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Native American Silversmithing

Medicine Wheel bracelet.

Eagle/Medicine Wheel Bracelet by Paul Szabo, Lakota

Silversmithing first came to the Native People of Southwestern United States from the Spaniards. It is a general consensus that the Navajo were first introduced to silver between 1850 and 1860.

In the 19th century, silver was made into items to adorn Native Americans as well as utensils to assist them in daily life.

After the late 1860s reservation boundaries were set and Native American people were forced to adopt a more sedentary way of life. As traders moved into the area they realized that silverwork was one of the items that were marketable for trade. Shortly after the 1800 Indian Trading Posts arose, proprietors of the Posts began encouraging the Natives to make silver adornments and utensils for trade to the settlers.

By the 1960s, Indian Jewelry and turquoise had become very popular throughout the world. Turquoise became highly sot after and prospectors began searching for additional resources to supply the market.


Turtle necklace.

Turtle Necklace by Gayle Rencountre, Dakota

Although the Hopi’s are best known for their silver overlay, and the Zunis for their inlay work once silver, turquoise and tools were readily available jewelry making became a standard occupation for many Native Americans of various tribes throughout the United States.

Today, many Northern Plains artists such as Mitchell Zephier, Paul Szabo, Robert Sunbear and Gayle Rencountre are known nationwide for their unique cut-out, inlay and hammered effects that capture the unique look known only to their individual jewelry style.

 

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