Friday, October 29, 2010

Antiques from the Southwest

After 10 years of developing a supply chain, I'm finding that hitting the lottery would be required in order for me to acquire the voluminous number of amazing pieces offered to me. I'm a bit obsessed when it comes to bringing home the bacon, yet there is so much STUFF I just can't get it all. I have to let things go all the time, and it's often heartbreaking. I save my funds to invest in high-end, handcrafted Native American artisan works like this early 1900s Navajo turquoise and sterling necklace, and although my suppliers are a talented bunch, they offer me low-end gear a lot of the time--nice stuff, but not nice enough.

I love my suppliers, but my best work is done solo. I've diversified over the years and have gotten to the point that when I find anything of considerable value like this Navajo Yei rug, I can't help but acquire it.

This thing was offered to me by my favorite operative. I'm picking it up today for an extended photo shoot. It's an iron mirror frame that once hung in a brothel in the Tularosa Basin in New Mexico in the late 1800s. Every thing is handcrafted right down to the rivets. 4 feet tall and 30 pounds.

When I find stuff of this caliber it often presents a problem: Keep it or sell it? This would look pretty awesome in my living room.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The art of the Native American Indian

There's a lot to be said for Native American jewelry artisans that were in on it early. The last 100 to 150 years have proven to be an amazing period of creative growth within their culture, and the pioneers that set the stage, developed many of the design elements that are still in use today.

That's the thing though; a lot of contemporary jewelry on the market is being produced inexpensively and in a big hurry because for some reason, demand is pretty high. Many artisans have been absorbed into the mass production aspect of the craft, which in my humble opinion, has devalued the art form.

Designs and techniques that were once an artisans calling card, are now being snagged and used in a completely different way. There was a time Native American Indians saw no need to sign their work--their designs spoke their name to the fellow tribe members the pieces were created for. But global demand has placed such pressure on the industry, and spawned so many "companies" that create knock-offs, entities like eBay will no longer allow you to offer unsigned Native American jewelry in the Native American category. It has to go into a category called "Unsigned Artisan Jewelry" and of course, if you should list an unsigned masterpiece in that category, it goes unnoticed for the most part. This edict was handed down by the Native American community itself, due to all the knock-offs flooding the market.

Don't get me wrong--there is still a sizable community of artisans doing superior work, innovative designers like Kirk Smith, Charles Loloma and Victor Beck, to name a few, that have taken established techniques and are pushing the envelope. I like a lot of their work and have been know to acquire it from time to time.

I have to say though, that my heart really belongs to the pioneers. The artisans that were creating with minimal tools and resources, drawing on European design elements and making them their own by incorporating the cultural and religious aspects of their people as is evident in this Hopi overlay buckle by renowned artisan Michael Kabotie. This is when the guidelines for Native American jewelry were laid down, and a lot of what is being produced currently is a repetition of what has been done before, the big difference being, that the handcrafted aspect is being removed a little at a time.

My main focus for the website is to carry older pieces, the originals as it were. So when I came across this early 1900s Navajo necklace I had no choice but to acquire it. It's background is a common story, and kind of sadly so. It was traded for liquor at a Gallup, New Mexico bar sometime in the mid 20th century; 1950--1960, somewhere around there. The necklace itself was produced much earlier and has been dated by associates as being from between 1900 and 1930. This was a family heirloom, and was traded for a hangover.

I've heard one-too-many stories like this and I've often wondered what I could do to instigate positive change. I looked into several options and have chosen the American Indian College Fund as the organization to support. My partners in Native Treasures left this decision to me and assisting young people sounds like a pretty good idea. We're still a young company, barely been on the books for a few months now. The website is still in it's infancy and generating funds beyond what is required to keep the business afloat, won't start to happen for another six months or so, when our search engines start to do their job and start driving Google searches to the site. I've contacted AICF and have shared my intentions with them. I expect to be able to start regular support for this system in the next six months.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Every Once In A While

I'm a big integrity fan. I try and associate with people that embrace this attribute. I happened to find one that has exceeded all expectation.

There were problems with the initial website, and rebuilding it from the ground up was the only solution. Important, long-time clients couldn't make heads or tails out of it. One of these clients, being my greatest supporter for many years (see The Pupil Speaks blog).

This client suggested someone that might be able to pull my ass out of the fire, and I'll be damned if she didn't pull it off with great aplomb. The re-coding of the site was one thing, and when it was completed, and the site migrated to a new host for security purposes, I figured I would be left to deal with it, as I had been before. I was wrong.

It's been a few weeks now that she and I have been tweaking the site, and her attention to detail, professionalism and dedication around making sure the site is set up to operate at maximum efficiency, continues to be a source of amazement for me. She developed custom plugins that perform tasks automatically, that previously would have taken several days to implement. She has given me volumes of information concerning search engine optimization. She developed a monitoring system for the site, where I can see extremely detailed information about the site's performance. And here's the clincher: She made three personalized videos showing me exactly how to manage the site—these things weren't laying around to be tossed at all her clients, are by no means generic in nature—she made them specifically for Native Treasures. Impressive.

SunFire Creations is responsible for what you see on the site now. It's clean, easily navigable, fun to cruise around in and highly functional in all respects. I couldn't be happier with what she has done.

The thing is, she simply will not stop making improvements. She was paid a paltry sum long ago, sticking to her initial quote, even after it became apparent that re-coding the site was going to be 10 times more work than she anticipated. She invariably contacts me a couple of times a day and informs me of something new she has developed for the site. She's personable, friendly and easy to talk to even when my ignorance of HTML and SEO attributes are the subject--she's never made me feel uncomfortable when asking questions. I've grown very fond of her.

Hold on; email just arrived from her. I'll get back to you...