Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Artist's Eye

Uchizono Gallery is my online store and  I have been collecting for forty five years.  My artist's eye has been my guide. 

Being a painter,I have often wondered what the connection is between the technique of oil painting and fine old Native American jewelry.   As an impressionist, the good bones of drawing need to be present but the trick is to "let go of the drawing" providing suggestions rather than perfection and giving movement by losing the hard lines.  


If you take a look at a Navajo or Zuni bracelets made in the early 1900's, you can see perfect symmetry was not a requirement.   Of course there were masters with impeccable skills that can't help  themselves with their fine precision stamp work but even their work is not machine made and has to be slightly off.  There is an identifying feel to an old bracelet giving it soul.  Inspired by nature.  Giving the piece movement with untreated turquoise celebrating being worn in a rainbow of blues and greens.

 Without a makers mark, which is the rule with early Native American silversmith artisans, how does one know the jewelry is authentic?  The construction and style can date the bracelet (or concho belt or  pin or necklace) but still modern production with the same materials and technique can produce an identical piece.  I have read the books about Millicent Rogers and  Lauris Phillips (her Peshlakai collection was donated to the Wheelwright museum.)  I have come to the conclusion these women were really good shoppers.  Lauris Phillips had signed pieces from Navajo silversmith Fred Peshlakai but the bulk of the collection is unsigned.  She is identifying these unsigned pieces  with  faith and observation.  Unless you are John Bonner Strong, who was a devoted friend of Fred Peshlakai and collected jewelry directly, providence is not something that can be guaranteed.

Really, the only way to purchase vintage and Native American jewelry is to trust your instincts, look at reference books to educate yourself and have faith in the dealer you are purchasing from.  Of course there are obvious red flags, when something is described as being "old style" or the turquoise is block (which is pressed together resin and easily identifiable).     You can certainly look with a loop for wear marks but what if the piece was never worn and was left in a box for fifty years?

The tricky part is providence.

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