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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.>

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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. 


         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.


         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.


         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.


         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.


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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?


          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.


         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.


         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.


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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.


           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.


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.


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.


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. 

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The Confusion of Ike & Austin Wilson

Wednesday, July 11, 2018 6:39 PM

The Confusion of Ike & Austin Wilson

For two men who were not even remotely related these two talented silversmiths have been inextricably intertwined.  Several bits in their biographies may have added to the confusion. Both Navajos were born on the same part of the Reservation not far north of Zuni.  Exactly where they were from is unclear because censuses list the place the material was collected.  They both appear in the Southern Navajo Agency censuses.

         They were both born in the same year, 1900, and both went to Zuni around 1925.  They came from well-established silver-working families, and both men could, and did, make pretty much anything.  They were not brothers, they did not both use the bow and arrow stamp, but some of their pieces have a strong similarity to each other.  The bow and arrow belonged to Ike and his family, and they did not use all the examples shown in Barton Wright.  


Because Navajos were more willing to do boxes, platters, ashtrays, hollow ware and the like, Ike and Austin often set Zuni lapidary work on large silver objects but they created items of their own design as well.

         In a 1948 interview Teddy Weahkee said that in 1932 he had created a Knifewing in mosaic stonework.  Since he hadn’t yet learned to work silver he took it to Ike Wilson who set in on a bowguard.  It was a big hit.

         Ike’s wife Katherine was an excellent jeweler in her own right and worked separately from her husband.  She and at least one of her children went on using the bow and arrow stamp for many years.  One dealer explained this by saying Ike gave up silversmithing because he was going blind. He was only forty-two when his wife killed him, so it is unlikely, and this affliction is not mentioned anywhere else.

Katherine Wilson in 1955

In the C.G. Wallace catalogue Ike Wilson is identified with twenty-four pieces, Mrs. Ike three, Katherine two and Austin six.  That seems to be pretty good representation—except of the thirty-five items, only four are illustrated.  Since Wallace recognized them as two different smiths it is curious there has been so much confusion.  Considering that Wallace is the recognized authority on Zuni jewelry it is odd that this particular attribution is ignored while demonstrably wrong ones are gospel.

         In John Adair’s appendix he lists Austin and Katherine, who were not married, and there is no Ike or Isaac.  Ike is mentioned in the text, however, and when his brother-in-law Charlie Bitsui came to Zuni, Adair says Ike was already well known. His father, Son of White Haired Man, was the first Navajo to live in the village and Charles Kelsey built a hogan for him behind the trading post.

         As a point of historical inaccuracy, how and why Katherine killed her husband is something of a mystery.  Because Indian reservations are considered to be under Federal jurisdiction, the FBI is the only agency allowed to investigate major crimes. Sadly, the official policy is to rather ignore murder as long as it is between tribal members—and this is still largely the case.  The story of Katherine Wilson’s killing of her husband Ike is an old one. According to the tale, Ike was quite abusive and one day she took an axe and solved the problem permanently.


         The official inquiry concluded that Katherine killed him accidently with a loaded rifle she picked up in the house.  Later she became a close friend of Shirley Kelsey’s and that was the only version the trader’s wife ever heard.  A Gallup dealer told me he had heard the axe version of the story from Katherine herself.

         More than one high-end dealer has told me it doesn’t matter what the truth is, Ike and Austin are the same man for identification purposes. The same is true for Leekity/Leak and a few others.  Nice to know anyway.

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Stampede Strings & Bolo Ties

Thursday, May 24, 2018 12:15 PM

Stampede Strings & Bolo Ties

       The bolo tie has nothing to do with the Argentine throwing weapon that consists of three round stones tied together with leather thongs. With that thing around your neck you were in trouble.  It was also not invented by some fellow in Arizona with a good imagination in 1940 something.  In fact, the bolo tie has been around in some form for many years.

         For white consumption the original form was known as a stampede string.  In the 1850’s inmates in Deer Lodge Prison were braiding them out of horsehair.  It was time consuming, which was probably the idea.  The cord went around the crown of the hat and though the hat with two small holes.  The hanging cords were joined together with a slider, also made of hair.  The tips were two large fluffy tufts of hair hanging from the cord ends.

         In a stampede or a tornado the cord was snugged up under the chin with the slider.  It might not keep the hat on your head, but it did keep the darned thing on your person.  A similar cord—gold—went around the brim of the hat of a cavalry officer.


         The next development was also part of the cowboy’s dress.  The scarf—bandana, neckerchief and 17 others, some not fit to print—was a common item of dress.  It was pulled up over the face when riding drag, eating the dust of the herd.  Or robbing a bank if that was your thing.  The tie slide is faster to slip off.

         The Zuni version was pretty early.  Sheep vertebrae have a hole the right size for the purpose.  The earliest ones were painted, then came inlay, then beadwork.   Mid century Conrad Lessarly was selling a lot of them to the Boy Scouts.  Unfortunately they stimulated the Colorado Scouts to cobble up their own version of Zuni dances.


During the Thirties and Forties C. G Wallace encouraged the ladies of Zuni to switch from pottery—hard to ship—to beadwork.  He said once he took in as many as 500 a day.  The 1940 Census showed nearly 200 women claiming occupation—beadwork.  Roger Tsabetsaye told me he took several hundred of the cow slides to the United Nations and sold out.THESE_ARE_TYPICAL_OF_THE_MODERN_TIE_SLIDES

 It was natural to apply the sliding neckwear idea to jewelry.  There are many forms of homemade backs to hold the cords in place. Some of the bolo backs are very original.

         Many people think the ties can be dated by the by the common Bennet closer, but it really only dates the Bennet.  Knowing that Anglos like old, or the appearance of old, some makers today still use one of the old styles.  It was also sometimes difficult to drop in to the jeweler’s supply store.

         Probably the most common back was the three rings.  Two up top to separate the cords, a larger one below to clasp the cords.  Another was the M shape.  Cords went through the high spot at the sides, the middle of the M could be adjusted for tension.  I have seen a dozen other configurations.

         The tips can be cheap ones from a supply place or elaborate creations in their own right.  Tom Weahkee went all out on his.  They are art in and of themselves.  The function of the tips is to keep the cord from unraveling.   They are called aglets—the same as shoelace tips.


         Jack Mahkee got an idea from the old string ties and braided his own heavier cord with unusual tips.  He split a piece of leather into two lengths, and then braided them without cutting the strap.  The smaller eagles below are a great touch.

         Frank Vacit was amazingly creative and created a pair with turquoise set into the silver—true inlay.  The tips are crushed but there appears to be stamens in the blossoms.  I have only seen this on one other and it must have been very time consuming.



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