Jake Livingston – Navajo-Zuni Silversmith

Jake Livingston Living History Video

This documentary film was researched, photographed, edited and produced by students of Winona State University (Winona, Minnesota) and Diné College (Tsaile, Arizona, Navajo Nation) during summer 2013. It contains stories Jake Livingston of Sanders, Arizona, told the students during several hours of interviews about his life.

This documentary film is archived at the Navajo Nation Museum, Navajo Nation Library, Winona State University Library, and Diné College Library, and will be archived at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian.

The film is part of the Navajo Oral History project, a multi-year collaboration between the Winona State University Mass Communication Department and Diné College – The official Tribal College of the Navajo Nation

Jake Livingston - Navajo-Zuni Silversmith

Photo by Tom Grier /Navajo Oral History Project.

Jake Livingston was born in 1945. He is of Navajo/Zuni descent, and grew up in Pine Haven New Mexico. He graduated from Window Rock High School and then joined the Marine Corp. in 1966.

He served in the Vietnam War and was wounded 3 times and spent 2 months in the hospital. After the war he served a  policeman before becoming a silversmith.

Jake Livingston in Workshop
Photo by Tom Grier /Navajo Oral History Project.

He learnt his skills from watching his father Jacob Haloo. Under his father’s tutelage and encouragement Jake became a master jeweler. He has been actively making jewelry since the early 1970’s and was named the Indian Arts & Crafts Association’s Artist of the Year in 1988. Jake Livingston draws inspiration from his Zuni Pueblo Heritage.

Jake Livingston stamp

His awards include numerous 1st place and Best of Division’s at the Santa Fe Indian Market. His work has been showcased in a number of books including the Jacka’s, Navajo Jewelry A Legacy of Silver and Stone.

Jake Livingston Interview

 Photo by Tom Grier /Navajo Oral History Project.

Navajo Silversmith Making Jewelry

Navajo silversmith making jewelry in New Mexico

Navajo silversmith making jewelry in New Mexico


Publisher: Center for Southwest Research, University Libraries, University of New Mexico
Date Original ca. 1920-1940

Navajo Jewelry and Silversmiths

Among the Navajo Indians there are many smiths, who sometimes forge iron and brass, but who work chiefly in silver. When and how the art of working metals was introduced among them I have not been able to determine; but there are many reasons for supposing that they have long possessed it; many believe that they are not indebted to the Europeans for it. Doubtless the tools obtained from American and Mexican traders have influenced their art.

Portrait of Navajo Silversmith Bai-De-Schluch-A-Ichin (Slender Silversmith) in Native Dress with Silver Necklaces, Concho Belts, Tools and Army Saddle Bag 1883 - Creator: Wittick, George BenPortrait of Navajo Silversmith Bai-De-Schluch-A-Ichin (Slender Silversmith)
in Native Dress with Silver Necklaces, Concho Belts, Tools and Army Saddle Bag
1883 – Creator: Wittick, George Ben

Old white residents of the Navajo country tell me that the art has improved greatly within their recollection; that the ornaments made fifteen years ago do not compare favorably with those made at the present time; and they attribute this change largely to the recent introduction of fine files and emery-paper. At the time of the Conquest the so-called civilized tribes of Mexico had attained considerable skill in the working of metal, and it has been inferred that in the same period the sedentary tribes of New Mexico also wrought at the forge. From either of these sources the first smiths among the Navajos may have learned their trade; but those who have seen the beautiful gold ornaments made by the rude Indians of British Columbia and Alaska, many of whom are allied in language to the Navajos, may doubt that the latter derived their art from a people higher in culture than themselves.

The appliances and processes of the smith are much the same among the Navajos as among the Pueblo Indians. But the Pueblo artisan, living in a spacious house, builds a permanent forge on a frame at such a height that he can work standing, while his less fortunate Navajo confrere  dwelling in a low hut or shelter, which he may abandon any day, constructs a temporary forge on the ground in the manner hereafter described. Notwithstanding the greater disadvantages under which the latter labors, the ornaments made by his hand are generally conceded to be equal or even superior to those made by the Pueblo Indian.

A large majority of these savage smiths make only such simple articles as buttons, rosettes, and bracelets; those who make the more elaborate articles, such as powder-chargers, round beads , tobacco cases, belts, and bridle ornaments are few. Tobacco cases, made in the shape of an army canteen, such as that represented in , are made by only three or four men in the tribe, and the design is of very recent origin.

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