Here in New Mexico, August is always an exciting month. It’s the beginning of three of our favorite seasons, when our senses come alive with the crispy aroma of chile roasting season, the revitalizing moisture of monsoon season, and the visual carnival of Santa Fe Indian Market season. Some of our, and our collectors’, favorite pieces of American West Jewelry are designed by prestigious Native American artists whose designs have garnered them multiple awards at the annual Santa Fe Indian Market, hosted by SWAIA – Southwestern Association of Indian Arts, which is going virtual throughout August 2020.
Authentic Navajo jewelry, and Indigenous jewelry at large, is a labor of love, passed down through multiple generations of artists and deeply rooted in the culture and lifestyle of the Southwest. Many artists practice more than one discipline, which overlap, creating jewelry that is truly one of a kind. We are fortunate to be able to work with different Native American jewelry designers.
Award-winning Navajo artist Fritz Casuse, who designs many of the pieces in our authentic Native American jewelry collection, studied sculpture at the prestigious Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Fritz’s work explores and illuminates the balance that exists in nature between land, animals and insects.
He has adapted his expertise in other artistic disciplines into his jewelry-making, where he views each of his designs as a sculptural work that offers three-dimensional movement and a sense of space and wonder. He describes his work as “something you can walk through” because of the motion and fluidity of each piece.
One of our favorite Fritz Casuse jewelry designs is his Sterling Silver Yeibichai Cuff, which we believe is so much more than a bracelet. This highly collectable piece depicts a dancing design of the Yeibichai, which are ceremonial representations of certain Navajo Holy People, or Yeis, who are evoked during a nine-day-long Nightway Ceremony to restore harmony and health. On the final night, teams of dancers appear in public in what is referred to as the Yeibichai Dance until just before dawn.
“Fritz. Your Yeibichai cuff has taken me to a new level of appreciation. I feel you are teaching with your artwork. The cuff has a balance between the male and female that feels spiritual. The design is beautiful. The silver weight is substantial and very comfortable on my wrist. Can’t thank you enough for your teaching through your gift of art. (I looked up everything about Yeibichai that I could find. Consider me your new student.).” – packratpete
“I mean, this bracelet is so unusual it will catch anyone’s eye immediately. I just love wearing it and can’t stop looking at it when it’s on my arm. This is my second Fritz piece and I get lots of compliments on it. It is a statement piece for sure. I ordered size L and it fits great.” – mamred
Another artist that we love to work with translates her iconic pottery designs into whimsical, feminine works of wearable art. Jody Naranjo pottery is entirely unique. An award winning Tewa artist, Jody is an 8th generation potter who practices the traditional technique of digging her clay from the Santa Clara Pueblo, hand building and firing her pots outdoors, then sgraffito-carving her designs into their surface. However, Jody is most known for the way in which she incorporates these traditional approaches into an absolutely identifiable style that is clearly her own, which can in turn be seen, and worn, in our collection of Jody Naranjo jewelry.
One of her most popular pieces is the Symbols cuff. Inspired by a piece of pottery called “outside the Box,” this cuff depicts animals in joyful poses. As you travel around the cuff, you will find the many whimsical creatures represented on the pot that inspired its creation. She was awarded the 2018 New Mexico Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts.
“I really like this piece. It’s an unusual cuff for those that don’t live in the Southwest. Love the Native American Vibe with all the cool animal motif. Well made, I love the scale and weight of this piece. I wear a small and this fits spot on with a slight squeeze. I love it all by itself. Minimal oxidation which allows the animals to stand out. Very comfortable with nicely finished edges.” – CatMob
When shopping for Native American turquoise jewelry or Native American designer jewelry it can be intimidating to know where to buy authentic Native American jewelry, and how to avoid buying fake Native American jewelry. A federal law, The Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990, mandates that the terms “Native American” and “Indian” can only be used to label a product created by a member of a state- or federally-recognized tribe or nation. Beware of labels like “Indian-style” or “Native American inspired jewelry”, which indicate pieces that look like Native American Indian jewelry but are made elsewhere. When trying to know how to identify Native American jewelry and sterling silver Indian jewelry, such as Native American silver rings, look for the presence of a hallmark, which is a silversmith’s signature or stamp. However, the best safeguard against accidentally buying fake Indian jewelry is to buy from a reputable seller.
So now that you know more about shopping for authentic Native American designs, let’s talk about how to wear native American jewelry. The short answer is that, there’s no wrong way. As long as you are purchasing from and supporting actual Native American artists, such as Fritz and Jody, there is no worry about making a jewelry faux pas.
Native American earrings add a subtle pop of Southwestern flair to any outfit, where as a Native American necklace design, such as a squash blossom, can create a statement look of its own. Layering up a few Native American bracelets is also a statement look that can be a bit edgy, but in the world of Native American designers, there’s no such thing as “too much.”