Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Put the Focus on the Details

When considering the time involved in the creation of Native American Artisan Jewelry there are indications on vintage pieces, as well as pieces done by certain contemporary artisans, that time was of no consequence. This is most evident on pieces that were created by a Native American FOR a Native American.

Although Navajo sterling overlay is available, yet not very common, some early pieces really stand out in the sweat equity department. This vintage cuff bracelet by unknown artisan “Bluehorse” bears scrutiny. If you'll notice the top and bottom bands are a single, hand cut piece of sterling, but each of the triangle elements in the center two rows were individually placed; each is slightly different, the pattern doesn't match up exactly as Bluehorse didn't use a “jig” to create the floating triangles—each was cut by hand, eye-balling the shapes as they were cut. The bottom band with the triangle elements varies considerably as well. This sort of eye-to-hand coordination, barring the use of measurement tools, give these time intensive pieces character that is missing in many cases.

This set of Old Pawn Navajo sterling dangle earrings is one of the best examples of Native American craftsmanship currently in the collection. When I acquired them it was obvious they are completely hand made, from the ear wires to the sterling beads. What I didn't notice until I examined them closely, is that each of the wires that connect the elements is encased in a tiny sterling cylinder. How this was accomplished I can't venture a guess, but the detail on this small a scale is a testament to the unknown Navajo Artisan's dedication to creating a work of art with little to no consideration for the time required. The artistic content of the finished piece, even though the naked eye won't be privy to it, is all that was on the artisan's mind. The mind boggles at how those minuscule cylinders were created.

I avoided Zuni Chip inlay work for many years, as I had seen some pieces that were obviously thrown together; the stone chips have to be given considerable attention as per size and shape, as when chip inlay, or as it's sometimes called “tweezer inlay,” is created, it's like making a jig-saw puzzle with nothing to refer to as you place the chips into the recesses. A light came on a few years ago when I started seeing some chip inlay that had obviously been done with great care, again with little regard for the time involved. This buckle, featuring a Native American Thunderbird is a fantastic example of chip inlay and attention to design. The recesses on the wings come to a needle-thin point and the artisan managed to find the correct puzzle pieces to fill them, which was no small feat considering the size and shape of chips he had to locate, or in this case they may have been created for the task. Nevertheless, the tightness of the coral, turquoise and Mother of Pearl chips is impressive.

The Reeves family of the Navajo Nation, Gary, David and “Sunshine” are to be labeled as contemporary artisans as they are still producing fine Native American jewelry and have been doing so for decades. Something sets them apart though. They are old-school artisans that work mostly in sterling, using few stones while dedicating themselves to producing time-intensive work. This has served them well as their pieces are collectable and exquisitely crafted. This sterling Navajo belt buckle by Gary Reeves is a prime example of putting the outcome of your efforts in the forefront and ignoring the time required to achieve your goal. The sterling work on this buckle is all done with a hammer and a chisel, the coiled wire accent was hand-twisted and the use of stamping is limited to the single peyote button in the center of the buckle. It doesn't stop there—the tongue and belt attachment bar are also artfully crafted and done using Old Pawn techniques.

At Native Treasures we carry a full line of Native American jewelry, with the focus being on vintage artisan works of high quality. When acquiring pieces for the website the details are all important and warrant considerable investment when the piece shows the undeniable signs of dedication, talent and a desire to reach the design goal. When an artisan pursues their vision with such tenacity, the results are often astounding. This Unique American Art Form will live on as a testament to a people that have survived adversity and continue to express their connection to the Earth through their art.