Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Final Piece of the Month for 2010

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water--the Piece of the Month is back.
This is a bracelet that I've been dying to feature for quite a while, because it has some things that require careful study (and detailed photos).

This is B TD/22, which on the surface is a very fine example of a Navajo row bracelet on twisted wire, circa 1920. It has excellent weight (84 grams, which as those of you who have read the latest Steve's Insider Info already know is a good weight for a piece from this era).
The stones are slightly domed cabs, not as high as you usually see in pieces from the 1920s. In fact, some of the stones look more like the nearly flat ones seen on pieces from circa 1910. And when you look closely, there is something else:

If you look carefully at the circled stones, you can see that they seem to have bezels within bezels. The outer bezels are relatively smooth, while the inner ones are serrated.

In all, 5 of the 9 stones have this double bezel. Technically, there is no reason for the smith to have done this--unless he was using previously set stones from an earlier piece. It is a great example of Navajo recycling, where an earlier item would be re-used in another way. It happens with turquoise beads set into bracelets or rings, and here it looks like stones were taken from an earlier bracelet and re-set on to this one.

Maybe the original bracelet broke beyond repair, or maybe the smith just needed the stones to complete this bracelet and didn't like the look of the earlier piece. Whatever the case, it makes this one of the more interesting bracelets we have ever owned.

The inside size is 5 7/8" with a 1" opening. It wears small, because it is shaped more round than other bracelets, but it can be re-shaped to fit. It would fit into any collection, because it is both a great example of the type and highly unusual. The special New Year's price is $1750.

We love talking about interesting pieces, so please give us a call with any questions.

Monday, December 13, 2010

A Holiday look

I usually take this space to highlight new acquisitions and share some of our knowledge and opinions about old Indian art, but this time I thought it might be good to actually introduce ourselves to those of you who haven't actually met us. We've had the opportunity to speak with most of our clients, but there are some people that know us from the website and our email address, so I'd just like to put a face on the names for you.

This is Max. He's 14, and lives with Tom and Deborah.
And here is Lily, who is 16 and lives with Steve and his family. Steve's other two dogs, Jasper and Riley, don't usually come to the gallery, but Max and Lily can be found there on most days hunting down chewy treats and keeping everyone safe from tennis balls.
These are the illustrious co-founders of TMT, Tom and Deborah Begner. We got this photo in one take.

And here's Steve Begner, the one responsible for the website and this blog. This was not the first take for this picture, and photo editing was used heavily.
From all of us at Turkey Mountain Traders, Happy Holidays and a joyful and prosperous New Year. The next blog post will have things rather than people, we promise.

Friday, December 10, 2010

To Chee or Not to Chee

Sorry about the title. Now that I've gotten that out of my system, I'll be okay.

Among serious collectors of American Indian silver, few artists bring out such opposite reactions as Mark Chee. Those who love him point to his incredibly solid silverwork and bold styling, as well as the outstanding turquoise he normally would use. Those who aren't so crazy about him call his pieces overly heavy, and point to some of his pieces that are, shall we say, not quite so successful from an artistic point of view. He was prone to bad days at the bench, certainly, so all of his pieces were definitely not created equal.

Still, when he had his A game working, he was an extremely skillful smith who used some of the best turquoise and thickest silver available. His preference for leaving the turquoise in more natural shapes is quite different from the finely shaped stones used by people like Peshlakai, and the sheer carat weight of his stones was far beyond that of any other prominent smith of his day.

Here is a bracelet that shows all that is good about Chee's work:

Our gram scale tops out at 120 grams, and this piece is heavier than that. I would guess around 140 grams, which for any other smith would be gargantuan. For Chee, it's about average for one of his row bracelets on tri-wires. The stone is beautifully matrixed Royston with a bluish-green tinge, all five pieces being very nicely matched. It was made somewhere between 1950 and 1975--Chee had a long career, so dating his pieces can be tricky.

The bracelet was a gift from the noted Indian Art dealer Lovena Ohl to a family member as a 16th birthday present almost 30 years ago. Ohl was renowned for her discerning eye for quality, and she certainly upheld her standards with this piece. The stampwork is clean, and the shaping of the stones, while variable, is still very much balanced from side to side.

As always, one of the best things about this bracelet is the hallmark--Chee's typical "fat eagle" hallmark is one of the most distinctive in the business.

Everything there is to love about Chee's work, with none of his defects (except for the heavy weight, which is only bad if you like your bracelets to be feathery and light). The inside size is 5 5/16" with a 1 1/4" opening, so it fits small to medium women's wrists. It is 1 5/8" wide at its widest, and tapers down to 15/16" at the ends. The price is SOLD, and it would be perfect for any collector who is looking for an exemplary piece of his work.

If you have any questions about this piece or Chee's work in general, please give us a call.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

We wish there were more of these in the world, but there aren't.

Today, let's look at one of the most special things we have ever had the privilege of handling. Not the most expensive, certainly, but possibly the rarest.

These are Navajo tab earrings. Turquoise tab earrings are not at all uncommon, though ones of this age (circa 1890-1920) are rare treasures. They are pump-drilled, as can be seen in both photos--the person doing the drilling started on one side and drilled out a conical hole, then turned the stone over and drilled through from the other side. It is much more time-consuming to do it this way than to use an electric drill, which produced an evenly round hole. Very few pump-drilled beads were made after the widespread introduction of power tools after World War II, for obvious reasons. The copper wire wrap was done early (possibly not original, because it is very possible that these tabs started life on a necklace, but definitely original to their use as earrings). The half-dome buttons with the earring posts are recent additions, but the buttons are at least as old as the tabs.

Beyond the age, beauty and size (the tabs are 13/16" long, and the total hanging length of the earrings is 1 1/2"), these are the only old tab earrings we have ever seen that are made of azurite. Azurite is, according to Wikipedia, "a soft, deep blue copper mineral produced by weathering of copper ore deposits." With the profusion of copper deposits in the Southwest, it is understandable that some would end up in Navajo jewelry, and there are contemporary pieces that incorporate this mineral. But historically it is rare, like the garnets that show up (very infrequently) in old pieces. Since it was not mined commercially like turquoise, maybe that can be explained by a simple lack of supply. Whatever the reason, this pair is the only one we have seen.

The provenance is rather nice, as well--they came from the estate of Larry Frank, the well-known collector and author of INDIAN SILVER JEWELRY OF THE SOUTHWEST 1868-1930. Larry was legendary for his dogged pursuit of the rare and important in old Indian silverwork, as anyone who knew him can attest, and these certainly fit the bill. We were very lucky to acquire them, and we offer them with great pride. SOLD.

Please call or email with any questions.