Going to the Southwest means jewelry to me! But alas, it has a new meaning to me these days, more contemporary designs than in the old days when First People were known for their silversmithing.
I grew up with silver crawling up my arm provided by my Cherokee grandmother. We were new babies when she brought tiny bracelets studded with a turquoise stone, and our wrists were never bare from then on. The two matching twists in this picture were ones she gave me in grade school that I wore framed around turquoise stones. The double silver band in the center is one of her own bracelets I have worn since I was about ten. It is stamped “sterling” but is not signed as most pieces are now days. So I can date it as made in early 1920s or before. Natives did not sign their work as the metals and stones belonged not to them, but to The People. That changed when trains began carrying tourists to the Southwest and Fred Harvey opened up his gift shops in his Harvey Houses. Now artists sign their silver work!
I have always wanted a large squash blossom, but the prices were out of reach. That will never get better now. The price of gold and silver has not only driven the price of native silver work to astronomical figures, it has hampered the designs natives could afford to produce.
Four years ago, I could buy a little here and there, but last year I could afford almost nothing. The designs were plain too. Gone were my thunderbolts and arrows, and deep colored turquoise stones. So many stones were imported from Iran or Thailand. This year it was worse. I did not trust buying anything from an unknown store because sales were made by native people but for someone else, some from out of this country.
You can be safe buying under the portal at the Palace of Governors though. Those are juried vendors and each morning there is a drawing for who can sit there to sell. However, the first day I looked, again I saw plain and boring pieces. I could not see paying prime price for things that looked like they came from Macy’s or even Wal-Mart. I was told so many vendors bought the beads and then just strung them. I wanted a real silversmith to have crafted a piece I bought.
The second day on the Plaza, I took a half-hearted pass down the portal, and it was my lucky day! The pieces were a tad more interesting, but I found Wil and Vira Yazzie who had sold me their work before. They are a sweet young couple, have a telephone but no internet. Four years ago, they were trying a new design with both gold and silver encasing glass beadwork. Wil was selling along that day and Vira was home trying to design some matching ear rings. I thought the bracelets were lovely, but it was not what I wanted. I love the traditional, but was drawn back to Wil’s blanket. Finally, I brought home the glass beadwork done in arrows, rainbows, and feathers. I have worn it a good deal of the time.
When I saw them again, I showed them my arm with their work. Wil was so excited, asked if he could feel my braclet. He moanead with pleasure and said I had one of the “good ones”. Right after I bought the metals went up so much in price he had to make the bracelets in lighter weights to break even; it broke his heart to lessen his work. He shined my braclet and stroked it like it was an old friend. Vira had her ear rings this time and was working on a stud version, which is presenting her problems in weight and size. She said the price of glass beads any smaller than these really went up in price, again limiting what they could make and sell.
We had a good visit and I brought home a pair of ear rings while I could still afford them!
I also brought home a pair of glass ear rings made by a potter whose aging hands can no longer handle the heavy clay. She has carpel tunnel too so has gone to this lovely glass work. George has her work in the Santa Fe Art Museum’s gift shop as well as a friend’s pottery studio.
In my childhood, the bracelets never came off, but these days I change them often to enjoy the many different designs and choices. Some people never leave home without a watch on; I always have a bracelet—or two or three!