Chester Kahn Chester Kahn
Introduction

I have never seen many jewelry pieces made by Chester Kahn, but the ones I have are absolutely amazing. His work has a definite Navajo influence with that once in a generation artistic touch. Chester has been creating, learning & sharing art for more than five decades and was honored with the title “Living Treasure” in 2008.

Perry Null Trading

When John Adair was working on his book, The Navajo & Pueblo Silver, he spent a considerable amount of time in Pine Springs. Do you remember this?

Chester Kahn

I was just a child when I first saw him, maybe five years old. I came home and remember him sitting on the couch in my parent’s living room. He came back to the area over the years and I have remained in contact with his family.

Perry Null Trading

He spent a considerable amount of time with Tom Burnside, do you know him?

Chester Kahn

He is my uncle. When I was little I would watch him and his brother John Burnside make jewelry.

Perry Null Trading

Is that who taught you silversmithing?

Chester Kahn

No, I didn’t have a teacher. I learned from watching my uncles and parents, Jack & Alta Kahn.

ChesterKahnBracelet ChesterKahnRing

Perry Null Trading

Did your parents and uncle make jewelry fulltime?

Chester Kahn

You didn’t have all these programs back then so you had to do everything to survive. During the winter when you didn’t have your crops and animals to take care of you made jewelry fulltime, but during the summer it was when you didn’t have to take care of something else.

Perry Null Trading

So, how often would John Adair come back to Pine Springs?

Chester Kahn

I was sent off to school so I was gone from Pine Springs for 12 years, coming back in 1958.

Perry Null Trading

Where did you goto school?

Chester Kahn

At that time the Navajo Reservation didn’t have many schools. And you had a number of kids who didn’t know how to speak English or had ever been in school. So special schools were sent up in places like California, Oklahoma and other faraway places. I attended school in Carson City, Nevada. The school was called the Stewart Indian School.

Perry Null Trading

Did you speak English when you arrived at Stewart?

Chester Kahn

Yes, I had already been going to school in Shiprock and was learning English.

Perry Null Trading

Was Stewart your typical school?

Chester Kahn

It had special programs for the students. It was a vocational school where they taught you a skill.

Perry Null Trading

Was your skill art?

Chester Kahn

No, I choose Ranching & Farming. We had art classes there, but it was only once a week. I think they called it Art Club.

Perry Null Trading

What kind of art?

Chester Kahn

Painting, it was taught by Jimmy Toddy, Beatien Yazz, who had gone to school at Stewart.

Perry Null Trading

So up to this point you had never made any jewelry.

Chester Kahn

That is right.

Perry Null Trading

What style of painting did you do?

Chester Kahn

I did traditional paintings in a style like Beatien Yazz.

Perry Null Trading

So you are painting, is this how you are making a living after school is over?

Chester Kahn

Stewart hired several Navajos after they finished school so they could interpret for the teachers who didn’t speak Navajo. I did that for a while until I married and my wife was offered a position back on the Reservation in Lukachukai. We came home in 1958.

Perry Null Trading

What were you doing to make a living?

Chester Kahn

Lots of things to make a living.

Perry Null Trading

When did you start doing art fulltime?

Chester Kahn

It was different then, no body was doing art fulltime. You just didn’t have the amount of buyers as you do today.

Perry Null Trading

When did things start to change?

Chester Kahn

Many Native American artisans and traders were becoming very concerned that not many young people were learning the arts. So, they got together and formed an organization and along with the help of the University of Arizona began a special program to develop young artists. I was invited to participate in went to Tucson for my first summer of studies in 1960.

Perry Null Trading

What were you learning?

Chester Kahn

Everything, they introduced us to all the different art styles. I concentrated in painting and jewelry making. My teacher for jewelry was Charles Loloma and an anglo taught me painting. This was a very successful program that lasted for five years and was the forerunner to the Institute of American Indian Arts, IAIA.

Perry Null Trading

Do you remember any of the other artist you participated in this program?

Chester Kahn

Bobby Hicks and Roger Tsabetsaye are two I remember the names, but their were lots of us there.

Perry Null Trading

You do this program for five years, and when you are done do things change for you?

Chester Kahn

Nothing ever happened fast. I still had to do lots of different things to make a living. I did sign painting with my bother Franklin. This was my main financial source during the 1960s and 1970s. In the 1970s it started to change a little. Native American art was becoming very popular and I had a relationship with Joe Tanner where he would buy all my jewelry.

Perry Null Trading

What kind of work were you doing, style.

Chester Kahn

I did both traditional and contemporary work. Joe has really good turquoise and he would supply me with stones and silver. At first I worked in his shop along with Raymond and Lee Yazzie, but eventually I would just make the pieces at home.

Perry Null Trading

I never see your jewelry, did you make a lot?

Chester Kahn

I made lots of jewelry, but it would go out from here. In 1972 I had a partnership in Turquoise Hogan located in Scottsdale and was working fulltime making jewelry. When the boom came we made as much as we could.

Perry Null Trading

In 2008 you were honored with the title “Living Treasure”, that is a nice honor.

Chester Kahn

Yes, I did lots of different styles of art. Even some illustrations for a publishing company in California. It was a personal reward.

Perry Null Trading

Have you been able to teach art?

Chester Kahn

I have never have had a student, but have done demonstrations.

Perry Null Trading

Thank you