Yesterday we said hello to Cowboy Bob, a horse wrangler for the trail rides in Zion Canyon. The cowboy was in the shop after work buying....you guessed it, cowboy gear. He was looking for a scarf slide which he found in the shape of a beautiful repoussed Navajo flat sterling ring. Of course, he also had to buy the scarf we gave him to try it with. A "glad rag" he informed me is what a cowboy calls his scarf. He says he's been using his a lot to pour water on and cool off trail riders unaccustomed to the 107 degree heat we had for the last three and a half weeks. To book a trail ride in Zion Park with Bob Harris and the other cowboys, call Joanie at 435.772.3810
Yesterday one of our favorite carver’s, Duwayne Turpen, came in. He is part Zuni and registered to the Navajo tribe. We’ve known him for nearly 30 years. He’s one of those early Navajo true nomads when I was doing Indian shows 30 years ago. There was a good chance of walking into the show and bumping into Duwayne. He is a master stone-cutter and works with only natural native stone and shell making beautiful turquoise animal fetishes and traditional slab earrings. His work turns up all over the country and is made by him personally and with the help of his three daughters. One of the amazing things about Duwayne is how he has not raised his prices in 25 years despite the rise in the cost of turquoise and silver. Just recovering from a leg injury, our good friend Duwayne is back on the road, the golf course and the jewelry circuit.
Porcupine quillwork is an art indigenous to North America and was wide spread all across the country. It pre-dates the use of European imported glass beads. The animals' quills are collected by skinning the animal or throwing a blanket over him so that he ejects his quills into the blanket. They are then sorted by size and either used in their natural color, or are dyed using native plants or commercial dyes. They are soaked in water, the sharp barb clipped off, then used in embroidery. There are about 30 different quillwork stitches or techniques, some of which have been lost. Only a handful of quill-workers remain. Additionally, quillwork conservator, Nancy Fonicello emailed us that Robin Odle has catalogued more than 63 different quillwork techniques, many of them quite obscure and no longer in use.
Dolls have been used by the Native American Indians from prehistoric times up to the present. The earliest dolls excavated and collected from caves are believed to be either children's toys, hunting charms, fertility charms, or otherwise used in ceremony. The vast majority of Indian dolls made in historic times were children's play toys. Among the tribes, except for the Hopi, doll making was not a profession but was practiced by every fond aunt, grandmother and mother. Some doll makers went to fantastic details with the toys while others were crudely made. Some were probably made by children themselves. Dolls and toys taught all phases of skills needed by adults. Plains Indian girls often had small tipis with all the furniture and dolls to play at adult village life. Materials ranged from sticks, river reeds, cornhusk, buckskin, bark, cloth, fur, pottery and stone, wood and beads, etc. Among the Pueblo Indians of Arizona and New Mexico, all had kachina spirits and dances, but only among the Zuni and Hopi were kachina dolls carved. These dolls were not prayed to, as a Catholic Saint image would be, but were teaching tools to help the Pueblos identify their kachina spirits. There are over 3000 kachina spirits. At the kachina dances, it is determined by the priests in the Kivas which dances will be performed each season. So a hummingbird kachina dancer may not be seen in the plaza at a dance for 30 years. Thus the kachina dolls are teaching tools to help the people to remember and identify what the spirits look like so they will recognize them. At certain times during a child's life cycle, right up until a woman is married, kachina dolls are given to the Hopi and Zuni children. The kachina dolls are traditionally carved only by Hopi and Zuni men. They are not play toys. Originally they were made to hang from the Pueblo room's rafters, but due to their popularity with collectors, the more elaborate sculptural Hopi kachina doll standing on a base developed.
This replaced the earlier sewn-on designs made of porcupine quillwork before the coming of the Whiteman. As glass trade-beads became more available, the design elements gradually changed from the larger, blocky quillwork designs. The earliest beadwork was sewn with sinew, linen or silk thread acquired from traders. There are many techniques used in attaching the beads such as lazy-stitch or lane-stitch, applique using one or two needles, peyote stitch, loomwork, wrapping and border stitching. The designs, colors and the materials onto which the beads are stitched, and with what they are sewn with, are factors in placing a date, and geographic or tribal origin on a piece. The beads themselves varied in size and dye lot depending on whether they were obtained from French, Spanish, English or Dutch traders. Most of the beads were Venetian or Czechoslovakian made. Many of the old colors are not available. Many old pieces combined different sizes and often ran out of a color and finished the design with a different color due to the difficulty of obtaining these beads. Some tribes, like the Comanche and Apache, who were at war for a long time with the Whites and never had trading posts established in their territory, developed distinctive beadwork designs using minimal amounts of beads. Other tribes such as the Crow, who were friendly with the Whites and had access to trading posts, developed very elaborate designs utilizing many colors of beads on a vast array of their possessions.
Basket making has been a major means of providing containers for Native people from pre-historic to contemporary times until cheaply made imported containers began to replace them. Some baskets were and are still used in ceremonial context. Great time was required to collect, dry and process the materials needed for baskets. The weaving among some tribes reached a very high degree of artistry, both in the execution of the basket and the designs. Some of the utilitarian baskets, such as burden baskets, sifters and winnowing baskets are no longer made since they are not used in today's food processing methods. A few skilled basket makers still make their living weaving beautiful Indian baskets.
Since coming out to Zion Canyon in Southern Utah to build a website for my mother's antique store, my perspectives have really changed. I was suppose to be the one bringing her and the shop, Frontier Plunder, out of the cave and into a modern world. But I quickly recognized that her place, which has been around for 21 years, would continue to thrive even if she wasn't insistent upon plundering the virtual realm. Yes it's true, having gone online is only going to add a great dimension to the business. But my point is that these things of the past, from the utilitarian Pueblo pottery to the decorative Remington sculptures have a story behind them that people can only hear first hand. It amazes me to hear the history of the pieces flow from Mom when someone asks. For instance, yesterday a woman and her daughter were in the store. They were looking at glass beads and the woman asked why the "plastic" strands were so expensive. It was a great opportunity for me to hear her tactfully educate the woman about the history of the Venetian, Bohemian and Russian glass beads, how it tied in to fur trading and even was a part of the items included in exchange for Manhattan. The woman went from snickering about prices for "plastic" to seeing it's value in them. She bought a $250 strand of Venetian Flower and Russian Cobalt beads. There's history here and people appreciate hearing about it from her. I've taken it for granted, being her son and growing up with these things constantly in my sight. Now, with fresh perspective in hand, I too am one of those people picking Mom's brain for insight into the pieces of the past.