While the tradition of making jewelry out of shells and beads dates to prehistoric times, Native American silver-and-turquoise rings, bracelets, pins and the like are a relatively recent phenomenon, going back only as far as the mid-19th century. Pieces from the 1800s, if you can find them, were usually produced for tribal or religious purposes rather than adornment (the tourist trade came later).
When times got tough, people would take their most expendable personal pieces and pawn them, thus spawning the phrase "old pawn" to describe pre-1900 examples of Native American jewelry made of silver. Although there is a lot of jewelry on the market labeled "old pawn," only pieces from the 1800s deserve that label.
One of the controversial aspects of Native American jewelry is the extent to which non-Native traders influenced its production. These traders frequently coached Native American artisans to create designs of little or no cultural or historical relevance, provided them with tools and materials, and, of course, sold the finished pieces to tourists who had ventured into the Southwest via the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad. Beginning in 1899, what we’d call adventure-travelers could purchase Native American jewelry and other souvenirs at Fred Harvey curio shops.
Silver was the base metal for most of these pieces—squash-blossom necklaces were one of the first styles. For stones, Navajo artisans were the first to use turquoise, which was indigenous to the area but was quickly mined out—the best pieces were labeled with the name of their source mine. It wasn’t long before high-quality turquoise was being imported, while softer, poorer-quality stones were often treated with resin to make them hard.
Other tribes developed their own styles. Shell necklaces and mosaics were a specialty of the Pueblo, particularly members of the Santa Domingo tribe. The Zuni were known for their cluster pieces and use of red coral. And the Hopi produced pins and other objects that suggest textile influences.
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Recent News: Native American Jewelry
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Market unveils Native American workCastleton Spartan, November 19th
If you are looking for a cultural experience or the perfect set of turquoise earrings, there is no better place to visit than the Santa Fe Plaza; home to the Palace of the Governors. Thought to be one of the oldest government buildings in the nation...Read more
At the Galleries: Door County galleries and museumsGreen Bay Press Gazette, November 18th
Oils, watercolors, etchings by national award-winning artists; handmade Native American jewelry; also antiques and collectibles. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, closed on occasion. (920) 854-2770. • LILY BAY POTTERY, 3450 N. Lake Michigan Drive, Sturgeon Bay...Read more
New Briefs: Unearthed Atari games bring in big bucksKRQE News 13, November 13th
ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – Native American jewelry from New Mexico will be catching the eyes of New Yorkers this holiday season. The National Museum of the American Indian will be showcasing Navajo jewelry in a new exhibit called Glittering World...Read more
UNR honors Native American cultureUNR The Nevada Sagebrush (subscription) (blog), November 10th
Saundra Mitrovich, outreach and retention coordinator for the Center for Student Cultural Diversity, makes earrings using beads during an activity for National Native American Heritage Month at the Center on Nov. 4. The Center will continue to host...Read more
Four Winds Gallery marks 40 years in ShadysidePittsburgh Post Gazette, November 7th
Father and son Gene and Mike Waddell specialize in collector-quality Native American jewelry at their gallery founded 75 years ago. Mr. Foutz, a fifth-generation trading post owner, is considered an expert on Navajo weavings, jewelry, pottery and culture...Read more
Special Agent's New Book Unveils Dark World of Indian Art TradeThe Watch, November 3rd
MONTROSE – “The hardest part of undercover work,” former federal agent Lucinda Delaney Schroeder says, “is you have to be so friendly to crooks and then stab them in the back.” Wearing authentic Native American jewelry, driving a Camaro and using a ...Read more
Dance, song, culture and food spice Social Pow-WowStandard-Examiner, November 1st
The Pow-Wow also featured for sale some traditional Native American jewelry and food, including an American frank wrapped in made-from-scratch Indian fry bread. Students from the Clearfield Job Corps culinary arts program were on hand preparing and ...Read more
GRAND JURY Q&ASTLtoday.com, September 3rd
Premier seller of Native American jewelry and arts and direct reservation buyers for 46 years, this family owned business has been bringing authentic arts to the public across the U.S. since 1968. Coming to the Doubletree by Hilton Hotel & Conference...Read more