The best silversmith among the Navajos was Long Mustache of Bear Tank. He made his own dies and stamps and was sent to the World's Fair in Chicago in 1893. He it was that first learned to set turquoise in rings. Old Smith and Big Smith, the first Navajos to work in silver, both died of old age, long ago.

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On all ceremonial baskets and on blankets and silver there are patterns to which some dealers attribute fantastic meanings far removed from primitive Indian ideas. In this way travelers and buyers have been taught to look for a symbolic significance in all these designs which is often distorted or wholly imaginary.

Whether you're drawn to the beauty of turquoise and silver Navajo Jewelry or the earth tone colors of Indian pottery, having some knowledge about American Indian arts and crafts can help you get the most for your money.

Be aware that some unscrupulous retailers want to take your money in exchange for imitation American Indian arts and crafts.

Many Navajo men are working in silver and they make many pretty designs, setting turquoise into Silver rings and bracelets and belt-plates.

They make round-bead necklaces so perfect that the welding cannot be seen, and the beautiful squash-blossom pendants which the Hopis like so much. They even make spoons and white men's stuff -- anything that the traders want.

Buying Tips

American Indian arts and crafts are sold through many outlets, including tourist stores, gift shops and art galleries. Here are some tips to help you shop wisely:

Buy from an established dealer who will give you a written guarantee or written verification of authenticity.

Ask if your item comes with a certification tag. While not all authentic Indian arts and crafts carry this tag, those that do are certified by the Department of the Interior (DOI) to be genuine.


Squash Blossom

Handcrafted Native American jewelry is an art form intended for daily use—silver actually will tarnish less when you wear it. But there are several special precautions you need to keep in mind to make sure you don't harm your jewelry.

First, never expose your silver jewelry to detergents, which can be harsh on many stones used in Native jewelry. Although it's tempting to use commercial jewelry cleaners on your silver pieces, these cleaners can be very harmful to jewelry with stones or pieces that have been silver oxidized (they are blackened in areas to create the design).

Instead, use a professional jewelry cloth or glove to keep your pieces clean. When storing jewelry, wrap it in flannel and place it in a box to keep it from tarnishing and getting scratched. For heishi and turquoise-bead necklaces, place them full-length, not bent, to prevent breakage of individual stones.