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.