Monthly Archives: May 2011

  • Important Top Tier Native American Jewelry Artists

    Posted on May 29, 2011 by admin

    JUAN DE DIOS (or DIDEOS or DIDEDIOS or DELEOSA (Zuni, c. 1882-1944). In John Adair's study of Navajo and Pueblo silversmiths in 1944, he identified Juan Dedios as one of the finest Zuni artisans. Juan was known for his outstanding and precise silver castings. Dedios was one of the first producers of Knife Wing figures and was well known for his cast crosses, conchas, bow-guards, bracelets and exquisitely detailed crucifixes. Dedios worked closely with trader C. G. Wallace, who retained many of his pieces for his private collection.

    LEAK, JOHN GORDON (Zuni, active 1920s-1950). A very skilled inlay artist, who is best known for figures inlaid into a black jet background. Others at Zuni also used this technique, but Leak's work stands above them all. His real name was probably John Leekity, but very little else is known.

    GOODLUCK, HOSTEEN (Navajo, c. 1860s-1930s). “First Phase” silversmith that worked for C.G. Wallace as early as 1923. C.G. Wallace was so impressed with the talents of this man that he moved Hosteen from Houck, AZ to Zuni, NM, to do cast work and as a die maker. C.G. supplied him with fine Swiss files, which he used to make sets of dies. Many of Hosteen and Eskiesose’s dies were furnished to other Zuni and Navajos, with C.G. encouraging them to do silver work. Hosteen was a master in hand-hammered, bezel set, stamp work and repousse’ silver jewelry.

    DEYUSE, LEEKYA (Zuni, 1889-1966). Leekya is the best of all fetish carvers. Leekya worked for C.G. Wallace in the 1920's crafting both stone tabs and nugget necklaces. He later carved small fetishes that would be purchased individually by the traders, which would then be strung into single strand or multi stand necklaces. He also did large free standing fetishes or table fetishes. His carvings have unique features, such as cupped ears on his animals and soft lines on his leaves that distinguish them from other carvers. He never used a hallmark, but his work is very distinctive and highly collectible.

    PESHLAKAI, FRED (Navajo, active 1920s-1950s). The son or nephew of Slender Maker of Silver, one of the earliest Navajo silversmiths. Peshlakai was one of the first smiths to hallmark his work, though he usually did so only on request. He taught Kenneth Begay while at the Fort Wingate School. During the 1940's - 60's Fred opened up his own shop on Olvera Street in Los Angeles. His pieces are very technically precise and elaborate, sometimes even to the point of seeming Mexican, and his stonework was that of a master stone cutter and always of the highest quality material.

    POBLANO, LEO (Zuni, 1905-1959). Leo Poblano is widely regarded as one of the most talented and versatile Zuni artists. He was a veteran of World War II, where he served on the Zuni firefighting crew. Leo produced highly detailed figures in mosaic inlay, including a wide range of ceremonial dancers and olla maidens. He also carved fetishes, which usually contained small inlaid dots of different colored materials. Often working with his first wife Daisy Nampeyo and second wife Ida Vasit, he would produce the stonework for these figures, and Navajo smiths such as Dan Simplicio or his uncle Teddy Weahkee would complete the silver work. Leo traded or sold all of his work to trader C. G. Wallace. Unfortunately, Leo passed away from a tragic firefighting accident at the age of 54.

    SIMPLICIO, DAN (Zuni, 1917-1969). Dan Simplicio learned from his uncle, Juan Dedios. Early in his career, Simplicio worked at C. G. Wallace's Zuni trading post, grinding and setting stones. This was where he first used branch coral in its natural form and set rough-cut coral nuggets on rings. He also did some outstanding inlay work early in his career, which is rarely seen. Dan Simplicio, Jr., credits his father's World War II army service in Europe with the development of his fathers innovative leaf designs. Stationed in France, Germany and Italy, he observed the use of leaf work in classical and modern Western European sculpture. Simplicio's jewelry has a highly recognizable look, resulting from its distinctive use of deep red branch coral with high quality turquoise, silver leaf work and stamped drops. His later pieces are sometimes hallmarked.

    VACIT, FRANK (Zuni, 1915-late 1990s). Possibly the greatest Zuni channel inlay craftsman, and one of the only early Zuni silversmiths to use a hallmark. He did amazing precision channel inlay of many subjects, from horses to eagle dancers. His ability to set delicate designs in narrow silver channels was unsurpassed.

    WEAHKEE, TEDDY (Zuni, c. 1890-1965). Well respected as both a fetish carver and a mosaic inlay artist. His inlay work tends to make extensive use of dot inlay, a very difficult technique not used by many other artists during the early to mid 1900's


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