Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Perfect Navajo Collection

Every collector wants to have the best things available within their particular budget. And every collector has their own idea of what the "best" really is. We have our own ideas, of course, and thought it might be interesting for readers to see what the talking heads at Turkey Mountain Traders consider to be the components to as near a perfect collection of Navajo Indian jewelry as finances will allow.


FIRST PHASE BELT--A really fine First Phase concho belt is the cornerstone of every major collection. Even if it isn't worn, it can be hung on a wall to serve as a piece of great art. And if the money allows for a great Second Phase as well, even better.

CLASSIC SQUASH BLOSSOM NECKLACE--Any really high quality piece from the pre-1920 era will work. With stones or without is not as important as the overall quality of the piece.

TURQUOISE NECKLACE--The original Indian jewelry. An old tab necklace with pump-drilled stones is hard to find, but well worth the effort.

CLASSIC BRACELETS--optimally, an all-silver with repousse would be included, as would one with a turquoise-set plate on a band. And a really fine row bracelet, because it is such an important form.

RING--here, it is a personal choice. It is far more important to have one you like that fits well than to have something "important and great" that you hate wearing.

OLD EARRINGS--Old Navajo earrings are rare, but a pair of pyroform drops, hoop-and-balls or pierced crescents should be in there. If you prefer and aren't as much of a purist as to origin, a great pair of Pueblo wirework earrings would be fine.

OTHER THINGS--important but rare objects such as manta pins, headstalls, outstanding buttons and early silver boxes are things that might never be worn, but they tell a great story about the development of the art. Plus, they're a lot of fun to look at.


A STONE SQUASH BLOSSOM NECKLACE--One thing about pieces made in the 1930s, 40s and 50s is that the turquoise is often superior to that found in earlier pieces. Many of the highly important classic mines were opened or became commercially viable in that era, and pieces with incredible Blue Gem, #8 and Bisbee turquoise can be found. You can also find 1970s pieces with amazing turquoise, but be careful to find pieces where the quality of the silverwork is also high (such as Carl Luthy studio pieces).

A PINE SPRINGS SANDCAST PIECE (probably a bracelet)--The silversmiths working near Pine Springs, Arizona in the 1925-50 period produced some of the finest cast pieces ever made on the reservation. John Adair went to Pine Springs to watch people like Tom Burnsides and Charlie Houck work, and in his incomparably valuable book on Indian silversmiths commented on the quality of the sandcasting done there.

A GREAT CLUSTER BRACELET--we're kind of cheating here, because the best ones were Zuni made, but the Navajo are known to wear them at every fancy dress opportunity.

A FRED HARVEY BRACELET--they are not major pieces, but to have a Navajo collection without a tourist trade piece would be ignoring the thousands of smiths who made them. Some of them, especially the ones with petrified wood, are actually quite nice.

EARLY SIGNED PIECES--Navajo smiths started hallmarking in the 1930s, and pieces by Fred Peshlakai, Austin Wilson and Ambrose Roanhorse are both important and incredibly well-done.

MODERNIST PIECES--by which we are mainly talking about White Hogan and Navajo Guild pieces from the 1940s and 1950s. The all-silver pieces done by the Guild are supremely elegant, and the White Hogan work of Kenneth Begay and the Kee brothers has been discussed at length in every study of the art.


THE BIG GUNS--modern Indian jewelry is very much name-driven. The finest jewelers have established their own styles, and can charge a premium for their work (especially if they work in gold). The absolute top of the ladder is occupied by people like Lee Yazzie, Raymond Yazzie, Vernon Haskie, James Little, Perry Shorty and Ric Charlie. There are other smiths doing very fine work, but those are some of the people who are more likely to be the big names people want in 30 or 40 years.