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“Hopi Silver”

Southwest Crossroads Spotlight

Silversmithing in the American Southwest tells a story of creative encounters among peoples. The Navajos probably learned the art of silversmithing from Mexican artisans. Oral tradition recalls that a Navajo taught silversmithing to a Zuni man named Lanyade. In turn, Lanyade taught many other Zunis.

Keneshde, Zuni Silversmith“Keneshde, Zuni Silversmith,” Unidentified (Photographer)

The trade route between Zuni and Hopi was about 100 miles long. Eventually a Hopi trader named Sikyatala brought silversmithing to the Hopis. A long history of trade between the pueblos now came to include silversmithing.

Before 1890, the Hopis were known for their weaving. They often traded their weaving for the jewelry that they wore. Hopi men traditionally made jewelry from other materials, such as turquoise, shell, and wood. They began to craft pieces from silver around 1900.

Like the Navajos and Zunis, Hopi silver jewelers borrowed design elements from the people around them. They used designs from Plains Indian crafts and Mexican metal work. In the forty years after 1900, Hopi artisans developed their own style.

Beginning in 1930, Dr. Harold S. Colton and Mary-Russell Ferrell Colton, founders of the Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff, encouraged Hopi crafts. At first they focused on the traditional crafts of weaving, basketry, and pottery. They set up a workshop in the museum for Hopis to learn and practice their crafts.

In 1938, the Coltons began a program to encourage Hopi silversmithing. Hopi instructors like Fred Kabotie, a gifted artist, taught a new generation of Hopi jewelers. Today, Hopi jewelry provides economic benefits and a cultural expression unique to the tribe.