blog-banner2
blog-banner2

Featured Blog Post

What is a Hallmark?

Hallmarks identify the jewelry maker. Many times they are just simple letter stamps. They are not something new, but can be traced back to the 4th Century. Famous American metal smiths used them before we became a country. Paul Revere who warned the Colonial militia “the British are coming” during the American Revolution used a hallmark on his handmade silver pieces in the 1700s.>

New Blog Posts

View All Blog Posts

Can Your Bear Dance?

Saturday, November 17, 2018 3:05 PM

Can Your Bear Dance?

Study shows French prehistoric paintings ‘oldest and most elaborate’

         "Remarkably, agreeing with the radiocarbon dates of the human and animal occupancy, this study confirms that the Chauvet cave paintings are the oldest and the most elaborate ever discovered, challenging our current

knowledge of human cognitive evolution”, said the study.

ONE_OF_CLAUDIA_PEINA_S_SINGING_BEARS._SHE_ALSO_CARVES_SOME_DOING_BOTH--SINGING_AND_DANCING

         Those folks did not think of bears as “happy” creatures, but the extinct cave bear was more than twice the size of our bears.  Strangely, there are no synonyms for bear in English— not counting the Latin, Ursa--the best we can do is growler, brute and other descriptive words. The word bear came from Proto-Germanic, but it’s meaning was “brown” or “shining”, “honey eater”, “shaggy coat.” In many cultures, bear, like coyote, was taboo to speak, so other names were made up.

         Taboos involving bears are widespread.  I collected a dozen of them from the Navajos—including “don’t step on a bear track” and “don’t put your shoes on the wrong feet”.  Zunis are forbidden to kill bears, but members of a certain medicine group may do it.  Of course none will eat bear meat, which is really delicious.

TROY_SICE_S_BEARS_ARE_EVOLVING

         In general most societies have given bears a wide birth because of the threat they are.  But for reasons I can’t find, they were tamed and forced to dance for people in the dim past. Their training has been described as “unimaginable cruelty”.  In Nepal the last dancing sloth bear was only recued in July of this year. Many eastern European countries only stopped recently and in Pakistan the practice continues.

         I think the underlying reason for dancing bears came out of fear.  If you can make a ferocious animal perform for people, then you might be able to control all forms of danger and evil. The same thing is part of the appeal of lion tamers and dancing elephants.  Control in a world that has never seemed to have much of it.

I remember seeing an old print that hung in a friend’s home, showing two young bears dancing. There was also a print of a huge stag, and one showing dogs playing poker.  I thought they were humorous but not significant in any way.  A much less funny print from 1620 shows a handler with his two bears.  They don’t look happy at all.

         I was only recently educated on the subject when I tried to find the origin of the Zuni carved dancing bears, originated by Claudia Peina.  Now her half-brother and a few others are making them. But when I started looking I discovered some Artic tribes have been carving dancing bears for a long time and they keep pushing the envelope.  They are the ones who give life to the dancing bear, believing it is joyous, and brings happiness, prosperity, and good things to the people.  I believe they have it right. 



Freddie & Enrique Leekya

Saturday, November 17, 2018 10:59 AM

Freddie & Enrique Leekya

        In the recent book Leekya: Master Carver of Zuni Puebloby Deborah Slaney, Leekya’s grandchildren don’t get much attention.  Of course the book is about Old Man Leekya but the examples of work by the grandsons are not very representative of their extraordinary work.

         In the second generation only Sarah, Alice and Francis seem to be fetish carvers and Francis only turned to carving in his advanced years, after he had a stroke.  He carved left-handed.  Among his sons Freddie, Hayes & Delvin are master carvers. 

Though all of Leekya’s descendants have carved Leekya’s grinning bears--plump, happy, and charming—none actually copy his work.  Hayes can do stringing fetishes; especially the distinctive bears that look a great deal like the Old Man’s work.  Dealers have sometimes banked on this resemblance.

Like most Zunis, Freddie began working at a young age, educating himself by observing his father and grandfather.  But Freddie carries the tradition to produce new, very original, and surprising carvings.  His mini-sculptures have moved into a fanciful world of dancing or playful frogs, gorillas and other exotic creatures, howling coyotes, Zuni dancers and men on horseback.  One fat pig seems to be puckering up for a kiss.THIS_LOVABLE_PIG_SEEMS_TO_PUCKER_UP_FOR_A_KISS

His frogs run the gamut of possibilities.  They are seldom just water animals and even when they look just like frogs, they are presented in an original way, like the small frog riding a large one.   He has made frog Boy Scouts, frog hikers, frog people holding coffee mugs, books, a flower, and a sandwich.ONE_OF_FREDDIES_STRANGE_HUMAN_-LIKE_FROGS._

He also does familiar animals like bobcats, beavers, some charming raccoons, bulls, horses and wonderful buffalo.  Like other carvers in his class he works at his art every day

 Freddie married April Unkestine at a young age and they have been together ever since. April inherited an original sunface design that she has modified with ever-tinier stonework.  Recently she made a concho belt that takes the breath away with its color and design.

   It is not surprising that son Enrique carries on a tradition of excellence, imagination and originality.  Though he does familiar animals, he often puts a twist on them, like his Valentine raccoons.  But he also ventures into the exotic with tropical fish, African lions, a marvelous hippo, and a ferocious looking boar.THE_UNCONVENTIONAL_HIPPO_ILLUSTRATES_ENRIQUE_S_TALENT.

In order to solve the problem of the fragility of his fanciful pieces, he has developed removable parts, mainly allowing him to do exaggerated horns on some of his carvings, longhorns, moose, and elk.  Recently he carved the local rodent, the kangaroo rat.  They are mice, not rats, and they can be seen at night hopping in great leaps, trailing a long tail.  Enrique creates these horns and tails out of carved cedar, and they are removable.  Some dealers and collectors pass on pieces of great fragility: problem solved.THESE_AMAZING_ELK_ILLUSTRATE_ENRIQUE_S_REMOVABLE_ANTLERS

They still make involved figures with some extras.  Freddy puts necklaces on many of his carvings and objects in their hands, like the chief who plays flute or carries a peace pipe.  Enrique has done some hunters that have great detail, like a dear over the shoulder with white shell antlers.  The man carries a knife on his belt.

Oversized, expressive eyes are a mark of their work, as well as jet hooves, added noses, and other touches.  They are also pricing their work in a range that keeps them very collectable.

 

Both Freddy and Enrique have done Old Man Leekya proud.

Snakes - History of Zuni Jewelry

Wednesday, August 22, 2018 2:52 PM

Snakes - History of Zuni Jewelry

        While snakes do not qualify as a popular Zuni design they are interesting for that reason—why were they not more desirable? Only two jewelers are known for their use of snakes; Dan Simplicio and Effie Calavaza who was an in-law through Dan’s sister who married Frank Calavaza.  Dan Jr. said his father got the idea for snakes from Navajos he worked with in the Kennedy shop.  Dan made his snakes with serpent shaped heads [they say that all vipers and poisonous snakes have triangular heads], textured the body, and added rattles.

         The Juan Calavaza piece illustrated here has a snake with a slightly pointed head, but later work, and the distinctive Effie C. examples have a perfectly round head, sometimes with the front squared off. 

JUAN_CALAVAZA

         In the book Navajo Taboos you will find more than twenty taboos relating to snakes.  In a strange little article by Charles F. Lummis printed in Out West Magazinein 1896 he tells this story:  “A very good friend of mine, the best silver smith among the Navajos, made to my order once a bracelet in [the] shape of a rattlesnake.”  Though the Pueblos revere such serpents, “…to the Navajos he is “bad medicine”—and his people beat poor Chit-chi nearly to death, destroyed his hut and made [a]way with the obnoxious symbol.”  Pretty harsh.

         Though taboos today, whether Navajo or Zuni, are weakening and dropping by the wayside, snakes are still dangerous.  While Navajos will go out of their way to avoid the snakes, to Zunis they are representatives of the lightning, and thus rain.

         Item 165 in the Wallace catalog is a belt buckle attributed to Teddy Weahkee dated 1935.  It is a veritable snake pit of serpents, coiling and writhing around like impossible mazes.  One coils around the entire buckle and the other four are so twisted and convoluted it is hard to follow the bodies.  The stones are cut in such a way they look like snakes as well, judging from the coral inlaid eyes.

C._G._WALACE_ATTRIBUTED_THIS_SNAKE_PIT_OF_VIPERS_TO_TEDDY_WEAHKE_IN_1935.

         Once the stones are set the artist can’t heat up the piece again.  For Effie and Juan Calavaza this was not a great problem.  Just leave the heads of the snakes sticking up and out of the way. The silver has just been annealed; heating the metal up makes it soft.  Once the stones are in place just bend the snake heads down on the turquoise.

CLASSIC_EFFIE_CALAVAZA

         There are many pieces attributed to Dan Simplicio just because they have nuggets or coral, including pieces by Robert and Bernice Leekya. But so far as I know, the Simplicio leaf is his alone.   His pieces, and the one by Teddy Weahkee, show master craftsmen at work.  The writhing snakes are hardly attached to the plate at all.  I have not actually handled these creations, but the photos are pretty clear.  The amazing ring has Dan’s leaf.

ANOTHER_GRAVITY_DEFYING_SIMPLICIO_SNAKE

         These incredible snakes were largely unattached when the stones were put in place, making the writhing, wriggling snakes a separate creation.   The makers had to put them in position without marking the soft silver with a steel pliers.   Both Teddy and Dan had spent significant time out in the world, so they probably ignored any taboo, which accounts for the small number of reptiles in Zuni jewelry.

THIS_DAN_SIMPLICIO_SNAKE_HUMPS_INTO_THE_AIR_AND_OFF_THE_SIDE_OF_THE_BOLO

0 Comment Posted in Information

Will the Real LL Please Stand Up

Friday, July 13, 2018 6:02 PM

Will the Real LL Please Stand Up

         Playing the name game is often as simple as figuring out who a piece actually belongs to when it is marked by initials only.  Except without a last name there isn’t much to work from.  By now most people have learned that LL stands for Larry Laate, not Lavonne Lalio or Navajo Larry Livingston, Linette Laiwakete perhaps or any other fanciful attribution.  But this particular case isn’t all that simple.

         It will not be too startling to find out the original design comes from Eddie Beyuka, a man who created many outstanding figures. But what’s the trail from Beyuka to Laate?

         Janet Amesole lived in the Beyuka household while growing up. When she went out on her own Eddie gave her several designs including the dancer, without the hoops.  I have never seen one of Janet’s pieces (she is most famous for her eagles) but she allowed me to copy the original pattern.

Laate stole the design from her.  But where did all the others come from?

THIS_HOOP_DANCER_SIGNED_J_A_IS_CLOSER_TO_THE_BEYUKA_LOOK

          The design actually had nothing to do with hoops.  The figure is a popular one with Beyuka who turned out many of them.  It is known in Zuni as Lahbila, no English equivalent.  It is a sort of generic Plains figure and a group of them bring the buffalo and his entourage.  The actual Koko has an unusual bonnet, with the trailer on only one side, which is not at all obvious in the jewelry.  Amesole’s pattern has no hoops either.

         Jonathan Beyuka’s Plains dancer has a full bonnet, so it is his alone.  By the way, none of these designs are actual kachinas as they are unmasked. Neither Johnathan nor his father put feathers on their hoop dancer, but a crest representing the pow-wow hair roach.  The bonnet was reserved for Lahbila.

JONATHON_BEYUKA_S_VERSION_OF_THE_PLAINS_FIGURE

         I haven’t collected misattributions for this figure, but recently a couple have been posted on line.   One figure signed J.A. Calavaza is quite similar to the LL dancers and another signed just J. A. which shows the same pose, but is fitted out more like the Beyuka hoop dancer.

THIS_COPY_IS_SIGNED_J.A._CALAVAZA

         In my mind Beyuka figures are easy to separate from the competition.  Mainly the copies give themselves away by being less than perfect.  Fat legs skinny legs, stumpy legs and elongated legs. For some almost everything is distorted. I found one supposedly by Leo Poblano, a favorite for ugly attributions—in spite of the bolo tips of Beyuka drums.  The right leg is longer than the rest of the body.

         Philbert Beyuka has given me some information on the drums.  First, there are lots of different drums.  Identifying a piece on the basis of perfectly good drums is still iffy.  He told me his dad sold the stores just drums; once fifty pairs.  Philbert, every bit as good as his dad, also made drums for traders.

         There is another case of misinterpreted initials not so confusing.  OM is almost always interpreted as Olson and Mary—Leekity that is.  These are small mostly silver characters I call Yei figures as they more resemble Navajo work than Zuni.  And in fact several Navajos have made them, most notably Helen Long and Doris Smallcanyon.

         Apparently it never seemed odd to anyone that the Leekitys would use first name initials to sign their work.  The truth is, these figures were made by Orville Manygoats, a Navajo.  Many Zunis believe that these silver Yeis (the Navajo equivalent to Pueblo Katsinas) are only made by Navajos but at least two Zuni craftsmen produced fine examples of the type—Charles Hannaweeke and Alonzo Hustito.  They signed their work.

OLSON_AND_MARY_LEEKITY_DID_NOT_MAKE_THIS_PIECE_BY_ORVILLE_MANYGOATS

0 Comment Posted in Information

How to Get Famous Without Really Trying

Friday, July 13, 2018 5:42 PM

How to Get Famous Without Really Trying

        There are a handful of famous Zuni jewelers who either never existed or did not make the jewelry they are famous for.  How could this happen, you ask?  Traders are always under pressure to put names to jewelry they are trying to sell. This also includes point of sale. Collectors can be very insistent and a familiar name is soothing.  Traders also had to put names on jewelry they entered in various competitions.

         To start with, there was never a Mingos House though he was given a nice piece by C. G. Wallace.  Sometimes Wallace’s names never made jewelry, though they were in the village. Of course by now everyone knows that there was no inlayer named Leak, explaining why little is known about the man. John Leekity, on the other hand, was a famous personality in Zuni.  I have been told by more than one dealer that the Leak name cannot be changed, because Leak is famous and Leekity isn’t.  Buyers now expect the wrong name.

         Adair’s list includes both kinds of errors.  John Adair lived in Zuni for a couple of years, but when he decided to list ALL of the active silversmiths he had to have help. Most of the names in the list are spelled phonetically which adds to the problem.  Leekya appears three times with different versions of his name.

         There are at least eighty Boones in the censuses but Logan appears nowhere.  Frank Celia is another ghost; there are no Celias in Zuni.  He lists a Nick Lickity, but he never existed.  Some I just haven’t figured out yet, like Noske and Mrs. Noske.  Listing both of them suggests they were actually a husband and wife team, but we can’t find them.

         He includes two Paques who are probably Booquas. Harry Sivewa is not a Zuni name. Some are easily explainable.  Beku (Pescado) stumped me for awhile, but  Beyku Ondelacy was one of the Ondelacy bothers. All of them were master jewelers, except Beyku.  How did he make the list?  This is one name that is easy to explain.  When Beyku’s first wife died he married a widow named Alice Naeshta who was a master silversmith.  The practice of the day was for the man to take the silverwork to the trader.  Since nobody signed his or her work, the husband got credit.

         There was a huge problem in Zuni with the practice of having Navajos set the stones in Silver.  Or other Zunis.  There is a big question concerning the knifewings and rainbow men made by Arnold and Neva Cellicion, a couple that were only identified recently.  C.G. Wallace gave pieces to Teddy Weahkee who set many of the couple’s inlays and also the mythical Mingos House.  In Skystone and Silvera concho belt showcasing their work is signed by the Navajo who set the inlay in silver.

THIS_UNSET_KNIFEWING_IS_STILL_IN_THE_POSESSION_OF_ARNOLD_AND_NEVA_S_FAMILY._NEVA_SHOWED_IT_TO_ME_A_FEW_YEARS_AGO._THE_THING_THAT_DISTINGUISHES_IT_FROM_SIMILAR_PIECES_ARE_THE_WHITE_TRIANGLES_ON_THE_WINGS_AND_TAIL

           There are some really weird examples.  In Paula Baxter’s Southwest Silver Jewelry there is a list of only twenty Zuni jewelers.  They are unassailable masters except for two. Zuni Dick was a bead driller and made no jewelry.  The mystery fellow is Kemp Kushena.  Around the village folks remembered him as an early radio personality.  

A year of persistence located some family members who all agreed Kempsy Kushina made stringing fetishes, no jewelry.  So how did he make the list?  When I asked Baxter she said the information came from museum experts who named him as one of the best.  Why?

Until World War II (and sometimes much later) it was the trader who entered jewelry in all the big shows, like Gallup Ceremonial.  Obviously he was the one who put names on entries.  Though many false entries were just  carelessness, some were done on purpose to promote one name or another.  But Kempsy is more mysterious.

Google the man on line and find that a purportedly high end artist does not appear.  Likewise not in books.  No pictures of him or his work.  Schaaf predictably includes him, but with no examples.  In 1958 Kushena was only one of two Zunis entered in a show “Southwest Indian Arts” at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco. In that exhibition he was represented by a turquoise and silver pin.

The most logical explanation is that the trader who entered the pin simply slapped a name on it.  We don’t know the trader or what the piece actually looked like, but it didn’t belong to Kempsey.  This error has been repeated several times in print, and that’s all immortality takes. I wonder if the fancy name of the venue contributed to the story’s circulation.

L. B. Chavez is a headache.  What do the initials stand for?  When I saw an interesting and original knifewing I printed it out in 8X10 and took it to the senior center in Zuni.  After lunch I pulled it out of my bag and the man sitting next to me said, “Where did you get that?  That was my grandpa, Lawrence Chavez.”  When I uploaded the image with the new information it started a real crap storm. Seems like for years these pieces have been attributed to Louis.

LAWRENCE_B._CHAVEZ_KNIFEWING

Once again I canvassed the village to find the real L. B. Chavez.  I found two of his children, and got a photo from the minister at the Christian Reformed Church, a man who knew him well. No dice.  It was Louis and that was that.  It turns out that Lawrence is the only one with a middle name, Bill. Just Bill.  The provenance for Louis seems to be a lady in Illinois who had a business called The Indian Shoppe. Of course.

         Like a pit bull I never let loose.  There is a Louis Chavez.  The third.  No middle initial, and rather too far down the time line.  He made some fabulous pieces, but died very young.  Bille Hougart lists the mark, but refrains from putting a name to it.

Chavez_Louis_III

My favorite is Raymond Quam.  He is given credit for some nice pieces, especially the Kumanche faces by Ralph Quam. This one may be the work of Barton Wright who attached the initials RQ to Raymond.  Ralph and his wife Fannie (still alive at this writing) worked together so some pieces are signed R & F and sometimes R & F Quam.  Wright fills in the F initial with Francine.

THE_CLASSIC_RALPH_AND_FANNIE_QUAM_KUMANCHE_FACE

This one is notorious in Zuni.  I spoke to one ex-wife who said he never made any silverwork.  His sister said the same thing.  He was of the Fifties generation and ran around with Roger Tsabetsaye. Just to make things interesting, copies were being made in the Tobe Turpen shop.  Tupen’s house pieces are signed with a closed TT, that sometimes looks like the pi symbol.

Of necessity names are gleaned from traders and previously published sources. Nobody has the time or access to Zuni to go around asking questions, which is frowned on anyway. 

QUAM_COPY_FROM_TURPEN_S_SHOP._THE_CHIN_IS_TOO_LONG_AND_POINTED_THE_INCISED_FEATURES_AREN_T_RIGHT
0 Comment Posted in Information

1 - 5 of 266

Page:
  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5
X

enter your email below & receive

15% OFF

your next order, as well as exclusive news, offers and discounts directly to your inbox.

No, thank you