Native American Artisans Put New Spin On Old Crafts
By Anne Gilbert

As seen in The Antique Shoppe Newspaper, February, 2004,

Since the 1970s there have been many serious collectors of not only ancient but early 20th century Native American art and crafts. The polished, black, Pueblo pottery of Maria and Julian Martinez, first made in 1919 , was widely collected. Prices continue to go up. However there is growing appreciation and collector interest in contemporary Native American art and crafts. While some is done in the traditional tribal way, many artists are creating new interpretations. Even more important, unlike in the past, there is now name recognition.

Author/collector Dawn Reno has not only put a face on many of these contemporary artisans and their work, but an evaluation in her new book “The Official Price Guide to Native American Art”, published by House of Collectibles.

As she recently told me, “ Many of today’s Native American artists use new media and materials not usually associated with Indian artwork. And, they want to reach beyond cultural barriers and recognized simply as artists...not just Native American Artists.” A surprising fact, cited by Reno, is that “if not for the tourist trade, Native American Art might still be confined to everyday objects and personal adornment. It was only after
tribes were confined to reservations, did Native American families begin creating works of art that would be passed on to others.”

What first attracted Reno to Native American art were baskets and pottery. But, there was little or no information about the artists. Baskets for example weren’t signed. While pottery could be identified by tribal techniques and characteristic, it wasn’t signed. For example, Acoma, San Ildefonso, Zuni and Hopi Mesas still paint deer, birds, flowers, geometric designs and identifiable symbols of their villages onto their pots. New techniques are also used. That led Reno to seek out contemporary artists and catalogue them as well as list the characteristics of their work. Potter B,J. Fragua , one of the many artists listed, combines traditional with contemporary techniques Her pots can be recognized by their white backgrounds as well as painted recessed designs. They are
priced in Galleries from $250 to over a $1,000.

Another popular category is textiles, blankets and rugs. When early examples come to auction prices can be in the thousands of dollars. By their very nature of fragility many have not survived. Best known are those made by the Southwestern Navajos. As Reno points out their rug and blanket weaving is so distinctive that historians have separated the styles into named periods. The other tribes wove, it is the Navaho weaver who continues to work, often combining traditional with new influences.

“Most amateur collectors have absolutely no idea of the time and effort it takes to make one small rug or pottery bowl, “ said Reno. “The prices or values put on pieces created by native artists often result in their getting paid mere pennies per hour for their work.”

CLUES: Most of the Native American artists continue to bring their works to fairs where they sell for a fraction of Gallery prices. “If you can contact the artist personally that is your best bet,” Reno told me. “This way you won’t get a factory piece that is a reproduction of a known artist’s work. Consider quality pieces as a good investment.”

Categories include art, baskets, beadwork, carving, dolls and Kachinas, jewelry, pottery, sculpture, textiles, leather and a relatively new category, sand painting.

There is a list of galleries and museums representing the artists.

The book has so much important information it is a must for any collector.

If you have any questions, you can Email us at

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