Encounter the People

Hopi Silverwork & Jewelry

Hopi Basketry Hopi Basketry Hopi Basketry Hopi Basketry

Videos: Jewelry TechniquesSilverworking was introduced to the Hopi in the late nineteenth century. Sikyatala, from the First Mesa village of Sichomovi, learned the craft from Zuni silversmith Lanyade who, in turn, had learned it from an unknown Navajo artisan.

While Hopi craftworkers continued to produce silverwork into the early twentieth century, their work could not be readily distinguished from that of their Zuni and Navajo neighbors. Believing that development of a distinctive style of silverwork could benefit Hopi artists, Museum of Northern Arizona co-founders Harold S. and Mary-Russell Ferrell Colton mounted a project to accomplish that task. MNA designer Virgil Hubert worked with Hopi silverworkers to develop design motifs drawn from traditional Hopi pottery, basketry, and mural designs. While the development of designs Hopi Jewelry
Photo (c) 2009 Michele Mountain
Museum of Northern Arizona
suited to modern tastes but reflective of age-old Hopi cultural beliefs and practices was central to the project’s success, the choice of a distinctive technique of production was equally important. The technique chosen was silver overlay.

In the process of silver overlay, the artist cuts a design from one flat piece of silver and then fuses that piece to a darker oxidized one that is scored or incised to produce a fine texture. The upper piece is then polished or buffed. The contrast of the smooth and light-reflective upper piece with the darker, textured background results in a striking geometric design.

Following World War II, Hopi veterans further refined this distinctive form in reservation-based classes offered through the GI Bill and taught by Hopi artists Fred Kabotie and Paul Saufkie. A system of identifying hallmarks for Hopi silverwork was also developed; and, in 1949, the Hopi Silvercraft Cooperative Guild (now the Hopi Arts and Crafts Silvercraft Cooperative Guild) was formed. All of these projects helped to propagate high standards in materials and workmanship that could sustain a healthy market for Hopi silverwork.

Hopi Arts & Crafts Guild.
Courtesy of NAU Cline Library HCPO.PH.2003.1.HC5.33 (left) HCPO.PH.2003.1.HC5.32 (right)

While silver overlay has become recognized as distinctively Hopi, some twentieth-century Hopi artists have chosen to deviate from this form. Perhaps most notable among them is Charles Loloma (1921-1991), who worked in a wide range of materials and styles. Loloma’s work, which juxtaposes stones of multiple color and shape in complex geometric designs reflecting a modern minimalist aesthetic, is recognized as among the finest twentieth-century Native American jewelry.

What to Look For:

To ensure the authenticity of the Hopi jewelry you buy, look for either the artist’s signature or a hallmark, usually on the reverse of the piece, indicating the artist’s clan or village. If the piece is marked with a sun symbol as well as a clan mark, its authenticity is ensured, since the sun sign indicates the artist’s membership in the nonprofit Hopi Arts and Crafts Cooperative Guild.

Text (c) 2009 Jennifer McLerran, Ph.D., Curator of the Museum/Museum of Northern Arizona

Additional Information

Websites:

Hopi Jewelry ( http://www.nau.edu )

Readings:
  • Adair, John. The Navajo and Pueblo Silversmiths. University of Oklahoma Press, 1944.
  • Baxter, Paula A. Southwest Silver Jewelry. Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 2001.
  • Baxter, Paula A. Native American Silver Jewelry: The First Century. Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 2001.
  • Bedinger, Margery. Indian Silver: Navajo and Pueblo Jewelers. University of New Mexico Press,1973.
  • Hunt, W. Ben. Indian Silversmithing. Bruce Publishing Company, 1960.
  • Rosnek, Carl, and Stacey, Joseph. Skystone and Silver: The Collector’s Book of Southwest Indian Jewelry. Prentice-Hall, 1976.
  • Schiffer, Nancy N. Evolving Southwest Indian Jewelry. Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 2003.
  • Tisdale, Shelby. Fine Indian Jewelry of the Southwest: The Millicent Rogers Museum Collection. University of New Mexico Press, 2006.
  • Wright, Margaret Nickelson. Hopi Silver: The History and Hallmarks of Hopi Silversmithing. University of New Mexico Press, 2003.