first Southwest Native Americans to do metalsmithing were the Diné
(Navajo) in the mid-nineteenth century. By the end of the century,
the craft had spread to the Zunis, the Hopis and the Rio Grande
Pueblos. The earliest silver used was Mexican coin silver.
program participants make silver, gold, copper and brass jewelry.
Silver used is sterling silver (92.5% pure). Silverplate over base
metals and nickel alloy are not allowed under the portal. On some
silver items, non-silver attaching or adapting devices, called "findings",
may be used. Gold is becoming increasingly common in Native American
jewelry. Program rules permit gold, goldfill (12KGF or 14KGF) and
gold overlay or sterling silver. Many jewelers get their start working
with brass. More experienced jewelers, too, use this less costly
metal in some work to provide buyers with less expensive items.
Some silversmiths cut and shape some or all of their stones; others
use pre-shaped, polished stones, called "cabs" (cabochons).
Example of nickel-plated silver. Silverplated metals appear
overly shiny and are breakable due to poor quality (click to
view larger image).
Native Americans have been making pottery in New Mexico for over
1500 years. Some of the pottery sold under the portal is stone polished.
Some is decorated with natural mineral or vegetal paints; some with
commercial paints, an innovation introduced in the 1920s. All pottery
sold here is made of earth clay gathered on the potters own
reservation, hand-constructed and traditionally fired out-of-doors.
A protective sealant is applied to the surface of some pottery.
Under the current rules, kiln-fired pottery is prohibited.
Thing: Polished Red and Black pot - Laverne Tosa, Jemez
Pueblo (click to view larger image).
Thing: Unpolished pot - Vicky Calabaza, Santo Domingo Pueblo
(click to view larger image).
Shells and Beads
Turquoise, the most common stone under the portal, has been used
for millennia by Southwestern Native Americans for adornment, as
a trade item and for ceremonial purposes. It comes in various forms
and many grades of quality. Natural turquoise is unaltered except
for shaping and polishing. It is most often set in metal jewelry.
Stabilized turquoise is a genuine stone hardened to make breakage
less likely and is used in work where stones are unprotected by
metal settings. The sale of reconstituted turquoise, a combination
of turquoise dust and plastic, is prohibited under the portal.
Imitation and low-quality turqoise is made of plastic or uses
plastic coatings. Look for an overly shiny surface and feel
for the vein structure of the turqoise which you should be able
to feel with your fingers as well as see. Plastic turqoise will
also smolder and burn when touched witha match (click for larger
all artists and craftspeople, Native Americans want to work with
new materials. A variety of shells are used by contemporary jewelers
including mother-of-pearl, spiny oyster shell, olive shells, clam
shell, melon shell, coral, jet, lapis, jasper, agate, hematite,
sugilite, serpentine, black onyx, pipestone and malachite. This
list is not exhaustive. If you have questions about the materials,
ask the vendors. They can identify the stone or shell, tell you
where it is from and how it is worked.
Thing : Glass beaded bracelet and earrings - Alice Begay
(he-she), necklaces of delicate, disk-shaped shell beads, are made
primarily by Santo Domingo artisans, who are renowned for this work.
Heishi sold under the portal is cut, drilled and ground by hand.
This is a painstaking process; a single necklace may require the
fashioning of hundreds of tiny beads. Glass beads, introduced to
the region as a trade item, have been used by Native Americans for
Mass-produced bead necklaces are pre-drilled, resulting in beads
where all the holes are the same size. This example also uses
dyed plastic instead of real turqoise (click for larger image).
Thing: Handmade beaded necklaces have irregular size holes.
Turquoise Heishi necklace - Sammy Garcia, Santo Domingo Pueblo
(click to view larger image).
The sale of decorative sandpainting in substantial numbers dates
from the early 1960s. Sandpaintings under the portal are made using
natural pigments which the vendors grind themselves. Often vendors
have samples of the original stones from which the various pigments
are derived for visitors to examine. The surface of some sandpaintings
is coated with a protective sealant.
Thing : Sand painting - Lorenzo Sandman, Navajo (click to
view larger image).
Other arts and crafts represented under the portal include leatherwork,
weaving, carving (both stone and wood), drums, drawing and painting.
Some vendors sell the work of their children and grandchildren (under
eighteen years of age). Others sell food items such as freshly-baked
oven bread, tamales or pinon nuts. There is a label providing the
makers name and a list of ingredients on all food sold. Any
vendor selling food must have the food handlers card, required
by city health regulations, displayed on his or her cloth. In all
cases, program participants and museum staff strive to maintain
the high quality people have come to expect from the Native American
Do not be afraid to ask questions. The more you know about how a
piece is made and its materials, the more you will appreciate its
craftsmanship and beauty.
at the Makers Mark
All items offered for sale have a makers mark. Vendors can
point out these distinctive "signatures" for you. A makers
mark enables museum staff to identify vendors if, as often happens,
customers wish to order additional work at a later time. Some vendors
also have business cards. It is important that you know the name
or makers mark of any artist or craftsperson whom you might
wish to contact in the future because there are no assigned spaces
under the portal.
Pricing of Arts and Crafts
Some program participants negotiate prices; many do not. Please
remember that authentic Native American arts and crafts are labor
intensive and that handcrafted objects cost more than those that
are machine made.