It is generally believed the establishment of the art of silversmithing in the Hopi tribe began with a trader named Sikyatala. The Zuni and Hopi Pueblos had long before established a trade route whose trail covered a 100 miles. Lanyade a Zuni trader and silversmith was thought to have thought Sikyatala how to make silver in the late 1800’s. Given that the two Pueblos had regular trade relations it would not have seemed strange that the art of smithing would have been shared, especially with Sikyatala who was a member of the Mustard Clan which has Zuni associations.
Sikyatala would go on to teach many Hopi men who then would share their knowledge with others. The style of jewelry created by the Hopi smiths would resemble that being made by the Zuni and Navajo peoples. The production of this style of jewelry would continue until the late 1930’s when a new actor would emerge and initiate a new style of Hopi jewelry.
In 1926 Dr Harold Colton and his wife Mary-Russel Colton moved to Flagstaff, Az from Pennsylvania. Dr Colton was a professor of zoology and Mary was a recognized artist having studied and the Philadelphia School of Design for Women.
In 1930 the Coltons established the Hopi Craftsman Exhibit at the Museum of Northern Arizona. This exhibit was created to showcase Hopi artistry and to promote excellence in their work. Early exhibits mainly featured basketry, weaving and pottery.
In 1938, according to letters written by Mrs. Colton, they turned their attention to Hopi jewelry. In letters to the Indian Arts and Crafts Board she suggested that Hopi jewelry must be absolutely unique and in doing so a unique market could be created just for Hopi jewelry.
With this in mind Mrs. Colton had Virgil Hubert of the MNA research historic pottery and basket designs which could be incorporated in to this new style of Hopi jewelry. The designs required the use of many different smithing techniques including appliqué, cutout, filing and stamping.
Mrs. Colton then sent a letter to 18 Hopi silversmiths inviting them to make jewelry utilizing the new techniques and designs on behalf of the museum. While the new style and designs created some trouble with the smiths, the Hopi Craftsman Exhibit of 1939 did contain jewelry of the new Hopi style.
More of the new style jewelry was created between 1939 and 1941 but the advent of World War II delayed the proliferation of the new Hopi style jewelry.
After the end of World War II Fred Kabotie a Hopi silversmith and art teacher arranged an exhibit of Hop Crafts at Shungopavi. This exhibit was attended by Willard Beatty, Director of Indian Education, who knew of the previous encouragement by the MNA. The following day Beatty met with Kabotie and Paul Saufkie and arranged for the G I training programs to sponsor an 18 month silversmithing course for Hopi veterans. The program would pay for the cost of tools, training and living expenses for the veteran and his family.
Classes began in February of 1947 with Paul Saufkie being hired as the technical instructor and Fred Kabotie was the design instructor. The designs suggested by the MNA were used by the trainers but there was also a slew of new designs taken for the large variety available in Hopi culture.
The techniques used to create the jewelry were varied but one particular method was developed that is now thought of as typical “Hopi” in style. Some of the designs suggested by the MNA were created by appliqué which is when a design is cut out and applied to a base of silver. The piece left over could also be used by overlaying it on another base which resulted in Hopi “overlay” jewelry.