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.

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