Thursday, August 5, 2010

A Truly Unique American Art Form

Several years ago, when it became apparent that being someone's "employee" was no longer an option for me, I had some hard decisions to make.

Previous to my enduring "employment" as an income source, I made a decent living as a musician; I got to express myself. That was all well and good, but there's a youth factor to be considered, and as my tastes evolved, I found it harder and harder to remain in that particular bread line due to the high cost of living indoors. I still play regularly, but I do it alone and for free.

I had always shown an interest in art even as a child. So, in my 30s, I went to art school and graduated in the top of my class. This led to a string of mind numbing jobs in the commercial art industry. I tried to escape by starting my own advertising firm and it was a success, for a while. I was still someone's "employee" and had to answer to them concerning what their spouses thoughts were on the ads I was creating:

Client: What do you mean I shouldn't be portrayed as the devil?
Me: Last time I checked, Satan was not considered to be a trustworthy character.
Client: But my wife LOVES it!
Me: Why does this not surprise me?

Conversations such as this were the norm, not the exception, and again, I found myself forced to do the bidding of others against my better judgement. Something had to change. Sooner than later.

I had a couple of friends that were antique dealers. Their stories always made it sound like they were enjoying themselves; shopping, research, trading with other dealers and making a reasonable living while doing so. Why not join in the fun?

So I picked a category that interested me--I've always had an appreciation for "old stuff" especially things from the Art Deco period and shortly thereafter. I chose toys as my focus. I studied up, tried to memorize huge volumes of toy pricing guides, manufacturers of note from around the world, conferred with the few toy aficionados I could find and started my search. Turns out Albuquerque is far from being a mecca for vintage toys and I floundered. Oh, I made a few bucks here and there when I got lucky, but getting lucky in the toy market proved illusive. I pushed onward, determined to find the source of vintage toys in New Mexico.

Making the garage sales was imperative, according to my successful friends, and while I was making the rounds one Friday morning, and digging through a 5 gallon can of what appeared to be urine specimen bottles and rusty gardening tools, I spotted a turquoise ring at the bottom of the pile. Time stopped. It was the proverbial "diamond bullet to the forehead." Upon examining the ring I realized it had been made with some considerable effort, was beautifully designed and apparently very old. These are things I can get behind--hard work resulting in a thing of beauty. I am familiar with that; have an understanding of the mind set required to pull it off.

Toys? What toys?

I dedicated myself anew. New volumes of information now garnered my attention, and the more I learned, the more I liked what I had chosen as my new undertaking. The wealth of information on the subject of Native American jewelry is mind boggling. Documentation starts around the turn of the century and expands exponentially as time marched forward. Native Americans, having been forced to live in the white man's world, were adrift; their culture all but eliminated. There were a handful of native artisans that were producing jewelry on a very small scale for use in the few tribal rituals that remained intact, and as every day adornment for their fellow tribe members. But when the US highway system was put in place their numbers multiplied due to the tourist trade. People traveling through the Southwest wanted to take a piece of it home with them, so the established artisans taught their craft to anyone caring to learn. And presto! Food on the table for a change.

There are countless varieties of jewelry available to consumers; have been since the first person poked a hole in a pretty rock, ran a string through it and hung it around their neck. Yet when you compare ingenuity, creativity and attention to detail, you'll be hard pressed to match that which the Native American Indian has achieved in the last century.

I've been studying for close to a decade now, and have barely scratched the surface. Anyone who tells you they have Native American jewelry attributes "in their pocket" is sadly mistaken. Oh, I know plenty, but good grief, there is so much more to learn. It's proving to be a pleasant journey.


  1. excellent post! keep 'em coming!

  2. I never knew you were in advertising. Suddenly it all makes sense.