Native American jewelry is renowned worldwide for its unique style and distinctive designs. Crafted by indigenous artisans for many thousands of years, the jewelry of the Native Americans is influenced by the land, the spiritual beliefs, the legends, and the cultures of each unique nation, from the American Indians of the Southwest to those in the Northeast. These jewelry pieces have been crafted since the earliest times of the Inca, Aztecs, Maya, and Anasazi. Continue reading
Turquoise is a semi-precious stone that has been held in high esteem for thousands of years, as a talisman and a holy stone, by everyone from the Ancient Egyptians to the ancient Persian Empire. It is described in the Old Testament of the Holy Bible. Europeans associated the stone with protection for horses and riders. But it perhaps has no greater association than that it shares with the Native American peoples, for whom it is sacred, particularly for those of the US Southwest. This is why it is so popular in Native American art and Native American turquoise jewelry. Continue reading
For many westerners, when we think of Native Americans and their culture, from Native American jewelry to the Hollywood-driven stereotypes of peace pipes and teepees, we may think of them as American Indians. This term is considered to be politically-incorrect by some, while others readily accept the term “American Indian”. It’s important to understand the correct terms for these unique diverse, and beautiful peoples. It is an issue not only for how non-Native-Americans refer to First Nations peoples but also how they describe themselves. Continue reading
Phase 2 or the second period of Navajo silversmithing is generally thought of as being between 1910 -1940. This period is characterized by the exertion of outside forces such as commercialization, exploitation and economics almost dealing a death blow to the Navajo traditions. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
Scholars have defined the distinct eras of Navajo Jewelry production by the techniques used and the style of jewelry created by the Navajo silversmiths. First Phase Navajo jewelry has been defined as that which was produced between 1850 and 1910. Continue reading
While there exists no known written record of the emergence of native silversmithing in the US southwest it is generally believed to have been sometime after 1850. In 1854 at Fort Defiance, agent Dodge hired George Carter, a blacksmith, and Juan Anaya as an assistant, a Mexican silversmith to teach the local Navajos the art of metal smithing. While records show they produced bridles, bridle bits, rings and etc., it should not be forgotten that a Mexican silversmith was an assistant to George Carter.
The Navajos were clearly making some items of silver jewelry by the early 1850’s. Several drawings exist showing Pueblo and Navajo wearing silver buttons on their pants as decoration. Written descriptions of Navajo dress also include leather belts with silver ovals attached.
The Navajo continued their almost constant raiding of the Rio Grande valley during the early 1860’s. The raiding had provided them with livestock, slaves and European ornaments. This raiding resulted in the Navajo campaign circa 1863-1864 which was led by Kit Carson. The Carson led campaign destroyed crops and orchards until they were able to defeat the Navajo and march them to Bosque Redondo. Located in southeast New Mexico near Fort Sumner Bosque Redondo was to be the Navajos home until 1868.
During their time at Bosque Redondo the Navajo appear to have honed their silver working skills. Some of the Navajo who were being instructed in metal working during this time apparently picked up the ability to make stamps and dies. The government used to issue metal ration tags which controlled the amount of food distributed. History indicates that the Navajo smiths were able to counterfeit the ration tags resulting in the government issuing cardboard ones instead.
By the time the Navajo returned to their reservation in 1868 they possessed a growing skill in silver smithing. Having learned to make stamps and dies they began to duplicate on silver the patterns seen in Mexican leather work. Those that worked for the government began to demand their pay in silver, which was later turned into items of decoration.
By 1880 silver smithing was pervasive throughout the Navajo reservation. Federal agents had encouraged the process by providing smithing tools and encouraging the sharing of techniques. Herding sheep, making blankets and silver smithing provided the Navajo with a reasonable economic foundation going forward. To be continued,,,,,