Books about Native American jewelry and art come in all shapes and sizes. Each has a different focus and each slices the “art pie” in a different way. I’ve read Joe Dan Lowry’s book on Turquoise which focuses on just one of the materials used in Native American jewelry. I’ve enjoyed Generations, the book on the Native American art and jewelry collection of Helen Cox Kersting. This book focuses on the life and collection of one woman. And then there was Charnell Havens’ and Vera Marie Badertscher’s book on Quincy Tahoma’s art which focuses on the life and the works of just one artist.
When Paula Baxter’s and Barry Katzen’s book, Southwestern Indian Rings, came out, it was not a surprise to me that Paula decided to focus exclusively on rings crafted by the Native Americans of the Southwest. After all, I had encountered the author and photographer in their travels for over a year photographing rings and talking with the artists. It’s a great way to illustrate the art and history of the Native people of the Southwest – ring by ring.
From Craft to Art
As Paula walks us through the history of Native American jewelry, we learn how the craft evolved into art and how a once basic craft was influenced by traders and souvenir sellers . During the evolution of the rings, curio seekers traveled through the Southwest US and loved picking up Indian souvenirs. I was fascinated by one photograph which showed a silver ring stamped “Made by Indians.” My, how things have changed!
Barry Katzen provided 350 stunning color photographs in support of Paula Baxter’s exploration of the history, culture and art of Indian Rings. These rings, many of which are from private collections, would never have been available to see if it had not been for this book. The first thing I did, and many others told me they did, was to thumb through the book looking at the photos and mentally checking off the artists and ring styles we had seen throughout our travels and collecting in Arizona and New Mexico.
As Paula writes she makes many valuable points. One is that of the importance of authenticity. As the market for Indian jewelry grew, so did the availability of copy-cat jewelry, often made overseas. An unenlightened tourist may see a $15 “Indian-style” ring as a bargain and snap it up. Paula points out how detrimental that is to the Native artisans who depend on the sale of their jewelry to feed, clothe and shelter their families. And, I have to agree that the owner of that $15 ring will completely miss out on owning a piece infused with Native culture, style and craftsmanship.
Design and Materials
I particularly learned from Paula’s explanation of how the rings are made. In one chapter she features the work of Navajo master silversmith Orville Tsinnie. Not all rings are made the same. Some are cast, some are worked from silver strips and yet others, like Hopi rings, are made using an overlay process. The photos help educate the collector as well as the casual Indian market shopper.
Paula finishes the book by wowing us with the efforts of some of the most skilled contemporary innovators. I enjoyed seeing such cutting edge work as that of Colin Coonsis, Zuni, who does marvelous inlay work in ever-intriguing new ways. He learned as a child at the workbench of his mother Rolanda Haloo, who is well-known for her skill in doing traditional inlay work.
Southwestern Indian Rings by Paula Baxter is a great coffee table book for the Native American Jewelry Collector. No… it’s a well-researched reference for the Native American Jewelry expert. No… it’s a great souvenir of your travels to the Southwest.
Suffice to say, it’s a well-researched, professionally-cited, attractive book that slices the “Native American Jewelry Pie” just right!
Purchase Southwestern Indian Rings Online