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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.>

A Little Known Zuni Art Form

Saturday, June 16, 2018 4:11 PM

A Little Known Zuni Art Form

During what I have dubbed the “Golden Age” in Zuni—the Forties and Fifties—there were many artists  who did it all, finally picking the talent most lucrative—usually jewelry work. Even then they often still had to have a “real” job to support their families.

         Teddy Weahkee is one artist in this group and Anthony (Tony) Edaaki is another.  Teddy was already doing renderings of Kokos (katsinas) in the early thirties and at that time it was still forbidden.  He got a lot of censure from the medicine men at the time.  He is probably best known for his paintings on hides, harking back to the time before Anglo influence 

Tony was born in 1927 and seems to have pursued all of his artistic skills until his passing in 1989.  Gregory Schaaf even gives him two biographical entries in American Indian Jewelry Vol.2.  One of his siblings is usually left out of his illustrious family, sister Lolepa (called Lolita) who was also and important jeweler.

Anthony Edaakie Collage

         Nobody knows which talent Anthony pursued first, but he worked in tempera, watercolor, acrylic and murals.  The latest word on his motel murals in Albuquerque—they will be destroyed when C. G. Wallace’s De Anza motel comes down.  He had a unique take on painting, creating what we call collages, but different from the works usually given this name.  On the painting he glued cloth, often padded, feathers, sticks and other things, but he also carved out wooden parts of the figure.  

These are more bas-relief than collage.  Call them high relief.  But both of those forms ordinarily use a single material, stone or metal.  Tony’s works are like a partial katsina carving glued to a board and then “dressed.”  Duane Dishta told me once that these pieces by Tony inspired him to become an artist.  Duane did the collage pictured here in 1965.

Edaaki favored the eagle dancer for his works, and there are still a number in Zuni.  His paintings of that Koko are found in several mediums.  It is possible he liked the eagle dancer because when they appear they come as a pair.  There are several examples of this katsina in Zuni including one very large pair framed together.  There is no evidence that he ever sold these pieces to the outside world, though some surely made it into collections.

Zuni Shalako Collage

Duane Dishta was another of the masters who worked in every medium.  The one collage of his I have seen is painting on board, decorated with feathers and felt with a minimum of wood.  In the sixties Duane was one of the best doll carvers in Zuni, and painted all the figures for the book on Zuni by Barton Wright. He had done the original paintings for a teacher in Zuni.  He said he only got a couple of bucks apiece.  They later sold to a high end collector and were given to the Southwest Museum in L. A. which led to the book.

I asked him once if the publishers paid him for using the paintings.  He thought for a minute and said, “They gave me six copies of the book.”

A little known artist in Zuni was the half-Hopi Courtney Mahkee.  He carved dolls to sell, but his eagle dancer collages are quite pleasing.  They face each other in two folk-art frames.  These pieces don’t have a lot of dressing, being painted wood half-dolls.

Another example by Edaaki

There are not many surviving examples of this Zuni art form and they have become treasured.  Most of these I know of were created in the fifties, and I have never seen one outside the village.  I’m sure some have gotten into Anglo collections, but I don’t know of a single example.  This seems to have been Zuni art for the Zunis.

Herding Horses

Saturday, June 16, 2018 3:10 PM

Herding Horses

       The horse is a very popular design in Zuni jewelry but they can be confusing if they are not cleanly signed.  Two types are especially difficult.       

       Overlay inlay—once called Zuni inlay because nobody else did it—would be difficult to attribute if they are not signed.

       The Simplicio brothers seem to make almost identical horse pieces, but they are different.  The pieces seen most often are the ones by Isabel and Chauncy, but some are signed by just Isabel.   The most obvious element of their horse is the nugget, or nuggets.  More importantly they don’t put a forelock on them.

Mike Simplicio horse

       The hair on the forehead belongs to Dan.  The forelock is very consistent so it is quite reliable.  Bracelets and buckles are more problematic.  Contrary to popular belief, stamps are not a good marker. Smiths shared tools all the time, and certain stamps that were popular were owned by many jewelers.

       For Dan the best marker is his leaf.  Unfortunately he didn’t always make the same leaf, especially later in his career. But the leaf is certainly important. Recently a watchband made by Francis Leekya, very clean random inlay and the Leekya leaf, was attributed to Dan. That piece is pretty easy to identify and shouldn’t be misattributed.

       The forelock on his horses separates his pieces from Chauncy and Isabel.  Mike Simplicio is more difficult.  There is a buckle signed by him using the Chauncy horse and nuggets but adding Dan’s leaves.  Probably he just borrowed the stamp. His leaves are not cleanly stamped, but it is the Dan leaf.  Mike’s horse also has a rather chiseled muzzle.

       The Qualo horse is very similar to those of the Simplicios with a simple horsehead done in white shell. Qualos, Elliott and Effie, usually signed their work.  The family says that even though they have exactly the same pieces, they worked separately.

Effie Qualo Horse

       Elliott’s round pieces almost always have the same stamped border.  Effie’s border is similar, but she used a different stamp.  She didn’t always do exactly the same horse and there is one that has more engraving and an applique silver rein.  That same piece has been attributed to Elliott.

       Double attributions are not uncommon.  A Nora Leekity style horsehead had been attributed to her and Paul Luna.  Her horses have a multi-colored band at the base, usually three tufts of mane hair, and reins that are used for stabilizing the parts.  There is a very similar one without the rein attributed to Roberta Benketewa.

       Bobby Concho’s horses are extravagant and detailed, but his horsehead is well within the tradition, if somewhat better made than some.

Bobby Concho Horse

       The horse is a very popular image and many people at Zuni have tried it.


Carl Gorman: Artist & Navajo Statesman

Saturday, June 16, 2018 12:37 PM

Carl Gorman: Artist & Navajo Statesman

Early in life Carl Gorman did well as a bootlegger on the Reservation.  Then he was one of the few native traders. His father Nelson Gorman had a post near Chinle.  Carl’s language skills were obvious—during the infamous stock reduction, he was used as a Navajo translator for the government—and he was one of the first Code Talkers taken.  Born in 1907, he was older than most of the guys—he lied about his age to enlist—but he was needed to craft the original code.  I barely knew what a Code Talker was.

In the summer of 1971 I was working for the Duke Oral History Project under C. Gregory Crampton at the University of Utah.  I got a call from him saying, “Get your behind over to the Navajo Museum and take your tape recorder and plenty of blank tape.”  Over a three day period I taped a bunch of these amazing men. The only person I know who got multiple tapes was Carl Gorman.  After that I crossed paths with this amazing man rather often and I believe I can call him a friend.Donkeys by Carl Gorman

One of Carl’s stories that upset a lot of White folks was about his treatment while attending primary school.  For a personality like Gorman’s it was inevitable he would get in trouble.  He finished his education at the Albuquerque Indian School, and the policies there were not too different that what he had seen already.  Until 1970 the official BIA stand was to make little Christian White Men out of the kids. Carl’s diploma said he was “A competent farmer.”  At least he got to play football.

After the war Carl took advantage of the GI Bill to further his education on his own terms for once.  He had been drawing all his life, but now he got into the Otis Art Institute.   During that time he matured, both as an artist and as a genuine character.  At that time Art became his fortune.  For years he signed his work with his clan name, Kin-ya-onnie-beyeh.

He started a Navaho Club in Southern California, but he realized he could reach more of his people back on the Reservation.  In 1964, not long before I met him the first time, he became director of the Navajo Arts & Crafts Guild.

Apache Ghan Dancers by Carl Gorman

In the late Sixties things started to change for Indian tribes as they got more autonomy from the government and project money like the Office of Navajo Education Opportunity.  He had two projects during this time that were of great importance.  He created a travelling exhibit of traditional Navajo history with several original paintings.  He organized an effort to tape record as many Hatathli—medicine men—as possible before all their knowledge passed into the darkness.

Gorman, like many Indian artists, could work in a variety of mediums.

Acrylics, drawings, watercolors and even ceramics were on his menu.   He was also a teacher.  He had a gig with U C Davis for several years.  It is hard to think of things Carl Gorman didn’t do.  I believe it is fair to say that his greatest accomplishment was the help he gave the Navajo people.  For years he signed his work with his clan name, Kin-ya-onnie-beyeh.

When Carl Gorman died in Gallup at the age of 90, the New York Times ran a generous obituary.  In the first sentence the writer says:  “Carl Gorman, a gentle Navajo artist who talked his way valiantly through some of the fiercest fighting of World War II…” had passed away.  The writer almost certainly did not realize how appropriate his statement was.  He was talking about the Navajo code that was never broken, not the silver-tongued storyteller.

I will never forget Carl Gorman the raconteur, teller of tales, Gorman the artist, the man who advanced the Navajo tribe in so many ways.

A young Carl Gorman

The Legend of C.G. Wallace

Tuesday, May 8, 2018 7:05 PM

The Legend of C.G. Wallace


Most of the public information dealing with C. G. Wallace seems to date from the article by Mike Tharp that appeared in the August 1974 issue of Arizona Highways.  The problem with that piece is that Wallace himself was the only source for the information there.  In the second paragraph Tharp states authoritatively, “During a colorful career that began in 1918, he established a rapport with the Zuni and Navajo achieved by few other white men.”  He adds the pronouncement, “An intensely private man, Mr. Wallace has repeatedly refused to allow publicity about his accomplishments.” 

         In truth, the legend of Charles Garrett Wallace, Zuni trader par excellence, was largely of his own creation.  While Wallace didn’t write about his major accomplishments, he bragged to anyone who would listen.  Only Wallace himself substantiates most of his claims, always in conversation with people who had only his interests at heart.

         Perhaps the most insulting and outrageous claim comes from Dexter Cerillo in 2008 writing “Leekya Deyuse…became famous under Wallace’s tutelage for his stylized rounded animal carvings that found their way into many jewelry forms.” Wallace may claim to have invented modern Zuni jewelry, but he can’t claim fetishes

It is a sad fact that Wallace was the most universally disliked individual in the history of White/Zuni relations.  Since I started my history of Zuni jewelry I have discovered that it is not possible to trust him about much of anything he said.

         Even the dates of his tenure in the village have been regularly misstated.  In Zuni: A Village of Silversmiths the authors write, “When the trader C. G. Wallace set up business in the pueblo in 1917, he said there were only five Zuni silversmiths there.” 

Wallace didn’t arrive in Zuni until late 1919 and for the next ten years he was merely a clerk for Charles Kelsey [the Ilfeld Co. was the actual owner, but Kelsey ran it], which gives the lie to quite a number of his pronouncements and claims.  There were certainly more than five smiths in Zuni by that time, and a growing market was being established for their work.  In 1920 there were fewer than 2,000 Zunis.

His friend Dale Stewart King (Indian Silver Vol Two, 1976) has real difficulty with Wallace’s dates, which are usually at odds with other “experts.”   One I particularly enjoy had to do with some writers claiming the first Zuni inlay was done in 1935.  Wallace complained to King, “I had sold more than a million dollars worth of it before then.”  King adds, “He also told me he had started Zunis inlaying silver before 1920. There’s that pesky date again. King addresses Wallace’s faulty dates half a dozen times before saying, “Mr. Wallace’s dates...pose some problems. I surely am not about to doubt his memory.”  Somebody should have.

It also seems he is the source of Dan Simplicio’s childhood jewelry making, telling King that Dideos “…helped to encouraged Dan to become a good craftsman. He taught Dan to make silver coins and to make leaves of different sizes.  This was in the middle ‘20’s.” [sic]  Simplicio was born in 1917 which would make him eight years old at that time.

Another ridiculous claim he made was his involvement in the invention of needlepoint and cluster.  He claimed when turquoise got scarce he took boxes of scrap and doled them out to his best artists, who then made cluster pieces.  This is totally impossible unless matching the stones didn’t matter. I told Bryant Waatsa about this claim and he snorted.

Joe Tanner told me once that when he got in a shipment of stone he would pick it for hours to find matching colors.  When Lee and Mary Weebothe got the rock they would pick again, and give half of it back.

One of the things that makes it appear he was an Indian trader earlier than he was is the application for a license to trade in 1920.  It was not a license to run a business, but merely to work in the Kelsey trading post.  They had to get such a clearance for every employee, even the Indians.

Wallace was very critical of the Zunis, saying they were poor (15 beds in the entire pueblo, for example) and lazy, sleeping and gambling their days away. Quoted by Tharp, he said, “When I came to Zuni they gambled, they played, and they didn’t do much work at all.” 

Debora Slaney wrote of Wallace, “During that first year, Wallace set out to become acquainted with the village of Zuni”…He “was also known as Mujugi (Night Owl) for his tendency to do business with jewelers in the evening.”  She quoted C. G. as her source for the claim: “As soon as I arrived in Zuni, I made it a point to get acquainted…As soon as we closed the Trading Post, I would select certain sections of the Village, and go visiting—“   

It is a stretch to believe that a clerk, fresh off the train, would be doing business directly with the people at all.  It is true the Zunis began to call him “Owl Man” but for very different reasons than he said.   Many Zunis have told me over the years that Wallace was called “Owl” because he prowled the streets in the middle of the night, looking for houses where no one was home, or slipping into kivas to see if there was anything valuable to take.  His brother Robert was called “Gomeh” which means crybaby, or whiner.

When various writers say Wallace was a consummate trader by 1919, they are missing the fact that he arrived in Zuni in October of that year.  He was certainly a fast study.

The Leo Poblano Snake Dancer

Tuesday, April 17, 2018 12:35 PM

The Leo Poblano Snake Dancer

  Looking at the small black and white photo on page eighty-four of the famous C. G. Wallace sale catalogue from 1975, it is difficult to understand how this inlayed figure has become the iconic work of the master stone cutter Leo Poblano. 

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