Sunday, August 1, 2021

A Final Word on August Shows, and Another Reason to Come to Santa Fe

 Here we are in August, and our show schedule has been finalized.  There is no mask mandate in Santa Fe at the moment, and things are looking pretty good here.  So, here is the schedule:

Whitehawk Show:

Friday, August 13th
6pm – 9pm
Tickets $50.00 per person

Saturday, Aug. 14th – Monday, Aug. 16th
10am – 5pm Daily
Tickets $15.00 per day or $25.00 for Run of Show

One thing that is different this year is that there is no dinner associated with the opening night preview, which is really too bad.  But still, it is a great opportunity to get a look at the show before the regular crowd arrives.  Turkey Mountain Traders will be in a new and bigger booth this year, directly to the left of the front door as you enter.  Our selection of jewelry, textiles and other surprises is as strong this year as it has ever been, so please check us out!

Native Treasures Show at the Eldorado Hotel:

Thursday, August 19th to Sunday, August 22nd, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

For those who have not been to this show, it is definitely a must-see.  And the price is right, since admittance is free!  The show is indoors and air-conditioned, which makes it a very pleasant place to be on some of those hot August days.  The show is slanted towards jewelry, though there are plenty of other works of art to be found there.  Our booth is in the back right-hand corner, the same place we were in 2019.

If you arrive in town before Whitehawk and would like a private showing, Turkey Mountain Traders is available for private appointments on the 10th and 11th at our townhouse, located a short drive from the Plaza.  Call us at (480) 423-8777 or (602) 819-5758 for your appointment.


For those of us who love old Native American silverwork, there is a great new exhibition at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture (MIAC) on Museum Hill.  It is a collection of silverwork, mostly Navajo, that was purchased by former curator H. P. Mera on a trip through Indian Country in 1932.  Everything dates prior to 1932  (obviously) and it is fascinating to examine the various techniques and styles that were being used at the time.  For example, the amount of commercial silver for bezels that was available at the time was much greater than many people currently think, and Persian turquoise was also more heavily used in the 1920s than we thought.  All in all, some extraordinary pieces with fantastic provenance.  No catalog, unfortunately.  The show is well worth a special trip up the hill to MIAC when you are in town, both for the beauty of the pieces and the information they can offer.

Friday, May 14, 2021

The (current) word on our August shows

One of the big questions running around our part of the world lately has been, "What is going on with the August shows in Santa Fe?"  Now that it has been announced that Indian Market will be going ahead in a slightly reduced form on August 21-22, come clarity has been brought to the situation.  There are still questions to be answered, but here is what we know right now.  Nothing is set in stone, but the information we are giving here is at least set in Jell-O.

Turkey Mountain Traders (TMT) is currently scheduled to do two shows in Santa Fe in August.  The first is the Whitehawk Show at the Santa Fe Convention Center on August 13-16.  Many of you have been to this show, which is without question the finest antique Indian and Ethnographic art show in the world.  This year, TMT will be in a new and larger booth, right next to the front entrance.  We have been stockpiling material since March of 2020, so our collection should be among the best we have ever offered.  The second show is the Native Treasures show at the Eldorado Hotel, August 19-22.  Unlike the Whitehawk show, this show has not been confirmed yet, but it looks promising.  This is a very diverse show, with items ranging from irreplaceable treasures from the greatest living Indian artists to things that are far more affordable.  This show takes place on the Thursday and Friday before Indian Market, as well as the two days of Market, and is a must-see.  Works by many artists who do not exhibit at Indian Market can be found at this show, as well as vintage and antique pieces.  We will be in the same corner booth as we occupied in 2019, if you visited the show then.

What is really new and exciting for TMT is that we will be moving into a new private gallery space in Santa Fe, which will be available for private showings starting on August 8.  It is located fewer than 5 miles from the Santa Fe Plaza--an easy drive, with good parking.  If you would like an early look at our treasures in August before the shows open, give us a call and we would be happy to welcome you to our new gallery.

What we know about Indian Market is that it will be held on August 21 and 22 on the Santa Fe Plaza, and the number of booths will be limited to 500 (down from around 850).  The word is that there will be tickets for sale for entry, though how that will be handled is still up in the air.  The best source for immediate information is the SWAIA website.  (UPDATE: tickets for each day will be $40 for admission at 6 a.m. and $20 for admission at 8 a.m.  SWAIA will begin selling tickets to SWAIA members on May 28 and to the general public on May 29.)

If you have any questions about our Santa Fe schedule, please give us a call at (480) 423-8777, or drop us an email.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

A very important piece in the history of Southwestern Indian silverwork

 The word "important" is used far too often in the art world in general, and the Southwestern Indian silverwork world in particular.  Importance is a very subjective concept, and what makes something "important" is very hard to define.  Is a piece "important" because it is early?  Or because someone who is now famous made it?  The answer to both may well be yes, but not necessarily.  Early pieces can be minor and unimportant, and not everything made by a famous artist can be considered a masterpiece.  How about if a piece is pictured in a book, or displayed in a major museum?  Again, maybe, but maybe not.

But what if something combines all of these things?  If that is the case, then calling it "important" is probably not a stretch.  It is not often that such a confluence of factors occurs, and it is notable indeed when something does indeed check all the boxes.  Something like that just happened in Turkey Mountain Traders' inventory, and we are excited and proud to tell everyone about it.

First, a bit of background.  One of the most common questions we are asked involves hallmarks, and when they came into use in the American Indian Southwest.  It is a known fact that, left to their own devices, early Indian silversmiths did not use hallmarks until the mid-1920s, and infrequently even then.  After much coaxing by traders and patrons, hallmarks came into more common use in the 1930s and 1940s, and today it is unusual for an Indian smith to not hallmark their work.  The absolute earliest that a hallmarked piece can be found with a solid date is 1925, and that piece is shown below:

It is a cast silver and turquoise belt buckle in the Heard Museum, formerly in the collection of C. G. Wallace.  The image is from BLUE GEM WHITE METAL by Deb Slaney, as is the passage below:

The buckle is the earliest hallmarked piece with solid provenance known to exist anywhere.  It was the beginning of the recognition of the Indian silversmith as a true artist, worthy of individual recognition by collectors, scholars and the art world in general.  Which is why it was so exciting for us when we found this: 


Very slightly different, but clearly by the same hand using the same techniques (casting and channel inlay) and done at the same time.  And how about a hallmark?

There it is, the mark of Juan DiDeos.  Hallmarked pieces by him are rare, as are inlaid pieces by him.  To find a piece with both a hallmark and inlay that can be dated so early is truly an amazing occurrence.  This is truly one of the most important pieces of silver we have ever offered for sale.

The turquoise is probably Blue Gem, and the buckle measures 2 1/2" x 2 1/8".  Weight 49 grams.  Takes up to a 3/4" leather.  SOLD

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Resizing, converting and repairing--yay or nay?

 Recently, Diana and I were looking at a pair of earrings with an eye towards a possible purchase.  It was a very nice pair, an early Zuni pair with wonderful work and very nice old turquoise.  In fact, it looked a lot like this:

Very interesting and beautiful.  They are some of the best ones we have seen in some time, actually.  But there was a question about them, one that leads to a larger issue for those who love and collect antique American Indian silverwork.  Look at the back of them:
Notice that the original hook is still present, but they have clearly been modified.  The hook looks to have broken at some time in the not-so-recent past, and was then soldered on to the back of the earring and supplemented with a post and button.  So, not completely original, which is a bit of a shame.  It did not stop us from purchasing the pair, but should it stop a serious collector from adding them to their collection?  Does it seriously detract from the integrity of the piece?  And taking the wide view, which modifications are okay and which ones should be avoided at all costs?

As a disclaimer, please remember that these choices are all entirely personal, and others may not agree.  Some people will only purchase items that are completely original, not repaired or modified in any way.  (These people tend to have very small collections.) But as someone who has been through my share of rodeos, I can speak from long years of experience and say what the market in general is willing to accept.

In the case of this pair of earrings, a distinction needs to be made between the body of the earring and the findings.  The earring itself starts at the loop soldered on to the top, and everything below is integral to the original piece.  However, the finding to which the loop is attached, in this case a button and post, is not only not original but almost certainly not made by the original artist.  This is not at all unusual, in both contemporary and historic pieces--findings, such as earring posts or clips, bolo clips and pin backs, are often commercially made and added to the body of the piece as needed.  So, while this pair of earrings would have been enhanced if the original hooks were still functional, it is not much of a problem that the findings are not original.  

But what if the repair was a conversion, instead of a simple fix?  What if the pair had been split up and each one converted to a pendant?  That is a different story, and would be a problem for most collectors.  Strangely, though, the same does not always apply to pins and bolos, which have a long history of being converted.  With those, the question is where the original artist stopped--did he or she simply make something and then hand it over to a trader to make into whatever they thought would sell, which was the case with many old Zuni pieces?  If the artist was a noted inlayer, like Leo Poblano, he would almost never do the silverwork; he did not have the final say in what form his work would take, so a conversion does not go counter to his original wishes.  But if the work was that of a Navajo silversmith like Kenneth Begay, who would have attached his own finding, it should be kept the way it was originally made.  (This does not apply when considering clip earrings, which can be converted to posts or vice versa without any problem, as long as the conversion does not harm any hallmark.)  

What about resizing rings?  That is probably the most common type of modification we see in the business, but is it a problem?  The simple answer is no, with a caveat.  The resizing should be well-done, and should not harm any markings on the inside.  It also should not disrupt any pattern on the outside, which is where the problem arises on many contemporary rings.  

Repairs are the same as resizing--if it is well-done and does not affect the integrity of a piece from either a structural or design standpoint, then it is okay.  Granted an unrepaired piece in perfect condition is always preferable, but many of these items are a century old and have seen 100 years of wear.  It is unreasonable to expect perfection.  Instead, we should expect beauty.

Friday, September 18, 2020

The most common questions we get, and some answers.

 We at TMT get a lot of questions about the things we buy and sell, which is great.  We are always happy to answer any question that might come our way about Native American art and jewelry, because it is what we love.  An educated and knowledgeable public is our best audience, and ignorance is the enemy of enjoyment when it comes to our inventory.  So, go ahead and ask away, and if we don't know the answer we have a lot of resources to use in a search for the truth.  But there are some questions that come up over and over again, and it might be a good idea to put some answers in writing.  Here we go:


In our covid-influenced world, this is not an unreasonable question.  The facts are that the present world situation has affected our business, just like it has pretty much every business.  The lack of shows has been difficult for everyone, and we all eagerly await a time when we can all be together safely.  But there has not been a noticeable drop in the demand for quality material at proper prices.  So, basically, the answer is, "not bad."


We will probably be doing a trunk show at Faust Gallery in Santa Fe in December.  After that, we will have to wait and see about the High Noon show in Mesa, Arizona in January.  Keep checking our Shows section for the latest information.


The same thing that is always hot--quality.  Pieces with established provenance are in extremely high demand, and "no excuses" pieces will always command a premium.  Jewelry that features stones from the top mines, especially Lone Mountain and Bisbee, is also on the list.  Honestly, what is "hot" does not often change.  Occasionally, there is a bump on one particular area due to a new publication or museum show, but as a general rule, quality rules.


This is a really tough one, because some treatments are very sophisticated and will even pass the "hot pin" test.  Here is a site with different types of turquoise treatments (we do not know these people and do not endorse any of their products, but this page is a good synopsis):

Note that they said that poorly treated turquoise has a white, waxy look, but well-treated turquoise does not.  One thing you can do is purchase pieces that were made before the 1950s, when stabilization became more widespread.  Anything from the 1970s is immediately suspect, though of course, there are notable exceptions.  Keep in mind that only 10-12% of turquoise is hard and stable enough to be used without some kind of stabilization.  So, in short, the best thing to do is always consult an expert, and if you purchase turquoise, make sure that you get in writing exactly what kind of turquoise you are purchasing (natural, dyed, stabilized, etc.)


Nobody, because the market is so much different now than it was when Loloma arrived on the scene.  He entered a market that regarded Indian jewelry as a curio, and was one of the main figures who transformed it into a true art market.  His influence can never be replicated in that regard.  In terms of pure artistry, there are many current jewelers who can match his skill (truth be told, he was not the most skilled silversmith or goldsmith of his time), but nobody before or since can match his creativity and originality.

In terms of who will eventually be as collectible as Loloma, you can ask ten different dealers and get ten different answers.  A good place to start is to ask who is as collectible as Loloma right now, whether or not they are still producing.  There, it depends on what price point you choose.  At the highest levels, the only artists still producing who would be in the mix are the Yazzie brothers and Jesse Monongye.  Then, at slightly lower price points, there are people like the Supplee brothers and Sonwai.  This is not an exhaustive list, but those are a few names to consider.     


First, you need a flexible tape measure.  A steel one will do nicely, especially if it has a catch on one end.  Then, take the tape and measure the inside of the bracelet from end to end.  This is sometimes easier said than done, especially if the back of the bracelet is not flat.  If you must, you can measure along the edge to get an accurate number.  Then, measure the opening.  For reference, a bracelet for a medium woman's wrist is usually 5 1/4" to 5 1/2" with an opening between 3/4" and 1".  One for a medium man's wrist is usually 5 1/2" to 5 3/4" with a 7/8" to 1 1/4" opening.  Any opening larger than 1 1/2" is usually a problem, because the opening will be too large to keep the bracelet on the wrist when it is spun around.

That's a start.  If you read this and have other questions you would like answered, please let us know.  We would love to hear from you!

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Two Honorary Indians in Southwest Jewelry

Turkey Mountain Traders specializes in the arts of the American Indian, as most of you already know. And when it comes to jewelry and silverwork, we try to limit ourselves to American Indian pieces of special historic and artistic merit. We do not normally carry things made by non-Native silversmiths, though there are some artists we like very much; it's just not our thing. However, we do break this rule for two people, and for two very specific reasons: their work is of surpassing quality, and they hold a large and important place in the development of Southwest Indian jewelry. Their names are Frank Patania Sr. and Eveli Sabatie.

Patania was a Sicilian jeweler, intensively trained in European styles and techniques. In 1927, while working in New York City, he contracted TB and was sent to the clean fresh air of Santa Fe to recuperate--and never left. The culture and history of the Southwest proved irresistible to him, and he opened up his own shop, the Thunderbird Shop, in Santa Fe.

Patania's work was a wonderful synthesis of Indian materials (silver and turquoise, mostly) and forms with a European emphasis on quality and good design.  His pieces are instantly recognizable by their balance and fine finishes.  Note the restrained use of stamping and applique in the above bracelet, a far cry from the heavily stamped Indian pieces of the time.  Stones were always carefully set, and of very high quality.

Patania did not limit himself to the typical forms of the southwest, as the necklace above shows.  And, most importantly, he was very generous with his time and skills with the Indian and Hispanic silversmiths who worked in the Thunderbird Shops (he opened a second one in Tucson in the 1950s.)  Hispanic artists such as Alberto Contreras and Carlos Diaz, Navajos such as Jimmie Herald Sr., and most importantly, Pueblo smiths such as Lewis Lomay and Julian Lovato all developed their own distinctive skills and styles under the tutelage of Patania.  It is no exaggeration to say that the emphasis on clean design and high quality in today's Indian silversmithing is as much due to the influence of Patania as anything else.
The concho belt above is by Joe H. Quintana, a Cochiti smith who worked in Santa Fe at the same time as Patania, though never in Patania's shop.  The buckle and conchos are both typically Patania, adopted by a smith who knew his work well and used it to great effect.

Patania died in 1964, but his pieces remain masterworks of Southwest style.  And his influence, through both his designs and his students, continues strongly to this day.

The second non-Indian is Eveli Sabatie, who also came to the Southwest through a combination of luck and happenstance.  Raised in Morocco and educated in Paris, Sabatie came to San Francisco in the late 1960s and met a Hopi man who told her she should visit the Mesas.  She did, and a chance meeting at a laundromat in 1968 introduced her to Charles Loloma, who would become her partner in both romance and art.  Loloma taught her the basics of making jewelry, and she introduced him to a more sculptural style of art.

Eveli's work has African undertones, a natural considering her background.  It also makes use of a great variety of materials not traditionally seen in Southwest jewelry.  Asymmetry and anthropomorphic features are also hallmarks of her work, and this influenced Loloma's work as well.  

Note the carved mermaid in the necklace above.

And the reverse of the same necklace.

Eveli and Loloma were together from 1968 until 1972, during which time Loloma's inlay designs underwent a drastic shift from his exposure to Eveli.  She continued to work in jewelry for the net 20 years, continuing to produce unique and wonderful things in a variety of forms.  Through her association with Loloma, her influence on inlay and jewelry design in the Southwest is huge, and her work is worthy of inclusion in any collection of Indian jewelry.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Talking beads--three terms everyone should know

With most American Indian necklaces, and indeed most necklaces worldwide, one of the important component parts is the humble bead. A bead is defined as a small-decorative object with a small hole for threading or stringing, and in most cases in the American Southwest these beads are made of stone, shell or silver. They can be fabricated from metal or cut from stone or shell, but in all cases, the object is the same: to create a decorative strand that can be used as a piece of jewelry, either with or without additional items such as charms, najas or pendants. A simple goal, really, and quite dependent on the quality of the individual beads used by the artist.

When discussing older beads, not everything is so cut and dried. Why is a strand of turquoise beads from 1960 worth a certain amount, while a strand from 30 year earlier is worth so much more? Part of it is the quality of the turquoise, of course, but not all. And why do serious collectors look down their noses on something called "bench beads"? Are they creations of pure evil, to be worth so much less than other silver beads? Finally, why do veterans spend so much time looking at the holes of beads, be they stone, shell or silver? What are they trying to see with their fancy magnifiers? Those are questions we will try to answer here, by discussing three secific terms--pump-drilled, bench beads and string wear.

First up, "pump-drilled". To understand this term, it is necessary to realize that the Pueblos (where most stone and shell beads were produced) did not have electricity until relatively recently. (For instance, Santo Domingo, one of the main bead producing Pueblos, was only electrified sometime after 1945--some artists there remember it being sometime around 1957.) Without electric power, the only way to drill holes in beads was to use a pump drill or bow drill, like the one pictured below.
The user manipulates the cross beam with their hand, creating an up and down motion that spins the sharpened point one way, then the other. In skilled hands, and with a sharpened metal bit, it is still agonizingly slow going. The hole created is cone-shaped, and the driller goes until they have broken through the far side of the bead, at which point they turn over the bead and drill from the new side. The resulting hole is in an hourglass form, and the hole has a notable sloping inside that can be seen through a magnifier. with all the hard work involved, it is no wonder that when electricity and dental drills became available pump-drilled beads disappeared.
An old Navajo ring with a pump-drilled turquoise bead. Note that the hole is off-round, as is typical with pump-drilled holes. This is Steve's wedding ring, so please forgive the dirt.

Next, "bench beads". In older historic times, a silversmith would normally do every bit of work involved in making a piece of jewelry. Occasionally, a teacher would give a nearly finished piece to a student for polishing, but that was generally the extent of it. So, when the piece in question was a squash blossom necklace, that meant that the silversmith would make all three parts--the beads, blossoms and naja. With the coming of a more Anglicized market, however, Henry Ford's idea of a division of labor took hold. From the 1940s on, many necklaces were made assembly-line style, where one shop smith would make the naja while another would make beads all day, every day. These beads were made with an eye towards quantity rather than quality, and were not carefully finished or graduated like those on many fine old necklaces. Here are the beads on a fine old necklace:
And here is an example of "bench beads", which are smaller, lighter and not nearly as carefully constructed--note the sharp edges on the seam in the middle of the beads.
As bench beads go, these are actually very nice ones, but they in no way compare to earlier silver beads. The best contemporary artists make their own beads, and bench beads are more of a lower-end mass market phenomenon today.

And finally, "string wear". In old beads, be they silver, stone or shell, there is a little bit of movement along the stringing material. And when a bead has been strung on the same string for a good long time, the string will leave signs of this wear. The best place to look for string wear is actually along the hanger of a silver naja, but it shows up as well on the holes of beads. The wear should not be all-over ever, but rather should be a sensible kind of uneven--the more time a string spends on one place, like the hanger of a naja, the more wear there should be.
A bead and naja hanger on an old silver necklace, both showing string wear.

In the antique Indian jewelry game, older is better. And things like pump-drilled beads, or beads with good string wear, are clues to advanced age. On the other hand, the presence of bench beads is indicative of a newer, less carefully made piece. Every bit of information tells a story, and when the story fits the piece, it is a piece that a serious collector will really enjoy.

If you have any questions about anything in this extremely technical blog post, please feel free to give us a call.