Saturday, April 30, 2016

HOW DO I KNOW IT'S AUTHENTIC?...American Indian Jewelry and a New Form of Highway Robbery in the Southwest

I was asked this question by an interested friend last week and, having bought what has turned out to be a substantial piece this past week (sheerly by accident, and a post for two days from now), and knowing there is a problem that has been arising in the American Southwest for some years now, I thought I'd share a bit of what I know:

First and foremost, collect what you LIKE!  If you don't care, then it doesn't matter.  However, if you DO care what you're getting, then arm yourself with as much information as you can beforehand.  The tourist areas of the American Southwest have been experiencing an onslaught of shops owned by people of Middle Eastern descent POSING as Native American, and selling jewelry that they advertise as being Native American when, in actuality, it's knockoff jewelry designs being produced overseas...and certainly NOT by Native Americans!  And it's not just jewelry - rugs, pottery - none of it seems to be off limits to this deceptive practice.

To persons/tourists unfamiliar with our American Indians (and that's NOT an offensive word) by sight, this presents a serious problem.  You're NOT getting what you THINK you're paying for, in these shops, and it's undercutting the livelihoods of one of the most historically oppressed peoples in the United States.

The pieces above (and below) have all been collected by me personally, since the early seventies.  I used to wear them daily back then, and quit when everyone else zeroed in on the craze (thanks, Sundance Catalog).  I've begun slowly pulling them back out.

It wasn't really a problem then, knowing you were getting AUTHENTIC pieces.  Some of mine are old pawn pieces (if money was needed, Indians pawned their jewelry to trading posts on the reservations - when it went "dead", it was sold by the posts.  This practice continues to this day).  One bracelet was ordered and purchased DIRECT from the artisan - standing in his house, atop the mesa that houses the Hopi Reservation.  ALL others were purchased from either TRIBAL OWNED Cultural Centers/Trading Posts, or from REPUTABLE dealers.  If you walk into a shop where the guy behind the counter is wearing a nice, crisp white shirt, suit slacks, (OK, dressed like a Gold and Silver Jewelry dealer) and is on a cell phone, chances are you are not in the right place!
Look for hallmarks - most of the Native American pieces have an identifiable hallmark stamped somewhere on the back of the piece.  The silver overlay Kokopelli bracelet contains the hallmark of Bernard Dawahoya (upper right), while the larger sandcast bracelet with the turquoise center is stamped FJ on the reverse.  The three-stone bracelet was a high school graduation gift from my parents.
Old pawn necklaces from the Santo Domingo tribe (known for their heishi and turquoise necklaces), but also loved by, and usually attributed to, the Navajos.  These were usually strung on imitation Sinew (the real sinew was taken from buffalo gut - imitation is much more obtainable), or waxed cotton cords.  The newer pieces of jewelry utilize silver closures and more contemporary methods.  Doesn't mean they're not authentic, but know who you are buying from...when in doubt, ASK!
I started with the rings when I was young, travelling with a knowledgeable couple of parents.  These were all reservation pawn shop purchases, and extremely affordable at the time.
Which brings me to how easily confused someone "new" to the game can become when looking to start collecting.  The two OLD necklaces are on the left, laying next to a piece that I, MYSELF, am stringing - a work in progress. NEVER to be passed off as Native American - EVER!  This is being made BY ME, FOR ME, and I will TELL people I made it.  This, however, is NOT the same honesty you will find among shop owners posing as something they are not, and selling dishonestly. Caveat Emptor - buyer beware - when in doubt, ASK!

The unfinished, natural turquoise slab pieces were purchased at a bead store in Santa Fe three years ago, with no direction in mind at the time.  The bronze piece that I have hung from the bottom is an actual bronze sculpture, by Robert Rogers, that has hung from a simple leather cord since I received it as a gift.  It has always deserved better, and I decided it was time to combine the two elements, along with some beading wire.  I would NEVER claim this to be anything but handmade BY ME.  If we were all this honest, there wouldn't be a problem.  
Know your turquoise, as well...and again, if you don't care, it doesn't matter.  Collect what YOU like.  Natural turquoise deposits in the United States have just about been completely depleted, as far as mining it goes.  Long ago, it was discovered how to make turquoise "go a little further", by grinding it into dust and mixing it with epoxy.  Stabilizing in turquoise is sometimes hard to spot, unless you really know.  Then there's the Dyed Howlite.  Again, find a reputable dealer and ASK!
American Indian made?  Both ARE, believe it or not.  Rising silver prices have turned many of the Navajo silversmiths to copper and brass in recent years.
Again, HALLMARKS...the one on the left was made by Emerson Bill, a Navajo.  Which leads me back to my statement of them both being American Indian made...the one on the right was made by a Navajo silversmith, employed by a red-headed designer from Texas, by the name of Rocki Gorman.  She's got a breathtaking shop in Santa Fe, with a willingness to let you know EXACTLY who made the pieces for her, that she has designed.  This is stamped with HER hallmark, but Indian made nonetheless, utilizing many of the old stamps and designs from years past - these are both purchases made within the past 6 or 7 years.
The copper and brass pieces are an affordable way to enjoy some beautiful Native American pieces, for a fraction of the cost.  They patina beautifully over time, too! DO you know you're getting the "real deal"?  There are a few ways.  First, BUY DIRECT.  Many of the Southwest towns known for their Native American "draw" have Indian Markets and/or selling areas.  Santa Fe has the Palace of the Governors Native American Vendors Program.  Old Town Albuquerque has the same type of set-up, but is now allowing NON-Native Americans to hawk their wares, among the Indians.  The bottom photo is my Dad, on a recent trip to Acoma Pueblo, where he purchased the beautiful bowl directly from the woman who made it.  BUY DIRECT - it's usually the best way of knowing what you are getting, and from whom.  
Buy from stores that announce themselves, RIGHT UP FRONT, as being Indian...
or Native American owned (these shops are both in Old Town Albuquerque, with faux Indian shops to either side).

This sort of signage has come about more and more in recent years, partly from desperation at the dishonest vendors moving in and pulling a "fast one" on unsuspecting tourists.  One non-Indian shop that passes itself AS being so (in old town Albuquerque) has even gone so far as to hire a Caucasian woman to "front" a shop filled with both American Indian, but MORE imported items claiming to be Indian made.  The honest shops in a town DO know who the outsiders are, and will always steer you to the right spots.  Don't just assume that a shop advertising Native American jewelry is actually selling the REAL thing.  When in doubt, ASK!
Seek out reputable dealers...ones that have been in business for YEARS prior to the deceitful practices the SW is experiencing.  Ones that still deal DIRECTLY, and honestly. with the Indians themselves.  Richardson's in Gallup (the tiny towns of Gallup and Zuni, NM both have a HUGE problem with this, now) has been in business since 1913.  Garland's in Sedona, Jackies in Taos, Hubbell's historic site in Ganado, NM...ALL reputable.  And they can tell you who else is!  An interesting article from 2003 for some further reading, click here... TENSION OVER WHO PROSPERS IN AN INDIAN CAPITAL
The Rainbow Man (pictured above), Native Jackets, Shalako, Keishi, and Shiprock Gallery in Santa Fe will ALL point you in the right direction, if they don't have what you want themselves.  Just arm yourself if it matters to you WHO made what you're after.  Again, collect what you LIKE, but when in doubt, ASK!  I'm not an expert, by any means...I've just learned - by asking and paying attention.  In a few days, I'll be back to show you a special piece I acquired this week...have a wonderful weekend.

Friday, April 29, 2016


I really am working on that jewelry puppy in the house makes for lots of lost time!  Hopefully by tomorrow, latest.
Wishing you butterflies and blue skies this weekend...or at the least, VERY little snow!

Wednesday, April 27, 2016


Rows and flows of angel hair...
And ice cream castles in the air...
And feather canyons everywhere...
I've looked at clouds that way...
I really DON'T know clouds at all...otherwise, I'd be able to name this effect (pretty sure it's called the Cotton Ball Effect...or not) that hung over Vegas for a very short time when I got up this morning .  Whatever the cloud type, I hope you see something equally as breathtaking in your part of the world today.  Back tomorrow with a jewelry post - happy Wednesday!

Tuesday, April 19, 2016


If that someone is you, then these are yours...because I care!
Ethel M. Cactus Garden should be in "full-on" mode in the next week or so...I stole 10 minutes to walk through this afternoon, to brighten my own day with the blooms that were already out.
The colors seem to have a "pecking order" in how they appear...the yellows and oranges are always first, followed by the pinks at the end of the bloom.
Cactus flowers DO have Flower Power!
Wherever you are - whatever you are doing this week, may it be bright and happy in your little part of the world!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016


I always talk about getting out, opening your eyes, and seeing what cool little secrets your town has to offer...somehow we missed this, and it's been open seven years.  BEST kept secret in Las Vegas, evidently.  The PINBALL HALL OF FAME (click on the link there for the O-fficial website).
In addition to looking at flowers in the Bellagio the other day, we did THIS.  We stopped to see what cool photos were waiting to be taken inside this non-descript building - that was all - we were going to photograph it.  We resisted temptation for about ten minutes before we ended up cashing in paper money for coins...lots of coins.  Spent over an hour inside - 10,000 square feet of fun - 152 different pinball machines (203 games in all, counting some arcade games).  You don't get that big a smile on your friend's face from just lookin' at flowers!
The color on these has been "boosted" - not a whole lot...just enough to pop!  The machines are vivid on their own (I just felt like color today).  They range in age from the 1950's through the 90's, and are ALL playable - at the OLD prices of 25 cents for the older games, and 50 and 75 cents for the 90's versions.  This is a non-profit corporation, so all proceeds are donated to non-denominational charities.
All machines housed in this building are owned by one man, Tim Arnold, who has an arsenal of pinball collectors that help him restore and maintain these fabulous machines.
Creature from the Black Lagoon - he was so misunderstood!
We saved the Dunk N' Alien game for the very last thing we played that day.  An arcade game that I'm guessing is probably unbeatable, save for a REALLY lucky shot.  The alien was spitting out insults at us as fast as we could roll balls up and in, trying to hit that swinging red target - LOTS of insults.  And we LIKED it - we were both laughing so hard it actually made playing the game difficult.  Fifty cents for nasty insults - BEST laugh of the day!
Two different Elvira games...I'm sure the Mistress of the Dark has one or two more in there, as well.
Look at THESE clowns!
Gene Simmon's disembodied head in the Kiss Army game.
Twilight Zone and outer space themed games.
Monster Rock, Jurassic Park, and Creature from the Black Lagoon.
The Big Hurt (Frank Thomas), Captain Fantastic (Elton John), and EVEL KNIEVEL!
"A far better return on fun than any Las Vegas casino environment, and the PHoF actually has windows and a clock in the room!"...PINBALL HALL OF FAME
The Wizard of Oz - this was a beautiful machine, though a little hard to play.  We're just not the "Pinball Wizards" we used to be, evidently.  Want to see this all for yourself?  Click on the links provided.  The doors are open from 11:00 am to 11:00 pm Sunday through Thursday, and 11:00 am to midnight on Fridays and Saturdays.  NO ADMITTANCE FEE - just a desire for fun, and some quarters to play is all you need!
But it doesn't have to be!  Get on over and make your own fun at the
right here in River City Vegas!

Saturday, April 9, 2016


Now through May, in the Bellagio Hotel Conservatory here in Las Vegas.  You canNOT believe the wonderful aroma in there!  No further reading required - enjoy the scenery...
Happy Spring - XOXO