Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Jewelry of the Buffalo

I traveled to four different New Mexico Rio Grande pueblos over the past two weekends in pursuit of Native American art works.  To my great joy, two of the Pueblos were conducting their seasonal buffalo dances. Some of he dancers were dressed to represent deer, antelope, and buffalo. Jewelry was plentiful among both the performers and Native American spectators.  The buffalo were cast in a very dark skin paint and equipped with bow and arrow.  Photography was not permitted; nonetheless, the first image below closely approximates the impressive look of buffalo dancers I observed.  I was so fascinated by the whole of the buffalo that I failed to mentally register detail of their ornamental jewelry.

Sia (Zia) Buffalo Dancer
Edward Curtis, 1926

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Chiclets from Santo Domingo Pueblo

The plural of the spoken word chiclet--or chicklet--in the past has for me evoked an image of either a fluffy grouping of baby birds or a cluster of the colorful candy chewing gum formulated from the gum of Manilkara chicle trees. But since my eyes landed on one of Henry Rosetta's chiclet necklaces, forevermore on hearing the term, the jewelry version will leap foremost in my mind.      Henry told me that he started the chiclet necklace, but they are now frequently made by other Santa Domingo Pueblo artisans.  

The Santo Domingo Pueblo is a globally recognized source of exquisite Native American bead jewelry much of it is very similar to the centuries old Anasazi shell and stone jewelry found in Mesa Verde and Chaco Canyon.
Santo Doming Chiclet Necklace and Earrings
Henry Rosetta and his wife's crafting methods reflect ancient jewelry crafting methodology.   They do not use cactus needles and sand to drill holes as was practiced by the Anasazi, but their stone and shell jewelry component beads including the tiny heishi pieces are all hand cut and drilled from raw materials.

Close-up of Chiclets and White Heishi Beads

Monday, February 27, 2012

Washington Matthews-Doctor,Linguist,Ethnographer

Dr. Washington Matthews enlisted in the Union Army after receiving his MD degree from the University of Iowa in 1864.   In the years folllowing the Civil War, he served as an Army surgeon at several Western outposts which included  an assignment to Fort Wingate near present day Gallup, New Mexico.   It was there he published Navajo Silversmiths, Second Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology to the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, 1880-1881.   His monologue stands as the only historical document from that formative era of Navajo smithcraft.   Click below on the plate copied from his work to go to the full text of his very interesting report.
19th Century Navajo Indian with Silver Ornaments

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Stanley Parker, A Luminary Silversmith

Stanley Parker's elegant and exacting sterling silver creations distinguish him as as one of the leading smiths specializing in traditional Navajo style. As illustrated in the piece above, he very often utilizes repousse, a technique in which a metal is shaped by hammering or stamping from the reverse side to create a design in low relief. He is always meticulous in his selection of stones and as is the case shown above, he frequently sets natural Royston turquoise in his work. His handmade chains add additional heritage charm.

Stanley is one of my favorite Navajo artisans. A few years ago I penned a blog about him. He and I once had an interesting exchange in which we shared our mutual concerns about the many talented Navajo silversmiths who work with nickle silver only because they cannot afford to buy silver. Unfortunately, the market for markedly cheaper nickle based silver is very limited, but the work to create is similarly intense and time consuming.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

A Visit with Artisan Potter Ruby Toya

Lizard Motif Vase by Lawrence & Ruby Toya
After attending a ceremonial at the Santa Ana Pueblo today, Sandy and I briefly visited the Zia Pueblo then drove on to the Jemez Pueblo in a hunger fueled quest for Native American traditional food stuffs from one of their roadside park vendor stands.  Our red chile stew and fry bread feast was definitely a great experience, but the highlight of our day was meeting up with Ruby Toya outside the Jemez Pueblo Walatowa Visitor Center.   She told us how she prefers to sell at the Palace of the Governors in Santa Fe and then she explained that if the number of qualified Native American artisans exceed 80,  spaces are awarded on the basis of a lottery draw before 8:00 am.   A lost lottery in her case means a 75 mile turnaround trip home.    Lawrence & Ruby are a husband wife team.  Their excellence pottery qualifies them as vendors to sell at the renowned historic portal of the Palace of the Governors in part by meeting the criteria detailed in Section 12 of the Palace Rules and Regulations:

Section 12. Pottery  
A. All pottery shall be handmade of earth clay from sources on the participant's reservation, and fired using traditional materials. Clay sources other than the participant's reservation may be approved in writing from the Director of the Palace of the Governors.
B. All pottery shall be engraved before firing.
C. All pottery may be hand painted in natural mineral paints, poster paint colors, or bright acrylic color paints.
D. The use of commercial protective sealants on pottery is allowed.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A Wonderous Discovery--Henry's Art

In a preceding blog,  I noted the sign pictured above.   Yesterday, fueled by a lingering curiosity, we cruised  the interstate and then a historic route back road to the land of the Kewa Pueblo (formerly Santo Domingo) Native American people.   Henry Rosetta's home sits just off the old 1926-1937 roadway of iconic Route 66 in the era when it ran through Santa Fe.   Henry and his wife enlightened us on some tidbits of regional Route 66 history which clarified the seemingly strange site placement of the now crumbling aforementioned "Most Interesting Spot" trading post facade which is only a short distance walking distance from their house.   Upon entry into their home time seemed suspended, but we in fact enjoyed almost three hours of visitation while admiring Henry's splendid jewelry.  He treated us to an overview of his methods and workspace.  I was most impressed with the strong reflection of heritage in his stone cutting technique, smithing tools (many of them he forged himself), and raw material supply which included some turquoise harvested years ago from the regional long closed Cerrillos turquoise mine, the oldest in America.   I was most delighted when he showed us two very old hand-operated wood bow drills his parents used to bore holes in turquoise in the days of old.    We concluded our visit with the purchase of two of Henry's jewelry art treasures which I will feature in future blogs.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Cochiti Storytellers

Cochiti Storyteller
by Johnna Herrera

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Most Interesting Spot

Sandy and I attended the beautiful Buffalo dances at the Cochiti Pueblo here in New Mexico this afternoon, a visit that will no doubt endure as one of our best memories.   Our primary and successful purpose of visit was to meet a very notable Cochiti silversmith.

On our way home in Santo Domingo Indian territory, I spotted a hand-made advertising directive to a local silversmith.   We went in search, but did not make the connect.   Nonetheless,  I did run across the old ghost curio shop pictured above.

Friday, February 17, 2012

2nd Piece for Wilford's Backroom

Ruddell and his wife Nancy Laconsello were married in 1976 and have since worked as a duo to produce some of the finest jewelry from the Zuni Pueblo.   Their work most often features bird images inlaid in silver.   The pendant above which I chose as the second jewel to go into the vault of Wilford's Backroom is typical.   I formerly had the pleasure of buying freshly minted work from the Ruddells. They would drop by our Gallup home for conversation and exchange over coffee.    Sandy and I very much enjoyed their pleasant company but, our new home in suburban Albuquerque has taken us out of casual visitation range of the Zuni Pueblo.

Hallmark of Ruddell and Nancy Laconcello

Thursday, February 16, 2012

1st Piece for Wilford's Backroom

Artists:  Clayton Tom, inlay / Calvin Begay, silversmith
About a year ago while still in firm resolve not to buy any inventory until I had a plan for launching Wilford's Backroom, I stumbled across this freshly minted, modern Navajo pendant.   The chief attraction to me was the stone of jasper on the bottom which was carefully mined from a large block after much searching and many cuts to obtain a suitable sliver with a linear array needed for the intended effect.   The cut of stone was shaped in rounded thickness to rise 1 to 2 millimeters in repousse fashion.   The meticulous micro-inlay on these pieces takes two to three days.   Each stone fragment is individually cut then cemented with a modern jewelers epoxy.  The stones on this work include, lab opal, jasper, black Acoma jet, and red coral.  The stars are made from end piece slices of sterling silver wire.    The reverse side of this 3 inch pendant is shown below.   Price $1495.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Beargrass, Devil's Claw, & Yucca Basket Art

Tohono O’odham (formerly Papago) basket, Personal Collection, circa 1978 

Sandy and I took a short drive from our home into Santa Fe yesterday for a pleasurable day of enlightenment to see the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture's show entitled "Woven Identities," a magnificent exhibition of North American Indian baskets. I was surprised to learn that a few were designed for cooking by first filling with water then dropping in hot stones. Some baskets served as flexible bags and others as hats. I've always found the super fino Ecuadorian straw Panama hats (starting price $3,000) for sale at the Montechristi Hat Company of Santa Fe interesting; but after today's show, I realize they are simply fashionable woven head baskets. 

The Tohono O’odham basket picutured above was crafted from bear grass coils for the warp, and weft from yucca leaves and black devil’s claw.    All three plants are plentiful in the Sonoran desert.   The 1916 image form the Library of Congress below is undoubtedly staged with the addition of many extra baskets, but the scene is otherwise very much like what Sandy and I found typical when we moved onto the reservation in 1978.  Basketry remains the dominant art form of the Tohono O'odham people.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Sunrise Indian Jewelry is a Gallup based company I often visit. They produce some of the finest jewelry made in the Southwest. Their sublime silver and stone products are crafted by Navajo artisan team work coordination from design to forging, casting, stone cutting, inlay, grinding, buff and polish, then final inspection.    Many of their creations, as they state on their website, "reflect the beauty of our inspiring area landscapes and the bountiful, deeply rooted cultural heritage of area Native Americans."  Since they sell only wholesale, they do not have a retail showroom. In fact, their online gallery of products is password protected primarily as an effort to prevent or at least forestall copy of their innovative works especially by overseas companies.   I might add that sunrise over the Navajo land of Monument Valley as shown above creates one of planet Earth's most unique and spectacular visions.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Wilford is Back

More than a year I stopped blogging herein after turning over Wilford's Trading Post to my son Cheves; however, for the last few months I have sought a mechanism of reentry.   My strategy has been to get involved in a way that augments the original business. Wilford's Backroom is as of today my new cyberspace arena where I'll be promoting Native American artists once again.    Stayed tuned.