Material destinies: jewelry, authenticity and craft in the American Southwest - NMS Research Repository
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Journal article

Material destinies: jewelry, authenticity and craft in the American Southwest

1 March 2012


This article considers the representation and interpretation of Native American jewelry of the American Southwest. It gives a broad history of silversmithing and lapidary traditions, in order to contextualize the tangible and intangible values bestowed on silver and stone as pure, worked, and combined materials. It suggests the benefit of a more nuanced interpretation which teases out the distinctions between indigenous and external attributions of the intangible and tangible values attaching themselves to jewelry as “craft.“ Considering two iconic photographs taken in the late nineteenth century, it explores differing perceptions of these techniques at this time. While jewelry making has been perceived as part of the ordained quartet of “Indian arts and crafts,“ its status has been extensively debated under the impact of commercialization and technical modernization in the early twentieth century. Debates that arose in the 1930s, which sought to define and regulate the genuine and handmade aspects of jewelry as craft, raged for much of the decade. This moment of definition has had lasting influence on the perception of jewelry, and the authentication of jewelry as craft, particularly when it is produced for a connoisseurial market. This raises the question of whether viewing jewelry as craft within this context misses a key aspect, namely its function as indigenous adornment, where materials and process are subsidiary to use, color, and communication.


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