The Jewelry of the Navajo
Prior to the mid 1800's Indian metalworking was limited to a few Zuni and Navajo blacksmiths who fashioned simple items of jewelry from odds and ends of copper and brass. By the 1850's it was the custom of Mexican plateros (silversmiths) from the Rio Grande Valley to roam through Navajo country producing silver trinkets in exchange for livestock. It was from one of these itinerant craftsmen that a Navajo blacksmith named Atsidi Sani, "Old Smith," is believed to have learned the rudiments of silverworking. Two early traders, C. N. Cotton and Lorenzo Hubbell encouraged this potential industry by hiring plateros to teach silversmithing to the Navajos who lived near their trading post at Ganado beginning in 1884. The arrival of the railroad in the 1890's and the tourists it brought increased the demand for Indian jewelry and motivated more Indians to learn this craft. Hubbell, once again, noticing a rise in the popularity of turquoise, began importing Persian for trade to the Navajos until a number of turquoise-producing mines opened in the Four Corners area shortly after the 1890's. With the increasing commercial pressure, by the early 1920's, the craft had spread eastward to most of the Rio Grande pueblos.