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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.>

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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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.


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