What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Native American jewelry? Is it something like concho belts, turquoise cluster rings and squash blossom necklaces? Now, don’t get us wrong, we’re happy in turquoise and silver any day of the year, and we’re thrilled to see how these jewelry styles have made their way into the imagination and lore, not just of the Southwest, but of our entire country.
But turquoise is only part of the conversation. The contemporary Native American jewelry world is a place of unbelievable creativity, diversity and innovation. What these contemporary jewelry artists have done in just a few decades is unbelievable. First of all, they’ve made technical expertise a priority. They’ve gone beyond traditional Native jewelry-making techniques and in the process have attained amazing levels of craftsmanship. And while they continue to honor their ancestors in their work, they are also constantly pushing the boundaries of what Native American jewelry is, drawing upon influences from around the world. Together, these contemporary artists have truly elevated Native American jewelry from the level of craft to fine art and couture.
No conversation about contemporary Native American jewelry would be complete without the name Michael Kirk. To say he’s a master is not an overstatement. In fact, Kirk has won pretty much every award out there and no longer enters his jewelry in competitions, simply to give emerging artists their chance.
Kirk is known for his cutting-edge and contemporary work that challenges common beliefs about what Native American jewelry. Take a look at his 14k Gold & Sugilite Corn Maiden pendant, a breathtaking piece. He takes the traditional Corn Maiden figure, portrays her in gold and sugilite, using channel inlay in a completely unexpected way. And check out that surprising accent of Australian opal at the bottom of the piece. Just the kind of extra detail that makes you appreciate Kirk’s work.
We also love to see the number of younger emerging artists who are bringing their own flair and very modern, sometimes minimalist, design aesthetic to the scene. One of the artists we have our eye on is Mary Irene. As you can see from these sterling silver dangle earrings, Irene’s work is an exciting exploration of shape and texture. Nothing traditional about this fashion-forward look!
Another master of the form is Ken Romero. No one expresses beauty through gemstones better than Romero. He was inspired by the inlay tradition and completely pioneered his own version of it called Pueblo Village Design Inlay. He cuts and polishes dozens of gemstones by hand and sets them into highly dimensional, cutting-edge jewelry pieces, like this Maiden’s Headdress ring. Every piece Romero creates offers a dazzling array of colors and textures.
Whether you’re a longtime Native arts collector or brand new to it, we know you’ll have as much fun as we do exploring the world of contemporary Native American jewelry. Take a look at our selection of contemporary styles [insert link]. These are pieces that you’ll want to linger over, really taking the time to notice the details and special finishes. It is an exploration and a journey that we’re very happy to have a part in. Enjoy!