In the early 1800’s, the relationship between Native Americans & white settlers was still amicable. Trade had developed between the two groups with Indians trading settlers for household goods like the kettle, traps, tools & rifles. The white man got snowshoes, canoes, tobacco, & corn. Tribes like the Cherokee and Seminole Creek traded for cloth in vibrant colors that they assimilated into their native dress.
The Navajo people were nomadic & as such “They not only raided, but took, kept, and developed whatever suited them.” 1 They appreciated pieces for their aesthetic value, not necessarily the symbolism behind them so items such as an inlaid silver crucifix was worn as a symbol of their pride & prestige within the tribe & not because they were embracing Christianity.
Navajo Chief Atsidi Sani is generally credited with introducing silver smithing to his people. Early silver work focused on concha (concho) belts, bracelets, bow guards, tobacco flasks and necklaces. Rings, earrings, pins, hair ornaments, buckles and bolos evolved from these. A full line of jewelry spread throughout the Navajo reservation by the 1880’s. The oldest work was predominately of hammered and filed decorations; turquoise appeared in Navajo jewelry by 1880. (2). He passed his teachings on to his sons, who in turn passed it to neighboring tribes like the Zuni who were already skilled metallurgists & lapidaries.
Over time, they developed tools and techniques to stamp or engrave the metal. Today, Navajo jewelry is still highly collectible & prized by both Native & Non-Native American collectors. Designs & techniques have been handed down throughout generations to preserve the integrity of the pieces.
Following in the tradition of these artists, Porfilio & Ann Sheyka started making jewelry in the early 1960’s. Ann learned from her mother & does both silverwork and stonework. Prior to his death in 1982, Porfilio assisted her. The intricate detail in their work is achieved by etching the stones after they are inlaid. Pieces are signed P SHEYKA . Their pieces have been exhibited at “ART OF THE ZUNI” at the KENNEDY MUSEUM of ART’s Edwin L. and Ruth E. Kennedy Southwest Native American Collection.
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