Hopi man weaver at work on his loom.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Navajo Rugs at Datil, New Mexico

Russell Lee's images of American life during the Great Depression cemented his place in history as one of the most important photographers of the twentieth century. His documentary work as a Farm Security Administration (FSA) photographer at Pie Town, New Mexico centered on the lives of a group of 1930's Dust Bowl refugees. "Jigger at Pie Town" as shown below is from that body of work and is perhaps his best known image. His interior picture of the upscale tourist summer resort hotel, the Navajo Lodge, at Datil, New Mexico located 21 miles from Pie Town was taken around the same time. The remarkable Navajo rug collection there was undoubtedly the focus of his attention. Both images are from the year 1940.

Images from the Library of Congress

Friday, June 25, 2010

A Ceramic Greenware Lizard from Acoma

Sandy and I first met Lilly Salvador, a celebrated potter of Acoma, at a Native American art show in Santa Fe, New Mexico this year. She has a delightfully quaint little studio house across the street from the very modern Acoma cultural visitor center that sits just beyond shadow range below the ancient pueblo settlement now commonly referred to as Sky City. Francisco Vaquez de Coronado's army visited Acoma in the year 1540 when he and his soldiers became the first Europeans to enter the adobe village. He recorded, "One of the strongest ever seen, because the city was built on a high rock. The ascent was so difficult that we repented climbing to the top. The houses are three and four stories high. The people are of the same type as those in the province of Cibola (Zuni) and they have abundant supplies of maize, beans and turkeys like those of New Spain."

We had agreed to buy one of Lilly's pottery necklaces in progress when and subsequently made two trips to her home studio to fetch the completed work. Both times we failed to catch her, but one trip we salvaged in fun by pleasurable dining at the visitor center restaurant and by taking the guided tour of Sky City. However, we repented one trip for it is a long looping asphalt diversion from the Interstate. Last Saturday we finally caught up with Lilly at the Dancing Eagle Casino Art and Music Festival. Besides securing our much anticipated pottery necklace, we also bought the handsome pottery lizard pictured above. She crafted it from commercial greenware and mold. This divergence from tradition began in the 1980’s when some pueblo potters began to use commercial greenware and mold to make their pottery. These newer methods help meet demand, lower prices as compared to traditional pottery creations, and have been accepted by respected dealers and discriminating buyers. Lilly told me this 10x7 inch lizard would be priced about 5 fold greater or approximately $325, had she created it in the time honored ways of her ancestors.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Sandy's Storage Unit Treasure Discovery

I do not specifically remember purchasing this ten inch clown kachina by Hopi carver Hugh Smith, Jr. in the year 1979 from the Hubbell Trading post for what now seems a very bargain price of $80, but its origin and price are clearly marked under the tree stump. Sandy located it in an old packing box in her recent clean out of our storage unit. He wears a metal bracelet on his right hand and a mollusk and leather bowguard. I was most intrigued by the wrapped blanket bundle under his left arm. This little textile discovery has prompted me to begin researching Hopi textile history; relevant blogs are sure to follow.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Navajo Blankets, Friends, and Ponies

click to enlarge
Early 1900's by William Pennington
Western History/Genealogy Department, Denver Public Library

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Cave Real Estate on the Navajo Reservation

This cave front property is located only a short walk from the red mesa property shown in the last blog. These caves are easily accessible from the road. They appear to have been ravaged by time and pillage. Again, no rug or jewelry acquisitions, but interesting scenery made the day.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Navajo Real Estate

Sandy and I went traveling through reservation land in Arizona one day last week in search of Navajo rugs. We had a dry run, but we did get a shot of this eye-catching red mesa front property. I'm always looking for traditional pentagonal hogans and I see many, but most are not picturesque and many are abandoned. This home is typical of modern reservation housing.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Rug Weaver at Her Loom in 1873

click to enlarge
This stereo image by Timothy O'Sullivan was taken during an expedition authorized by the United States Congress for the purpose of mapping that portion of the nation west of the 100th Meredian. O'Sullivan, who first gained prominence for his images taken during the Civil War, was the official trip photographer for the ambitious exploratory survey under the supervision of George M. Wheeler. O'Sullivan's images are among the first ever to reveal the landscapes and inhabitants of Navajo country.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Pottery Bolo

I bought the picutured pottery bolo, the first I have ever encountered, in the gymnasium hallway at the Crownpoint Rug Auction last week. Marilyn Ray, one of the famed five sister potters of Acoma, made the eye catching clay gem. Price $59.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Navajo Rugs & Blankets & Children

Western History/Genealogy Department, Denver Public Library
[between 1904 and 1932].

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Navajo Rug Design Beadwork Necklaces

Two Grey Hills, Ganado Red, Wild Horses, Tree of Life, Burntwater
click for detail

Navajo Dennison Billy of Arizona created these beautiful beaded necklaces based on well known rug patterns. I bought them on the recent grip to the Crownpoint Rug Auction. Price $179 each with matching earrings.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Good Rugs at Navajo Summer Hogan

The first Spanish record of Navajo weaving dates to 1706 when the Governor of New Mexico at the time, Don Francisco Cuervo y Valdez wrote of the Navajo, "They make their clothes of wool and cotton, sowing the latter and obtaining the former from the flocks which they raise." The oldest Navajo weavings that can be dated with certainity are from 1805. The image above was taken between 1910 and 1920.

Photo credit: Western History/Genealogy Department, Denver Public Library

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Crownpoint Auction Rugs

Deanna Todechine
24 x 36 inches

Annette Bahe
34 x 54 inches

Rita Attekeii
Smoke Signals
28 x 40 inches

Linda Howe
Two Grey Hills
13 x 16 inches

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Beauty of the Navajo Loom

The Navaho-land blanket looms are in evidence everywhere. In the winter months they are set up in the hogans, but during the summer they are erected outdoors under an improvised shelter, or, as in this case, beneath a tree. The simplicity of the loom and its product are here clearly shown, pictured in the early morning light under a large cottonwood.

Original photogravure produced in Boston by John Andrew & Son, c1904. / Northwestern University Library, Edward S. Curtis's 'The North American Indian': the Photographic Images, 2001

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Crownpoint Navajo Rug Auction

About 3pm or a little before, food vendors start igniting their fires and Navajo weavers begin queuing up to register their rugs at the Crownpoint Elementary School House each month on rug auction Friday. Buyers need not arrive before 4pm; that's when the rug viewing officially starts and bidder card numbers are set out for pickup. Since there are no restaurants or lodging facilities in Crownpoint, it is a good idea to pack a picnic lunch or better still to just chomp down on some hearty Navajo quick cuisine from one of the several food booths located on the school grounds near the entrance to the auction. Sandy and I selected our sustaining supper from the Navajo family that offered the menu shown here. We found the burger a bit lacking, but the warm fry bread was highly refreshing.

Happily enough, the school gymnasium hallway was packed with Native art products. We bought one artist's entire table of magnificent rug-design beaded necklaces. And we were delighted to meet up once again with Marilyn Ray, a renowned Acoma potter who specializes in traditional handmade Acoma storyteller creations. Sandy insisted on collecting the storyteller pony (price $500). It was actually made by Marilyn Ray's sister, Judy Lewis. They are two of five close Acoma sisters all of whom produce pottery in the traditional manner of their ancestors without resort to modern shortcuts such as employing the use of commercial paints and pigments or electric kilns. Instead, they dot their palettes with their own color formulations derived from local natural products and they fire their pottery in outdoor pits fueled with sheep, cow, or horse manure unlike many modern day Pueblo pottery artists who now rely on the electric kiln and commercial paints. Around 7:10 the auction began and continued for the next two and one-half hours. It took us two trips to haul our rugs to the car, but we were finally on our way by 10pm for the 60 mile trip home back to Gallup. We yearn to return.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Allure of Tʼiistsʼóóz Ńdeeshgizh

Roadway into Crownpoint
Tʼiistsʼóóz Ńdeeshgizh is a census-designated place on the East side of the Navajo Nation. This community commonly known as Crownpoint, New Mexico is not photogenic, but the surrounding landscape vistas delight the eye in raw and primitive beauty. With the exception of the second Friday of each month, Crownpoint is rarely a point of destination for outsiders. Since 1968, the Crownpoint Rug Weaver's Association has hosted one of New Mexico's grand cultural events, the Friday night Navajo rug auction which attracts bidders from around the world who converge with weavers throughout the Navajo Nation in the Crownpoint elementary school gymnasium. Buyers have the opportunity to purchase rugs via auction directly from weavers who receive 85% of their rug's selling price payable immediately on completion of the auction. Sandy and I attended for the first time tonight. Our joy of participation is now visibly manifest as 27 rugs strewn about our living room and we are already contemplating return trips.

Cave-studded sandstone mountain landscape near Crownpoint

The Natural Fiber Art of Two Grey Hills

These two trading post signs along the two lane highway 491 (formerly 666) mark the turnoff to an unforgettable and very unique world class shopping experience. This remote, rugged, and hostile appearing desert area of the Navajo Nation is the birth place of the much celebrated Two Grey Hill rug. These were first woven in the early 1900s, and are now internationally recognized as the pinnacle of the art of Navajo weaving. There are several well recognized regionally based classification of Navajo rugs, examples include, the Klatogh, Wide Ruins, Ganado, Hubbell, and Chinle styles. But the Two Grey Hills rugs are commonly distinguished as the Cadillac. Two Grey Hills rugs are available throughout the Southwest and in high end outlets throughout the world, but there is no better place to buy one of these than at the two old historic trading posts long grounded in the Two Grey Hills landscape. Both are charming and are run by dedicated trader-owners. The posts are very contrasting, but complimentary. Both proprietors deserve credit for keeping the art and tradition alive and well. The Toadlena unit has a marvelous museum display that pulls in heavy traffic and tour buses. A visit to the region is not complete without a stop at both places and the acquisition of at least one rug. They range in price from around $50 for a small work then steeply upward well into the five figure price range for the large rugs or very tightly woven supreme quality tapestries.

Churro sheep graze free range over field and road in this area of sun parched austere pasture, sandstone mesas, and massive rock formations, but the land gives way to some seasonally green bear and elk country which begins in the foothills of the background Chuska Mountain range where the Toadlena Trading Post is located.

The lush grey rug wool from this Churro sheep has already been harvested for this year.

We concluded our own purchase pondering with the acquisition of this Two Grey Hills classic rug by master weaver Helen Begay. The 19 x 28 inch rug was completed in February of this year. Price $395.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Where Does The American West Begin?

Just where does the American West begin? Several cities lay claim, but none so tenaciously as Fort Worth, Texas. For them the pivotal point is their own cultural bull's eye--the city's much prized historic stockyard. I prefer the spot identification that award-winning American author Tony Hillerman (1925-2008) pinned in his own hand, now preserved in a plastic sheath on location.

The Two Grey Hills Trading post is authentic, one of the few remaining on the reservation. The post was established in 1897 and has passed through a series of owners. Les Wilson, the present owner, moved to the Navajo reservation from San Diego right after high school graduation to fulfill his ambition of becoming a trader. Sandy and I met Les and his wife Irma about a decade ago. For awhile Sandy made several long trips back to the area where Irma and a few of the area of weavers taught her to spin the wool sheared from their prized Churro sheep. Much to our disappointment both Les & his wife were out today, but we consoled ourselves by purchasing a Two Grey Hills Rug, one of the world's most coveted textiles, from his vault. We concluded our work day with an a la carte picnic of savory mutton ribs, 2 each, from T&R Market just outside of Gallup.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Silver Stars at Window Rock

Today, Sandy and I attended the Silver Stars exhibit at the Navajo Nation Museum in Window Rock, Arizona. The gallery show featured sample works of some of the most elite Navajo Silversmiths. Most of the jewelry represented was created by living artists. One notable exception was Harry Morgan who died in 2007. He was a highly respected fifth-generation silversmith who was credited at the exhibit for the revival of the classic old style Navajo jewelry in the 1970's when bright shiny Navajo pieces dominated the market. The show was purely exhibit, no sales. I took this picture of the well known giant Window Rock sandstone landmark before heading deep into the reservation to buy a new rug at Two Grey Hills.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Dry Run to Acoma Pueblo

Sandy and I traveled to the Acoma Pueblo for a second time in the past three weeks to buy a pottery necklace we agreed to purchase when finished. But alas, the famed potter who has probably completed the piece by now was once again not to be found at her home. This visit, however, we took time to ascend the 357 very vertical feet to the top of the Sky City mesa to explore with a tour guide. The inhabitants of this ancient village, continuously occupied since the 12th century or earlier, have no running water. Some is collected in natural cisterns, but the rest is carried up nowadays mostly in plastic water bottles. The image below shows a parched natural cistern. I was attracted to the cracked mud in the middle lower section. Perhaps I can return in the tadpole season, only two months away, to compose a comforting wet view.

(click for enlargement)

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Jewelry at Canyon Overlook

As I regularly scour the Southwest in search of Native American arts to collect and for images worth recording, I often reflect historically on the century old words of legendary Santa Fe merchant J.S. Candelario who wrote in one of his catalogs, "Owing to the well known fact that the Indian goods will soon be a thing of the past, as the new generations are adopting our habits and abandoning those of their ancestors..."

It is very hard to predict what changes the next 100 years will bring, but what I recorded today on a lovely picnic outing to Canyon de Chelly suggests that in some respects times aren't a changing that much. I could not resist presenting this canyon view overlook photograph of a tidy beaded jewelry and sandstone art display in the Edward S. Curtis way. (click for enlargement)

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Chess Knight Sterling Silver Bolo

Here is the highly anticipated shiny sterling silver Paladin knight I first wrote about in this blog on Sunday, May 9, 2010. It was released from the buffer's rugged hands this afternoon. Navajo Eloise Kee was the master silversmith.

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Charm of Acoma Pottery

I usually turn a blind eye to pottery as I just glide by inhibited by tunnel vision, but ready to fixate on prize-worthy Native American jewelry. Last weekend was different, I was attracted to the pottery matrons of Acoma Pueblo who were showing their pottery shard necklaces at the Native Treasure Art show in Santa Fe. I bought several of the necklaces but in the process of exchange they charmed me into what I now fear will be a new life of unquenchable lust for Acoma pottery created from local Earthen clay by the very same primitive and unaltered methods of their ancestors. The great photographic artist Edward Curtis must have felt moved in a similar way in his travels to visit the Acoma women. I wish I could express the same in masterful picture as he did more than a century ago.

At the Old Well of Acoma

Northwestern University Library, Edward S. Curtis's 'The North American Indian': the Photographic Images, 2001.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Conspicuous Jewelry by Edward S. Curtis

The North American Indian is the 20 volume culmination of Edward Sheriff Curtis' (1868-1952) epic life work. It features 2,200 photogravures. Curtis cast the American Indian in stylized romantic fashion which set the stereotypes and popular notions of his day in America. His entire monolithic portfolio started in the 1890's and continued over 30 years includes more than 40,000 images. The photographs are generally praised as art works of beauty and for technical expertise, but his work has been roundly criticized for decades especially by ethnologists, historians, and other serious academics. His subjects were frequently outfitted with inaccurate or mingled tribal clothing and idealized accouterments. Anachronistic elements were strictly avoided. These embellishments and historical distortions give the impression of past days of Native American glory when in fact, the American Indian of that era was very often defeated, marginalized, and left to live in squalor with loss of freedom and dignity.

Note how the Zuni girl below is poised to show her excessive jewelry in overt exaggeration.

Northwestern University Library, Edward S. Curtis's 'The North American Indian': the Photographic Images, 2001.

As a connoisseur of ethnic jewelry, I can appreciate the body adornments and physical beauty of his Zuni subject, but it does leave me uncomfortable as an overall false and staged portrayal. In contrast, look below at his sensitive 1905 rendition of the heavily wrinkled Apache Geronimo. It's a classic portrait of this legendary man near the end of his seemingly impossible life. I chose the image to illustrate one of Edward Sheriff's Curitis' many gifts of legacy to posterity. I think it is beyond criticism.

Northwestern University Library, Edward S. Curtis's 'The North American Indian': the Photographic Images, 2001.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Marilyn Ray, Potter of Acoma

Marilyn Ray is an acclaimed pottery maker from the Pueblo of Acoma who specializes in storyteller figurines. I was happy to see that her clay creations extend into the realm of wearable art. The reversible pendant pictured above is created from Acoma clay and is processed in the same way as her elaborate storyteller figurines. I am excited about exploirng this arena of Native American jewelry which is all new to me. Acoma, here I come!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Silversmith's Daughter

This catalog is typical of those distributed in the 1930's. The copying of Indian Jewelry has been problematic for Native Americans for over a century. Today the anxiety and legal actions have if anything increased despite laws designed to help protect the livelihood of Native American artists. Even though the cover image is deceptive, I have to give the Arrow Novelty Co. some minor credit for honestly calling their machine manufactured jewelry, "Indian Design." The introduction to this catalogue reads:

Coin Silver Jewelry

We present this catalogue to our customers in the hope it will help stimulate the sale of this popular line of Indian design Silver Jewelry, which is strictly American in idea, design and manufacture. It is made of 900 fine silver--the same compositon of metal as used in coining American Silver Dollars.

Most of the jewelry in this wholesale catalogue is sold by the dozen lot. Simple stamped bracelets were marketed to dealers for as little as $6.00 per dozen.

The Silversmith's Daughter picture that graces the brochure is actually printed backward. Her jewelry, unlike that in the catalogue, is authentic Native American. A colorized commerical post of her image is available for sale through

Silversmith’s Daughter January 1920 by JR Willis, Library of Congress, Photo Lot 59, LOC, Small Mounts, Tribe Id, Navaho, People Unid, 1 03275400, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution

Monday, May 24, 2010

Grandeur of the Artists' Land #1

On researching the late 1880 to 1901 work of my photo forefather Ben Wittick, I came across an image he took of Churchrock on Navajoland. I learned I will need to take a short hike to get into his actual Kodak feet for a similar image. Circumstances did not allow me time today. Instead, I settled for this nearby image just an hour ago.


Ben Wittick's Studio Jewelry & Pottery

I am cognizant of the historical importance of Edward Sheriff Curtis' voluminous body of work and the contributions of other pioneering frontier photographers like Adam Clark Vorman, John Grabill, and Camillus "Buck” Sidney Fly. Nonetheless, I think of Ben Wittick (1845-1903) as the finest of all the early photographers whose work documented Western Native Americans widely perceived as inexorably disappearing from the landscape under the relentless expansion of a new dominant American culture. Ben Wittick had a photography studio in Gallup, New Mexico in the late 1880's which he later moved as his last studio operation 15 miles East to Ft. Wingate. Much of his work was done in the studio where he used props liberally. These included, painted backgrounds, regional plants, guns, pottery, and jewelry especially concho belts and naja necklaces. The image here is of the Navajo Woman, Old Washie (Credit Ben Wittick Collection Laboratory of Anthropology, Inc. Santa Fe, New Mexico). Ben Wittick had a special affinity for the Hopi Indians. He was the first known photographer to take images of the Hopi snake dances. He died in 1903 from a rattlesnake bite while collecting rattlesnakes for his Hopi friends. Many Americans do not know the Ben Wittick name, but most will recognize one of his most famous images taken in 1887, Geronimo!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Native Treasures: Indian Arts Festival 2010

photo by Carol Franco
Today Sandy and I experienced the joy of attending Santa Fe's only museum-quality Indian Arts Festival. More than 180 of the best in the Native American Art world were gathered in the comfort of the Santa Fe Convention Center. The work was simply stellar throughout the exhibit room. It would have taken at least a couple of hundred thousand dollars to satisfy my inventory acquisition desire. I had to settle for much less, but the satisfaction of meeting new artists and seeing new creations kept things in balance. This show was the 6th since inception. The show benefits the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture; 25% of each sale goes to the Museum’s programs. I had a particular focus on the pottery-jewelry connection and I will have more to write on the subject, but for now I'd like to bring reader's attention to the work of Laguna Pueblo silversmith Mark Stevens. He honors the art of the past through his contemporary jewelry creations. He collects local Anasazi pottery shards which he then uses to create replica silver jewelry pieces before returning the shards to their place of ancient rest.

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Nugget Gallery - Gallup, New Mexico

Gallup, New Mexico is the undisputed trading hub of the Native American Arts Industry. In our small city of less than 25,000 residents Native American jewelry stores are so plentiful they can be counted by the dozen. The Nugget Gallery is one that stands apart in distinction and place a couple of miles off the beaten path of heavily store lined Old Route 66. To find the Nugget Gallery go South on 2nd street until you see the store sign on the right of the road. The store is densely packed with Native American treasures of all sorts. Whenever I visit I'm delightfully reminded of an 1880 interior image of Jakes Gold's legendary Old Curio Shop in Santa Fe, N.M. The Nugget Gallery has a scattered array of vintage and new Native American Jewelry, a wide selection of old and new pottery, Pendleton blankets, historic Native American clothing, a fabulous collection of Zuni and Hopi Kachinas, and much more to discover. The owners know their business and the artists very well. And they know how to coddle the store dog who loves resting on his own Chief Joseph Pendleton blankets.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A Simple & Elegantly Beautiful Squash Blossom Necklace

I found the elegant beauty of this old pawn necklace of sterling silver and mother of pearl enticing and irresistible. I could not find any name connection with the hallmark HBC and I have no idea of the era in which it was hand forged and set with the dazzling white gift of mollusk. This is an unmistakable treasure and appropriate for formal wear in the Southwest, but the appeal is timeless and universal. Price $450.

Cut, Hammer, File

This is an impressive 1915 image by William J. Carpenter of an early Navajo Silversmith at work in his hogan. Click for an enlargement and note his tools, horse tack, hat, blanket, and the coins which were used as a smith's primary source of silver in those days. As I have stood and watched notable modern day silversmiths like Ella Kee and Calvin Begay fashion new designs from silver, I have often thought of this historic reference image and noted that not much has changed in the past 100 years. Sure they have now have good vices, a full anvil, stool and workbench, and steady music from their radios, but it's still mostly cut, hammer, and file by hand in the old fashion Navajo way.