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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.>

Leonard Maloney - Navajo Silversmith

Friday, August 23, 2019 5:26 PM

Leonard Maloney - Navajo Silversmith

Leonard Maloney was  born and raised in the Twin Lakes area and had a traditional upbringing.  His mother was Emma Tom who, he recalls, was good at all the traditional activities, even butchering sheep.  And—she was a master jeweler.  Of course she didn’t sign her pieces, and the family has not managed to keep her work.

Her major design was an  squash that didn’t show the beads.  She would make twelve “blossoms” on each side, and they completely covered the silver balls.  His dad was from Tuba City, and his parents met in Earl’s Restaurant.  Father worked all his life for the railroad until machines replaced all hand work.  He told me Maloney Avenue was named for Jimmy Maloney.

Leonard didn’t start making jewelry until he was seventeen or eighteen. His grandfather made jewelry, but he was very secretive and wouldn’t let anyone watch him work.  He learned basic technique from a Thoreau silver worker named Ron Martinez..

Martinez was an in-law and taught quite a few apprentices.  Maloney says the all the Martinezes were taught by a man named Curt Smith.

Leonard uses the sand casting technique to create his concho belts and bolos.  He prefers to buy a kind of casting sand from Thunderbird Supply.  He is willing to pay more for this medium, finding out that the traditional mix of sand, cement and oil puts off dangerous fumes.  He uses copper patterns. 

He uses only scrap silver which he melts for casting. When he gets a plate of silver for a concho he still has a lot of finishing work to do.  Though the cast piece shows the  stamping, he has to re-stamp the whole thing for a clean look.  Then he has to dome the pieces because they are all cast flat.  He says he can make a finished concho belt in four hours.

When he was young he once turned out 25 belts at once, and then hung them around the hogan walls.  He has many awards in spite of not liking to enter in shows, including a First at Ceremonial.

Of course he always continues to perfect his art.  He now uses an overlay technique which gives his belts and bolos another layer and a more three dimensional look.  He makes belts for both men and women.  Sometimes he adds a single stone in the center of the conchos.

He still lives a short distance from where he was born.  He intends to stay there in spite of the fact that family members have moved away.  His immediate family has also scattered and one of his daughters lives in northern Idaho not far from the Canadian border.

These days his silver work is highly sought after and commands a decent price.  At one time he got some great publicity when Calvin Cline put his belts on models which gave Maloney a visual format all over the country and Europe.

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What do you call those Little Silver People  Yeis? Kachinas?

All of the above probably.  None are copies of actual Navajo Yeis or Zuni Koko. The question here is, who made what?  I have discussed the problems of attribution before, apparently without much success.  One often sees figures attributed to OLSON AND MARY LEEKITY based on the initials MO.  Linda Kaplan told me the MO signature is stamped on the work of Navajo ORVILLE MANYGOATS.  [Note:  Male Yeis have square heads, females round.] 

Zuni kokos have appropriately shaped noggins, but they are always masked.  Oherwise they are social dancers including eagle dance, snake dance, harvest dance, buffalos  and the like.

It is stated authoritatively that no Zunis ever made the little guys .  But there are at least two Zuni makers who certainly did.  Artists of skill and importance to the history of Zuni silverwork.

  When I found the first piece by CHARLES HANNAWEEKE  I showed it to a  couple of  his family members who told me Charles and Pauline never did that kind of work.The stamp was mostly obliterated so I dropped my inquiries.  Then I found a few more with clean signatures.


In a number of ways the Hannaweeke forms are the best.  For one thing they look less like Navajo Yeis and more original, mormysterious.   

Charlie’s most evocative figure is the horned Ogre.

             Call it an ogre for lack of a better word.  Though the horns, menacing mouth and beard might look like some Indian Devil, is represents nothing—at least nothing recognized by an ethnic group. It is an intricately designed form with the close-set and impressive piercing eyes, the long thin horns, the odd top-not.  The row of ovals doesn’t look as much like a ruff as menacing teeth, with a lizard-like tongue hanging down. 

The long skirt is more female than a normal dance kilt, and the figure wears a cape.  Finally, the object in his left hand loosk more like a weapon the right holds some sort of plant.  Neither are the more familiar rattles and wands.  Apparently Charlie liked it; perhaps because it wasn’t very Zuni looking. He used it in a variety of pieces from earrings and pendants to bracelets and pendants.  One important note:  They are always signed.



The most common Hannaweeke model is the one usually given to the Leekitys and made by Navajos.  A standing form, often with crossed arms (not a dance position), usually with three stones in the headdress, and less often one in the belly of the little statue.  A similar square head and tubular eyes and mouth.

        MANYGOATS’  pieces  are usually signed.  Two things not always seen on smaller pieces help identify his work as much as anything—a soaring leaf-shaped head-dress is mostly consistent.  He also has another tell, most of his pieces have old-time open sleeves. Those touches are not seen on all his rings and earrings.




Several other Navajos make the silver yeis, most notably DORIS SMALLCANYON, whose work could sometimes pass for ALONZO HUSTITO’S withe three-stone headdress and turquoise eyes similar.

ALONZO HUSTITO The really superb version of the silver yes was done by Alonzo who also signed his work with the small bear stamp (his clan) and initials A. H..  

The leggings on this Eagle Dancer are typical of Hustito’s work.  Most of the little figures have leggings, but Alonzo’s have the same stamp work


                                            CLASSIC ALONZO HUSTITO  

          NOT SIGNED

Unsigned pieces are more of a problem.  

The fellow on the  right has creepy eyes and what looks like two mouths.  Maybe the upper one is a nose. His leaf headdress is different than Orville’s.

The guy on the left is even stranger. Don’t know what his headdress is supposed to be.

JERRY ROAN signs with JR.  He does excellent work, but seems to only make eagles.  The ones I have seen are all different, so he doesn’t just use the same  pattern.   


Pieces have been attributed to M ORTIZ  that are exactly the same as Orville Manygoats—the open sleeves and the leaf headdresses.  Most pieces are quite nice, and not so derivative.  I have not found out much about Mr. Ortiz.  


Randy Pinto - Drawing on a Sense of Place

Friday, July 5, 2019 5:27 PM

Randy Pinto - Drawing on a Sense of Place

        Zunis know that Idiwanna, The Middle Place, is the center of the Zuni universe.  They know that they were meant to be there, and that all of the natural elements, including the land, the animals and the birds, are under their care, and for their sense of harmony in the universe.  There is no denying that traders and collectors have had a huge influence on Zuni jewelry.  The buying public want what they want.

Larson Randall Pinto, “Randy”, has, for the most part, managed to do his own thing.  Since childhood he has been drawn to his natural environment, and the superb quality of his work has sold it to the public, even if his subjects are not “Indian.”  

There is no mystery about his artistic talent, or his early interest in the making of fine jewelry.  His grandmother Daisy Nampeyo (Hopi/Tewa), is famous for her fine pottery and her Olla Maiden dance group.  But she is hardly known for her influence on Zuni jewelry.  In fact, it was Daisy who first made figures in inlay, with finely carved faces.  Her pieces did not follow the norms of the time.  Early on she collaborated with Leo Poblano and they made pieces featuring spirit beings and Koko (the katsinas).

Randy’s mother Shirley and her husband Virgil Benn are masters of inlay who often do work that, except for technique, would not be considered Zuni.  Over the years they have used a Noah’s Arc of animal figures, often combining a number of them in a single “squash”.

Shirley Benn Turtle

He helped his mother by grinding shell and other materials, and was watching the process.  Most Zunis learn jewelry making by observing, and assisting, family members

And then, of course, there is his brother, the master carver Marlin Pinto.

As a teenager he started buffing for the Ingrams.  He went off to the Stewart Indian School for his upper grades, then, as a practical matter, went to mechanics school to learn a trade.  This had been a common practice for young Natives sent to Government boarding schools, but Randy was looking to the future when he took his new trade seriously and became mechanic.  He says he was looking for social security.

Because his engine repair work is often seasonal, he began making the jewelry he had grown up with.  Always a nonconformist, Randy went his own way, with his own aesthetic.  He was drawn to his bird subjects because they are always around us, bringing joy and happiness.  They move freely through the world, are almost all holy to the Zuni people, and bring blessings, as well a joy, to the people. 

Randy Pinto Hummingbird 

        Randy is well aware of the physical danger the Earth is in, and sees a day when his grandchildren may not have the pleasure of wild birds at all.  It doesn’t take a scientist to realize we have collectively lost the concept of Earth as our mother.  Pinto does his best to honor her.

He started with the most iconic bird in the Southwest, the bluebird.  He expanded his designs to include other birds of the area, then went on to some of the exotics.  The macaw is one of his favorites, a bird sacred to the Natives Americans in prehistoric times.

He was pushed to do inlay of other types and has modified some of his mother’s designs, like the Indian maiden.  But birds remain his favorites, and he is always looking to expand his knowledge of feathered creatures.  At first he just picked up what bird books he could fine, then sought out more comprehensive references.  Now he is always on the lookout for more and better compilations.

He became a fan of PBS because of the extent and excellence of their nature programs.  He enjoys learning about the natural world, even animals and places outside his main interest. 

Randy Pinto’s work is as clean and well-crafted as any Zuni working today, and he is understandably proud of his art.

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Orin Eriacho - Zuni Fetish Carver

Wednesday, June 12, 2019 1:31 PM

Orin Eriacho - Zuni Fetish Carver

      Orin Eriacho grew up in the big rock house south of the Zuni river built by Henry Gasper.  The home is most associated with the Tsabetsaye family, and linked to the Walelas.  Like most Zunis, Orin was surrounded by creativity and family celebrity, but his entry into the art world came out of his own interests.

In the sixth grade he did some carvings in what is called “Hopi” style.  They are basically sticks with heads carved and important features, but no feathers or dressing.  He thinks he did a dozen or so of these figures.  In Jr. High he started carving antler.

Orin began carving rock, using scraps from the artists around him.  The fetishes were tiny, but completely dressed.  He was mentored by Bob Walela and expanded his repertoire.  From the beginning he has carved rock found on the Zuni reservation.  He refuses to buy his stone.  Dealers began to criticize the use of what is known as “Zuni Rock” or “Leekya Stone” because it wasn’t colorful enough.


One dealer at least claims the rock only comes from land owned by the Leakya family and they are the only ones using it for carving.  Neither of those statements are correct.  And though the stone is usually thought of as the soft ochre yellow, it comes in a variety of colors from white to dark brown.  Some of it shows spots and stripes.  The mineral is travertine, and a number of Zuni carvers have their own quarries, which they guard.

In the 1880s Frank Cushing looked for a fabled turquoise mine in the Zuni Mountains.  In a terrible blizzard he lost his mule and his way, but he found an ancient digging with several copper minerals—malachite and azurite.  Orin’s uncle, Felino Eriacho has a source for that colorful mineral and carves it.

Other exotic stone is also found on the Mesas that surround the village.  Orin carves purple fluorite which should satisfy any demand for color.  Some of it is nearly transparent and the viewer sees into the body of the stone.  Orin says it seems to flame while grinding.  The fire closely resembles opal.

Flourite Bear

Many carvers get a feel for their stone and look for the animal inside.  One fluorite bear Orin carved is only half there.  He says that was the animal he saw, and the carving balances on one front paw.

Eriacho gives lie to the complaint about color in Zuni rock.  He carved a mountain lion two and a half feet long, crouching with an intense stare.  The coloring of the rock, with dark stripes like lighting, is perfect for the intense lion.  He entered it in a show in Dallas and it won Best of Division.  It sold on the spot.

Orin is a hard man to catch because he lives intensely, always busy with his art and other business.  He hauls wood for quick cash, but says he just loves being in the mountains, and he sees lots of wildlife.  Nature recharges his battery.

Milford Nahohai

Tuesday, April 9, 2019 5:43 PM

Milford Nahohai

         All Zunis grow up surrounded by art, but Milford Nahohai has probably done better than most.  His family tree looks like more like a Christmas display.  Wherever the family name came from, as it is written today it is the Navajo word for rodeo [originally chicken pull] a rather exciting event.  Astonishingly, Milford’s paternal grandfather, Antone (Antonacio) Nahohai, was born in 1863 and his wife the same year.  That is a huge connection with the past. 

This is a century and a half in only three generations.  Milford heard older family members tell about the past and traditional beliefs.  His great uncle Lonkeena later recorded stories for posterity and Milford is listening to them.  I urge him to transcribe them.

Antone had two sons, Dalyupta, 1905, and Nat, 1906.  Dalyupta is one of the best kept secrets in Zuni history.  He was blind, but that didn’t keep him from doing more (and better) than most of his contemporaries.  He moved around the village without a cane, knew people by their footsteps, and was a seer in the Ancient Greek pattern.

Over the years dozens of people have told me their personal stories about this man.  It seemed he could read minds.  Blind people tend to sharpen other senses to get along, but Dalyupta could “see” things that never ceased to astonish folks.  Even if some of the stories are exaggerated, his actual accomplishments are dizzying.  He repaired furniture.  He dealt in jewelry raw materials.  One man swore Dalyupta had a still for bootleg liquor at one time.

I have seen a carved frog he made and it is very lifelike.  For silversmith Myrtle Naieshta he rebuilt a rolling mill that turns silver slugs into plate and wire.  The broken, heavy tool had been discarded.  Dalyupta’s brother was Milford’s dad, Nate.  Nate carved katsinas and fetishes.

Milford’s mother Josephine was orphaned at an early age and was raised in the Bowekaty family.  Needlepoint master Hugh was the baby of the group, but several others were jewelers.  His grandmother’s brother was Lonkeena who is given credit for taking his wife and several other ladies to the first Ceremonial and originating the so-called Olla Maidens.  He was a consummate storyteller and contributed to the Duke Oral History project in the late 60s.  Lonkeena made the old traditional “tab” turquoise necklaces.

Maternal grandma Lawatsa made pottery and was known as a weaver.  Nobody seems to know that Zunis wove blankets.  She steered Josephine away from weaving because she said she was often not paid.  Milford recalls Grandma Lawatsa didn’t make as much pottery as some of the ladies, but it was a skill she passed down.

Josephine was first married to another important silversmith, Jerry Shebala and together they produced jewelry legend Dixon Shebala who in turn was married to a Hustito.  Josephine, never associated with silverwork, won a blue ribbon at the first New Mexico State Fair where Native artists were allowed to enter their own work.  She traded a squash-blossom necklace for the land the Nahohai house stands on.

Milford told me that both he and brother Randy first learned to make jewelry.  Josephine switched them all to ceramics because the clay and other materials were free in nature.  Silver and turquoise were becoming too dear.

Over the years she won many awards for her pottery eventually being honored as a living legend.  Both Milford and Randy have also been stars in the world of Zuni pottery and a few years ago, not long before Randy’s sudden passing, the two brothers and their family were given extensive coverage in Ceramics in America 15, a hardcover annual devoted to the pottery arts.

Randy was married for years to Rowena Him, whose parents were both important jewelers.  Their son JC, who sometimes works parties as a DJ, is now taking over the mantle and winning awards at the big Indian art shows. He also spent time in Japan, studying Japanese pottery The family has pushed the boundaries of Zuni pottery into the 21st Century while keeping it grounded in tradition.

Milford got a big dose of Zuni art when he joined the Zuni Arts and Crafts enterprise, eventually managing the business.  This took Milford all over the country from folk gatherings in DC to their two shops on the West Coast; San Francisco and Venice.  There was talk at one time about opening a store in Paris, France.

Thanks largely to grants, the Zuni Tribe created their own book imprint in the early Nineties and produced several volumes.  I have known Milford and his late brother for many years but it was the book Zuni: A Village of Silversmiths, 1996, that I particularly quizzed him about.  I hoped he could explain why there were so many errors in a book, issued in the name of the Zuni Tribe. 

Even though he is listed as co-author with James Ostler and Marian Rodee he says his involvement was primarily with the interviews, one between Ostler and him, the other a perceptive interview he conducted with the late Charles Hustito.

His interview with older ladies is the best discussion of Zuni aesthetics I have ever read, but he told me he never saw the rest of the text.  “They just copied stuff from books, like everyone does.”  That was a really unfortunate missed  opportunity.

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