Sil­ver stars The Wheel­wright Mu­seum un­veils the Cen­ter for the Study of South­west­ern Jew­elry


Pasatiempo - - NEWS - Michael Abatemarco The New Mex­i­can

Like many young Na­tives from New Mex­ico, Manuel Naranjo learned the sil­ver­smithing trade through em­ploy­ment at cu­rio shops in the 1920s and ’30s. Af­ter World War II, some Na­tives found prom­i­nent ca­reers as jew­el­ers, and Naranjo was among them. When the Den­ver shop where the Santa Clara-born sil­ver­smith worked closed in the mid-1990s, his jew­eler’s work­bench was sold at auc­tion. By for­tu­itous cir­cum­stance, it ended up in the col­lec­tion of the Wheel­wright Mu­seum of the Amer­i­can In­dian — the bench was pur­chased as a prop for the gift shop. “We didn’t know whose work­bench it was,” Wheel­wright direc­tor Jonathan Batkin told Pasatiempo. “We had a vis­i­tor come in at one point and say ‘I know this work­bench, and I know the guy who used to work at this bench.’ ” The bench is in­cluded in a dis­play case com­mem­o­rat­ing Naranjo in the Wheel­wright’s Cen­ter for the Study of South­west­ern Jew­elry, a new wing ded­i­cated ex­clu­sively to the his­tory of jew­elry and re­lated arts and their con­tin­u­ing in­flu­ence on con­tem­po­rary jew­el­ers. “Naranjo was born at Santa Clara Pue­blo in 1909,” Batkin said. “He learned sil­ver­smithing at Maisel’s In­dian Trad­ing Post in Al­bu­querque in 1929, and then moved to Den­ver and went on to be a sil­ver­smith in a shop where he was kind of on dis­play to the public un­til 1993, ex­cept for dur­ing wartime ac­tiv­ity. The pur­pose was that Na­tive peo­ple in the shops would lend au­then­tic­ity to the jew­elry. They were taken ad­van­tage of by the shops, to a de­gree. So this case is a lit­tle trib­ute to Manuel and that whole idea that there were all th­ese guys who were sort of held in cap­tiv­ity, in a way, and put on dis­play.”

The full name of the new wing, a two-story build­ing com­pris­ing nearly 7,000 square feet, is the Jim and Lau­ris Phillips Cen­ter for the Study of South­west­ern Jew­elry, named for col­lec­tors of Na­tive Amer­i­can art. The gallery that houses the per­ma­nent ex­hibit of South­west­ern jew­elry is named for art dealer and col­lec­tor Martha Hop­kins Struever. The ex­hibit is an en­cy­clo­pe­dic over­view that be­gins with a con­sid­er­a­tion of stone and shell, two ma­te­ri­als in use in Na­tive jew­elry for more than a thou­sand years. “Santo Domingo Pue­blo has made and sup­plied beads, and also turquoise, jet, and other ma­te­ri­als for cen­turies through­out the South­west,” Batkin said. “The tra­di­tion con­tin­ues to this day. The Nava­jos wear stone and shell neck­laces, but the ma­te­rial was pro­cessed at Santo Domingo.”

The new cen­ter opens with a se­ries of fam­i­lyfriendly events on Sun­day, June 7. Jew­elry-mak­ing demon­stra­tions by Char­lene Reano, Isa­iah Or­tiz, and other artists take place through­out the day. There are also chil­dren’s ac­tiv­i­ties, a per­for­mance by Po­joaque Pue­blo’s Youth Hoop Dancers, a sand-paint­ing demon­stra­tion by artist Zachariah Ben, and sto­ry­telling and mu­sic with au­thor Robin Easton and ed­u­ca­tor Stephen Fad­den (a com­plete sched­ule of events is avail­able at www.wheel­

Early black­smithing, which in­flu­enced later work with other met­als, is ex­plored in one case. The black­smithing trade took off among Navajo and Pue­blo peo­ples in the 19th cen­tury. By 1850, Nava­jos and some Pue­blo peo­ples were en­gaged in black­smithing for com­mer­cial pur­poses. “We touch on how sil­ver­smithing is in­tro­duced from the Nava­jos to the Pue­b­los and then to Hopi. The first great mas­ter among Navajo sil­ver­smiths is known as Slen­der Maker of Sil­ver. To his descen­dants to­day he’s sim­ply known as Slim,” Batkin said. Sev­eral dis­play units are given prom­i­nent place­ment in the new build­ing, and each hon­ors some of the more in­flu­en­tial re­gional sil­ver­smiths and jew­el­ers in­clud­ing Slen­der Maker, who died in 1916. “He was ac­tive by, we imag­ine, the late 1870s, early 1880s. By 1885 he’s al­ready ac­com­plished enough that peo­ple know who he is. There’s very few pieces in this case, about a half-dozen pieces, but it’s prob­a­bly the best gath­er­ing of his work in any in­sti­tu­tion.” Di­rectly op­po­site Slen­der Maker’s case is the work of his son, Fred Pesh­lakai, who learned the art from his fa­ther. “Fred had a ca­reer of his own in a shop on Olvera Street in Los An­ge­les.”

Artist Charles Loloma (1921-1991), a Hopi who was known as a painter, mu­ral­ist, and pot­ter as well as a jew­eler, is among the cel­e­brated names in the ex­hibit. Loloma es­chewed tra­di­tional ma­te­ri­als and de­signs that typ­i­fied much of South­west­ern jew­elry in fa­vor of more con­tem­po­rary styles. “Charles Loloma was a great in­no­va­tor,” Batkin said. “There are sep­a­rate cases de­voted to a num­ber of other jew­el­ers: Pre­ston Monongye, a Mex­i­can and Mission In­dian from South­ern Cal­i­for­nia by birth who was adopted into Hopi; Ken­neth Be­gay, a Navajo smith, has a case. There’s a case that’s equally di­vided be­tween Mor­ris Robin­son and Louis Lo­may, Hopi sil­ver­smiths. It’s mostly chrono­log­i­cal. We touch on tra­di­tional women’s wear, or­na­men­ta­tion, adorn­ment, tra­di­tional men’s adorn­ment, and oc­ca­sion­ally we’ll have a case that will be noth­ing but eye candy: great early bracelets, great early belts, great con­tem­po­rary belts, great early ear­rings.”

In all, there are 32 self-con­tained units, each deal­ing with a dif­fer­ent sub­ject. The project be­gan more than 20 years ago in recog­ni­tion of the mu­seum’s world-class col­lec­tion of Na­tive jew­elry and re­lated ma­te­ri­als. The Wheel­wright ac­quired the pa­pers of for­mer Army sur­geon Wash­ing­ton Matthews, an eth­nol­o­gist who worked among the Nava­jos in the

No other in­sti­tu­tion has built a col­lec­tion like this, but we did it very de­lib­er­ately. I think we’re able to present a fuller group of ma­te­rial, but we also have the abil­ity to in­ter­pret it with much greater depth than any other in­sti­tu­tion. — Wheel­wright direc­tor Jonathan Batkin

late 19th cen­tury. “He be­came one of the first eth­nol­o­gists to work in the South­west,” ac­cord­ing to Batkin. “At Fort Win­gate, he met a guy who de­liv­ered the mail who was just known as Jake. Matthews was in­ter­ested in Jake be­cause Jake was a rit­ual prac­ti­tioner with a fair amount of cer­e­mo­nial knowl­edge.” Matthews was also in­ter­ested in Navajo sil­ver­smithing and weav­ing, but lit­tle schol­arly ma­te­rial ex­isted on the top­ics at the time. Matthews wrote some of the first ar­ti­cles on those sub­jects, and they were pub­lished by the Smith­so­nian. “There’s an ar­ti­cle in an an­nual re­port of the Bureau of Eth­nol­ogy, which later be­came the Bureau of Amer­i­can Eth­nol­ogy. It was a de­scrip­tion of how Nava­jos were work­ing sil­ver as of 1880. It was prob­a­bly around 1879-1880 that he did his field­work. Jake was his in­for­mant.”

An­other in­flu­en­tial source for the new re­search cen­ter is the field­work of an­thro­pol­o­gist John Adair, who be­gan work­ing at Zuni Pue­blo in the late 1930s. “What he wanted to find out was, who were the first sil­ver­smiths? Where did the knowl­edge come from? How did it get trans­mit­ted from com­mu­nity to com­mu­nity?” It is due to Adair’s re­search that the mu­seum could begin mak­ing the nec­es­sary con­nec­tions to con­struct a nar­ra­tive around the his­tory of South­west­ern jew­elry. “Be­cause of him, we know who some of the first smiths were, which one taught whom at Zuni, and which Zuni sil­ver­smiths taught the first Hopi sil­ver­smiths.” The mu­seum ac­quired his pa­pers in 1995. The archival ma­te­ri­als from Adair, Matthews, and oth­ers were used in cre­at­ing the in­ter­pre­tive text for the cases deal­ing with his­toric con­tent. “The ar­chives are re­ally deep. Navajo cer­e­mo­ni­al­ism is an­other sub­ject on which we have some in­cred­i­ble archival ma­te­rial, but it’s re­stricted. If peo­ple want to use that ma­te­rial, they have to get the per­mis­sion of the Navajo Na­tion. We make those con­nec­tions for them.” Use of Na­tive cer­e­mo­nial ob­jects in mu­se­ums is of­ten re­stricted be­cause of the sen­si­tive na­ture of the ma­te­ri­als. Some­times, a slightly al­tered ver­sion of a cer­e­mo­nial ob­ject gets sold to a col­lec­tor or con­tem­po­rary pieces can be mis­rep­re­sented as his­toric ob­jects. Such was the case with au­thor and nat­u­ral­ist Leonora Curtin’s col­lec­tion of Zuni fetishes. “She was one of the first ac­tive col­lec­tors of Zuni fetishes. She started col­lect­ing in the late ’20s. Traders were telling her ‘This is an an­cient rit­ual fetish.’ Ac­tu­ally, she was col­lect­ing con­tem­po­rary stuff and didn’t know it. But the good thing is, she built the best col­lec­tion any­where of the work of the first gen­er­a­tion of carvers at Zuni to carve for a com­mer­cial mar­ket.”

An­other small col­lec­tion of jew­elry came from By­ron Har­vey III, the great-grand­son of en­tre­pre­neur Fred Har­vey, founder of the Har­vey House chain of ho­tels and shops. Vis­i­tors to the ex­hibit are also in­tro­duced to sub­jects such as the mechanization of sil­ver­smithing in the 20th cen­tury, Hopi jew­elry prac­tices, mod­ern and con­tem­po­rary prac­tices at Zuni, and a sur­vey of living artists still ac­tively pro­duc­ing jew­elry. “We cul­ti­vated from peo­ple all over the coun­try who gave col­lec­tions, and it’s ev­ery­thing: it’s sil­ver, it’s plas­tics and rub­ber, it’s re­pur­posed ma­te­ri­als, it’s con­tem­po­rary stain­less steel and car­bon fiber; it’s the en­tire spec­trum. No other in­sti­tu­tion has built a col­lec­tion like this, but we did it very de­lib­er­ately. I think we’re able to present a fuller group of ma­te­rial, but we also have the abil­ity to in­ter­pret it with much greater depth than any other in­sti­tu­tion. We’ve worked hard to present a fresh per­spec­tive.”

Up­per left, arm bracelet by Fred Pash­lakai, circa 1960, sil­ver and turquoise; above, Navajo hair comb, circa 1895, hand-wrought sil­ver; Wolf by Leekya Deyuse (Zuni Pue­blo), 1942; op­po­site page, Navajo bri­dle, circa 1900; squash-blos­som neck­lace by Slen­der Maker of Sil­ver, circa 1885-1890, hand-wrought and tufa-cast sil­ver and turquoise; page 36, pin by Lam­bert Homer (Zuni Pue­blo) and Roger Skeet (Navajo), circa 1935, hand-wrought sil­ver and turquoise; images cour­tesy the Wheel­wright Mu­seum of the Amer­i­can In­dian

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