Buying jewelry from native american artists

"Hi, Lisa -- you need to be wary of inexpensive Indian jewelry bought
from Indians off blankets in plazas, and at the viewpoints at Grand
Canyon, roadside stands at scenic viewpoints, etc etc etc.  Especially
around tourist areas"

A response prompted by the person who warned Lisa of the
dangers of buying jewelry from native american artists. Lisa, it
sounded as though you had bought the piece from under the portico at
the Palace of the Governors on the Plaza in Santa Fe. If you did, I
wanted to reassure you that you got a piece made by the artist(s)
selling it, not a knockoff from Taiwan. In order to have a place on
that portico, you have to be Native American, make your own pieces and
be willing to take part in the lottery for places each day. First, I
trust the integrity of those artists, and second, if someone were
foolish enough to try to sell pieces made elsewhere, they run the
risk of being excluded from the lottery permanently and hence a
coveted place on that portico. So relax and enjoy those earrings and
wear them in good health! Shael

Dear Lisa,

How right you are!..this years’ display of wildflowers here in
California is reminiscent of earlier, simpler times when asphalt and
concrete were not the dominant features of the landscape.

You brought up the issue of dyeing Turquoise so I thought I would
cast out some observations and experience on the subject. You
wondered whether heating Turquoise would determine whether it had
been dyed. On a practical basis the matter of artifical coloration is
not that relevant as nearly all of the Turquoise used in American and
imported jewelry has been impregnated with plastic. This is done in
order to “stabilize” it so that it is no longer porous and, thus,
will no longer absorb hydrocarbons from body oils or other sources.
When natural Turquoise is not stabilized the aforementioned
absorbtion results in a color shift from blue to green, in most
cases. Only the very highest grades of Turquoise are immune to this
and, as with so many natural the highest grades are
extremely rare. When dye is used with Turquoise it generally precedes
the stabilization process inasmuch as the lowest grades of Turquoise
are pale and very chalky. The mid grades of Turquoise don’t need to
be dyed as the plastic impregnation process amplifies the
coloration.The copious amounts of Turquoise now coming in from China
have generally been color enhanced by use of parafin ( I believe you
Anglos would interprete parafin as being kerosene…in this case I am
referring to the wax that is used in making candles )

Returning to your original comments about heat testing Turquoise, I
would have to say that the response you get to heating will depend on
what treatment the stone has had. In the case of stabilized
Turquoise, the center of the stone will remain essentially the same
with ,gentle heating, while the edges will start turning brown and
there will be an unpleasant odor. There will also tend to be
fractureing as the temperature rises within the stone. Natural
Turquoise will also tend to turn brown but, depending on how oil
saturated it is, will not have the distinctive noxious smell of the
former nor will it have the same tendency to fracture.

Happy flower fossicking…Ron at Mills Gem, Los Osos, CA.

If a piece of jewelry is said to be Indian made and is not true it is
a Federal Offense, with a stiff fine and even jail time. The person
that make whatever has to be a registered member of a tribe. My wife
and I are both Native American, she is registered and I’m not. She can
say Indian made I can’t. Silverbear

I disagree with this tactic, I am at least 1/3 American Indian and am
not registered with a tribe, so for me, being more American Indian
than most I could not and would not be allowed to sell at this type of
place. I see it here in Tucson as well, I will go to a gallery and it
will be “native American”, they won’t even look at me for being a
possible person whom to show, why, because I don’t look “native
American” enough and am not registered with a tribe. How can I
register with a tribe, if my father, whom I have never met, won’t meet
me and give me the necessary proof? There are allot of people in this
country that don’t have the necessary documents to prove their
heritage. Like me they just know.

What is a native anyway? I have seen many who have the “look” getting
big bucks for their items, but who in reality just buy from someone
and make it look like they are selling it. I am USA born, I am a
native of this country, I was born in Ajo, AZ. in American Indian
country. It is very frustrating for me. I have such mixed feelings
about the whole thing and get so put off by people and galleries who
think you have to “look” American Indian in order to sell your work
there. Besides that, how do you prove your heritage in my case? I am
adopted by my step father, my mother who also has some American Indian
in her doesn’t have enough or the proof as well to show anything to
any tribe.

I am new to metal arts, but do have a very nice line of jewelry that
is beaded and am starting to make metalworked items to incorporate
into my items.

I am not trying to put a damper on this thread, but would like to get
others reactions to my thoughts on this matter…

Laura (In the skin of a Mutt, but proud of my Heritage anyway)

Original MessageFrom: Byzantia
Sent: Friday, April 28, 2000 7:11 PM
Subject: Re: [Orchid] Workshop Relocation

Hi Margaret,

You're right about imitation jewelry being rampant. The Santa Fe
Plaza has an interesting arrangement though. All of the Natives on the
mercado...the covered walkway across from the central park....are
required to register. They are issued badges with their names and
tribal affiliations along with an ID code. Only natives are allowed to
sell their work at this spot.
The native artists that sell there,  guarantee that the work that
they present for sale is fabricated by them. Most of the turquoise is
cut by the artist as well. If you want the cheezy imitation foreign
junk, that's sold across the street in the park by the white people.
At least everyone selling the stuff on the day that I was there was
I have to add that I'm biased though....(in case you can't My uncle Jim has one of the largest private
collections of Native American art in the United States, so I was
pretty much born around Indians and reservations, exposed to wonderful
work since I was a mere flea. I think that it might be one of the
reasons that I ended up loving jewelry so much. The work I've seen
has so inspired me.
I think that most working jewelers would be able to easily identify
the low end fakes.
I've been told that if turquoise has been dyed, it will sweat when
you heat it. Can any of you gemologists out there tell me if that is
accurate? Cheers! Lisa, (out again in the meadows on the horse...the
wildflowers are everywhere. Lupine, Poppies, Blue Dicks, Phacelia,
Indian Warriors, Skullcap, Penstemon, loads of Catalina Mariposa
Lillies, too many others to name....and tons of Poison
Oak...ick!) Topanga, CA, USA

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Some of the people in my area (the south east) never have the “look”.
A friend of mine is Blonde & Blue eyed - and 50% Cherokee. It is
Charleston Cherokee though - which although her blood is recognized by
the tribe you must deal with the fact that a lot of “full bloods” down
this way have blue or grey eyes. Who says that the initial colony of
Roenoak (spelling I know) was lost. Another portion of the tribe is as
much African in heritage as Native American. It seems before any
English colonists got off the boat a Spanish ship forcefully abandoned
a load of Africans who were subsiquently adopted into the local
tribes. I have a stepmother who’s father is a full blood according to
the tribe (she has “the look” when she doesn’t dye her hair) but in
actual blood his mother was fully adopted by the tribe - but european
in heritage. My stepmother is 50% on paper and 25% in reality (I
don’t know if her mother has any). My half brother has enough to
claim his heritage but so far has chosen not to, while I and my mother
do not have enough “blood” (between the Iroquois and the Black Irish
my mother has the “look” - but my brother does not even though he is
roughly 40% native american). When you are talking about who is native
and who is not, well it can be an awfully confused issue. I know there
are a lot of people who pretend but there are also alot of people who
have chosen to abandon their past.


arghhh… - I think this thread has gone off it’s original purpose
which was that one of our members was describing the beautiful work
she had purchased that happened to have been done by a Native American
artist. Another member felt that it was a possibility that the member
had gotten “burned” - buying something that she believed was made by
one artist but was possibly mass produced in Taiwan. The individual
who had bought the jewelry was confident that it was made by the
artist she met, and has good reason to think so. The description of
the venue of the purchase and its system for determining who can show
in that venue is only relevant in response to the member who made
disparaging comments about possible “non -authenticity” of the item I
don’t think that most of those I have heard from on this wonderful
site are saying that only individuals of a certain ethnicity should be
able to sell their work in certain venues. Instead, what I have heard
coming through from the majority of folks is the interest in sharing
ideas about creating jewelry, and hopefully good jewelry at that, -
that ethnicity is a non issue as it pertains to the purpose of this
group. I hope that this fairly summarizes what started out as an
expressed appreciation of beautiful work and got seriously off-track.

  • and I hope that I have not offended anyone in any ethnic group by
    this statement. Can we move back to our true purpose here? Thanks for
    letting me try to clear the air, at least the air I felt I was seeing
    getting very cloudy… Shael


I totally agree with you. The enrollment system for Native Americans
sucks! The most galling point, I would think, is that you have to
prove to the very culture that killed off most of your Native
ancestors in the first place, that you are indeed Native. Most Native
cultures did not record births, deaths or any other personal
significant historical events that might prove heritage. Hey… they
don’t ask me to prove my heiritage…English, Irish, Scottish,
Dutch, German, French, Russian, Romanian, and Polish. They take my
word for it for the most part, (as if anyone in their right mind would
lay claim to that mish mosh if it wasn’t true…lol…). Its a
ridiculous system.

One of my best friend’s children are half Cherokee, and eligible for
enrollment. They are both fair skinned, blond and blue eyed…so much
for looking Native eh? Their Father won’t have anything to do with
enrollment, because he mistrusts the government…and he’s the
Native. A lot of my Indian friends feel that way.

Make your jewelry, incorporate your traditional cultural style into
it, if that’s what you wish to do. There are no laws against personal
artistic choices the last I checked. Most galleries look at your work
rather than the color of your skin anyway, and why would you want to
be in the ones that don’t. You know your heritage, why waste time
trying to prove it to someone else? Let your work speak for itself.
My latest pieces incorporate peyote stitch and double needle weaving,
and I’m about as far removed from being ancestrally Indian as you can
get. Even so, I was raised around Indian traditions, and they will
always be a part of my life, and will of course occasionally influence
my work in some ways. So although my work doesn’t look the least bit,
“Indian”, and I never market it in any way as, “Indian”, it still
respectfully carries on some of the traditions, that that I have
learned from Native jewelers, that Native jewelers learned from the
Spanish in the first place…but that’s another story, better told
by others.

Lisa, (Wincala ska lila waste. Just now returned from an intertribal
Pow Wow :slight_smile: Aho!), Topanga, CA USA

Cheer up. According to the New York Times Science section Tuesday May
3,2000, All of us are descended from 4 Adams and 18 Eves who started
out in Africa and whose descendants worked and reproduced their way
around the world. Thanks to modern technology, we’ll be forced to
recognize that all of us are related, and Africa was the country of
our universal origin. It’s the talent and the skill that counts, folks.
Never mind the rest. Dee


I’ve seen a little bit of the world.Went to Australia,New
Sealand,Amerika,Thailand and other places.Most of the time,I had the
opportunity to contact native people and had a look on their extreem
nice and beautifull handwork.I believe that anyone could make native
jewelry by seeing it,but only original native people can create
handwerk straight from there heart and dreams.So, if one ask me “how
can you see if this work is real”,then my answer would be “don’t you
feel it?”.Only native cratsmen have the possibility to design with
their heart.An aborigine from Australia told me ones “people only
look with their eyes,but real beauty will be seen with their heart”.
Don’t get crazy ideas or hard feelings due to the expressions of
other persons,as long as you know what you make!If someone can’t see
the beauty of your origin … then you can’t prove your origin.

Regards Pedro