Tuesday, September 26, 2017

A memory of the past, in memory of Marti Struever

Back in 1992, when I was a young pup of (your guess here) years, I had a job with the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center in Cortez, Colorado. Being somewhat young and able to carry large quantities of luggage, as well as the proud possessor of a valid drivers' license, my job was to plan and staff trips throughout the Southwest, where we would visit archaeological and cultural areas of interest. To put it bluntly, I was a glorified van driver, but a van driver who had to know a whole bunch about the Indian Southwest, its people and its history. So, a highly educated van driver. Those of you who know me will be nodding vigorously and saying, "Sounds perfect. Just throw in that he needed to eat Cheetos while he drove, and it would be the ideal job." I didn't have to eat Cheetos, actually. I could eat Doritos if I wanted to--but I digress.

One day, during a staff meeting, I was told that I was going to be a driver on a trip called Art and Archaeology, which differed from most of our archaeologically based trips in that the main focus was on visiting living artists at their homes and studios. The main attraction to me was that after months of living on minimum wage, I would get to spend three days in Santa Fe with a Crow Canyon expense account and eat well; a close second was meeting up close and personal with some of the artist whose work I had only seen in books. The trip would be led by a woman named Martha Struever, whom everyone called Marti. She was married to the president of Crow Canyon, and was supposedly one of the big experts in this kind of thing. Sounded good--good art with a knowledgeable guide, and meals that didn't come in a Styrofoam box. A dream gig for me. But then came the kicker: my boss told me that the trip leader, this Marti, had a heart condition and was in delicate health. So, the main part of my job would be to carry all her luggage and make sure she didn't die. Yippee. I could just see it--the company president's wife, who also happened to be a big shot in a major industry in the Southwest, dies on my watch and I don't ever work in the Four Corners again.

It was with more than a little bit of trepidation that I waited at the gate for Marti's airplane to arrive (back when you could still wait at the gate.) Since we had never met, I hoped that my Crow Canyon t-shirt would be enough for her to recognize me, though from what my boss had said I was sure I would recognize her y her wheelchair. Imagine how surprised I was when an impeccably dressed woman strode briskly up to me and introduced herself as Marti, then left me in her wake on the way to gather her luggage (which, by the way, was just as bulky and numerous as I had feared.) Not what I had expected at all--hardly an invalid, though her health form on file at the office had clearly stated her heart trouble.

Over the next week, I was constantly amazed by her knowledge, her energy and her huge circle of friends and colleagues in the Southwest. We zipped from place to place, from Hopi to Kayenta to Farmington to Santa Fe, stopping along the way to meet artists and dealers who all seemed to know Marti as well as their own families. And her delicate heart? No problems at all, partly because I was the one lugging her giant suitcases throughout all of the Four Corners states. In later years, when I got to know Marti as a colleague and friend, I often thought of asking her if she had brought along extra stuff because she knew someone else would be carrying it, though I never did. But I did often remind her of her "delicate" condition on that trip, and we had a good laugh about it.

We got the news this morning that Marti had passed away, and were saddened to hear it. But we, as everyone else who knew her, should be glad that she lived her life the way we all should--doing what we love with interesting and talented people at our side, even if they are only talented at eating Cheetos and driving a van. And carrying heavy luggage. Thank you for everything, Marti, and rest in peace.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

In Praise of the Humble Bezel

When looking at the kind of jewelry we all love, historic American Indian silverwork, it would be hard to overstate the importance of the bezel in dating a piece. Bezels, which are technically silver strips wrapped around a stone to hold it in place on a silver base, have changed quite a bit over time, as the tools, materials and techniques available to silversmiths have become more and more advanced.

Early on, the big problem facing Indian silversmiths was how to encircle a stone at an angle without folding the thin silver of the bezel. (Imagine wrapping a strip of paper around an orange without there being gaps or folds--try it sometime! It is basically impossible.) To solve this problem, early smiths would usually crimp or notch the silver, which looked something like this (circa 1900):

Later, some smiths would notch the silver all the way around the stone, creating what we call a sawtooth bezel (circa 1915).

As you can see, this neatly solved the problem of having the thin silver fold over or form gaps. And the visual effect was quite interesting, so much so that some smiths continued to use the sawtooth bezel well into the 1940s, after it was no longer necessary. Here is a ring with a sawtooth bezel from the 1930s.

To make a smooth bezel before 1920 was a real challenge, but could be done if the stone had a high dome and the silver was left somewhat thick. Here is an example from circa 1915:

You can see that the bezels are not perfectly smooth, but considering the early date, the smith did as good a job as he possibly could have managed.

By 1935, the introduction of commercially made bezels had made smooth bezels possible, though it would be some time before smiths in the Southwest were universally able to manipulate them with near-perfect dexterity. Here is a ring with what are probably early commercial bezels--note that they are not perfectly done (circa 1925-30):

And finally, when the use of commercial bezels became the rule rather than the exception, a smooth bezel that was just about perfect was not only possible, but commonplace. Here is an example by Fred Peshlakai from circa 1950:

The moral of the story is, know your bezels. They can be your best friend in dating older Southwest Indian silverwork.