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#115: First Phase

January 19, 2010

More on the Navajo!  I think you know by now that this is a little something of an obsession.  So here we go:

The First Phase of Navajo silver craft is considered to have taken place between 1868* and 1900, and characterized by the Native Americans making silver solely for their own traditional use.  The Transitional period took place immediately following the First Phase from about 1900-1930 which developed as the tourist market for Indian craft dominated production.  New styles were practiced and, so, the First Phase ended.  Some of these new styles included Harvey jewelry (like these little numbers from post #109 and #110 fame) which were much lighter, thus easier to produce en masse, and very popular with the ladies.  Some silversmiths, though, continued to make the simple, heavy styles of the First Phase throughout the thirty or so years of the Transitional period.

*  When, after Kit Carson forced surrender to the U.S. Government on the Navajo, driving them from their land and ravaging their homes in what became known as The Long Walk, the Navajo people were allowed to return to a reservation that consisted of a portion of their former nation.

The term First Phase (and the later eras thereafter, Second Phase, Third Phase…) is most commonly applied to the concho belt, which might also be the most recognizable item in the Navajo arsenal.  The First Phase concho belt is characterized by simple, heavy round silver conchos with a center slot opening for bridle leather to slip through.

Hopi Man in a Navajo First Phase concho belt. Taken in 1907 at the Hopi Village of Hano, AZ during a traditional ceremony. The Hopis traded eagerly with their Navajo neighbors.

A Navajo woman and her daughter, wearing a First Phase concho belt, taken in New Mexico in 1900 by William C. Orchard.

A Navajo woman named Anselina, photographed by Ben Wittick in New Mexico around 1890. Wittick often staged his "models" in fake backgrounds and supplied his own impressive pieces of jewelry, which distracts the viewer a bit from reality.

While out West last fall I found a perfect little First Phase revival belt (probably made in the 1930’s) for myself.  Generally I find the concho belt to be a bit too large for your average person and prefer to see the wearable art hanging from a wooden post to admire but not to wear.  But this little belt is just the right size and even fits through the belt loops of my old Levi’s.  A sad story comes along with the belt and how it found its way into Esteban’s shop, El Rincon, in Taos.  I was heartened when Esteban said he thought it ended up there because it was meant to be in my hands.

Ten silver conchos strung on the original bridle leather. The conchos have a matte patina that can only come with significant age and wear.  Notice the black within the crevices of the silver work that pronounce its design. (This stuff gets me so giddy, I wanna sink right into those crevices.  Also I’m about to reveal the depths of ‘the crazy’, but I love the way this belt smells.  Too much information?)

Small conchos, as compared to a quarter dollar:

An old college friend once told me after meeting my Dad, “you make so much more sense now.”   Anyway Dad also picked up a First Phase.  His looks much like the belts seen above in the old photos and was probably made, so we’ve been told, in about 1920 during the Transitional period by an elder silversmith who had worked through the First Phase.  The leather strap is not original to the piece but dates from the same time.

This belt is pretty huge.  That’s a hell of a lot of silver.  Dad can pull it off because he looks and dresses like a rock star.

Holes punched by hand, all done with primitive tools.  Made on the ground, often on a block of wood.  These conchos feature punched holes, scalloped borders, and a twisted wire effect which was common practice in the First Phase but rather laborious to create, and so the design became outmoded.

AND HEY YOU GUYS!  As if there couldn’t be anything more to get giddy over, I’ve got even more concho on the way.  I love you for reading this and above all, for humoring me by doing so!

The old photos and much reference information provided by Indian Jewelry of the Southwest 1868-1930 by Larry Frank, c. 1990 by Schiffer Publishing Ltd.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. January 20, 2010 3:58 pm

    You are an Awesome Rockin Babe, love the posy & pics
    love you

  2. January 28, 2010 12:45 pm

    This is nuts amazing.


  1. #118: Second Phase « Indian Summer Vintage

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