No one really knows how long the Hopi People have lived in the Four Corners. What we do know is that it has been for a very long time. The history of these ancient People are scattered across the Four Corners and Southwest with abandoned ruins and petroglyphs. Today’s Hopi draw on the past to shape the way they live today, and artists like Berra Tawahongva are in tune with his culture.

berra tawahongva hopi silversmith

Perry Null Trading

How did you get involved with jewelry?

Berra Tawahongva

Well, I wanted to attend college after graduating from high school. That summer I was hanging out with my friend Willis Humeyestewa, who lived across the street from me. His brothers made jewelry and told us to help them since we didn’t have anything else to do.

Perry Null Trading

Did they have a big shop?

Berra Tawahongva

No, Willis' brothers didn't work at the home. We would go to the Hopi Guild Shop.

Perry Null Trading

How does that work?

Berra Tawahongva

It was started in the late 1940s to help veterans after they returned home from World War II. You go there and they have all the tools and materials you need. A lot of the older guys would be there to help you and answer questions.

Perry Null Trading

What do you learn first?

Berra Tawahongva

You first start with tin, you draw the designs on the metal and then you're taught where to cut. After you have the cutting down you move to copper and begin to learn how to solder. Eventually you start to dig through the scrap silver box and make small pendants.

Perry Null Trading

How long did it take you to make a good piece of silver?

Berra Tawahongva

The hardest thing is making straight cuts and it took me about 4 – 5 years to make perfect cuts. It takes a long time to make those cuts and people would ask me what kind of machine I used.

Perry Null Trading

Once you learned how to make a good piece of silver, did you go back and help those learning at the Guild?

Berra Tawahongva

No, it has been closed for a long time. It's sad because it was a really good place to go and learn how to make jewelry. All those teachers would volunteer their time.

Perry Null Trading

Now that you are making great cuts, when do you develop the Berra Tawahongva style?

Berra Tawahongva

After learning at the Hopi Guild I went to Honani Crafts with my friends to do my silver work. Then in 1992 I had my first son. I was the one that had to watch him during the day, so I got my own tools and made my shop at home.

Perry Null Trading

This is when your style changes?

Berra Tawahongva

When you first learn, you do a lot of small pendants and band rings. They have those classic Hopi designs like water waves. I knew I wanted to make different jewelry, so at that time I started making lots of pieces that had to do with hunting and animals.

Hopi Overlay Bracelet Deer with Deer Dancer by Silversmith Berra Tawahongva Hopi Overlay Bracelet Deer with Deer Dancer by Silversmith Berra Tawahongva
Perry Null Trading

Some of the pieces we get from you are unlike anything we have seen, where do those figures come from?

Berra Tawahongva

Around Hopi we have lots of petroglyphs. I walk around the mesa walls and look for different petroglyphs. When I find one that calls me I will take sand in my hand and press it against the design. Then I press my hand against paper and will get a resemblance of the figure.

Perry Null Trading

What happens if the figure is incomplete?

Berra Tawahongva

I think about what the body could look like and design my own.

Perry Null Trading

Do you know what the meaning of these figures are?

Hopi Overlay Pendants Ancient Petroglyph Figures by Silversmith Berra Tawahongva Hopi Overlay Pendants Ancient Petroglyph Figures by Silversmith Berra Tawahongva
Berra Tawahongva

No, we have lost a lot of those meanings. The designs that we do still use, I don’t ap those to my jewelry because those are sacred.

Perry Null Trading

Who are you selling to?

Berra Tawahongva

I was taking them to the shops in Hopi.

Perry Null Trading

How many of those are there?

Berra Tawahongva

About a dozen shops.

Perry Null Trading

Hopi jewelry is really popular with the Japanese, how does this develop?

Berra Tawahongva

Different buyers would come out to Hopi and then take the jewelry to people who had websites. I would sell a lot of my jewelry to Al Mymon. After that Japanese buyers started showing up when they would see the Hopi style on the internet.

Perry Null Trading

Do you remember your first Japanese customer?

Berra Tawahongva

The first was Hiro from God’s Trading. He came looking for myself, Roy Talahaftewa, and Gary Yoyokie. Many of the early buyers still come around.

Perry Null Trading

Has that had a positive effect on the younger kids in Hopi who want to make jewelry?

Berra Tawahongva

When I was first starting out everyone was making jewelry. In fact, to many of us were making jewelry. But now that we don’t have the Hopi Guild shop it seems not as many younger people are learning the craft.

Perry Null Trading

Does most of your stuff go overseas?

Berra Tawahongva

Most of those orders are for small pendants or rings. I really enjoy making those large pieces, so that stuff stays here in the States.

Hopi Overlay Large Bolo of Ancient Petroglyph Figures by Silversmith Berra Tawahongva Hopi Overlay Large Bolo of Ancient Petroglyph Figures by Silversmith Berra Tawahongva
Perry Null Trading

Thank you.