Starting with the arrival of the railroad in 1880, Pueblo and Navajo artisans collaborated with non-Indian dealers to invent artifacts that had no purpose but to satisfy the demand for Indian goods. From its inception, the curio trade comprised cottage industries, retail spaces, and a vast mail-order trade, and objects were sold by the thousands.

Early in the twentieth century businessmen in Denver invented “Indian style” jewelry, made with the aid of machinery. In the 1920s machine-assisted jewelry production spread to Albuquerque and Santa Fe, and hundreds of young Native American men moved to the cities to work in the curio shops. Observing a jeweler at work and obtaining a piece of Indian jewelry became an integral part of the touristic experience in New Mexico.

Production methods in the shops threatened native traditions and economies, affected the teaching of silversmithing in the Indian schools, and led to federal scrutiny of and control over shop-made jewelry. On the other hand, many young men who learned silversmithing in curio shops had successful and celebrated careers as jewelers following World War II. Many of these artists were represented in the exhibition, including Mark Chee, Ambrose Roanhorse, David Taliman, and Manuel Naranjo.

The rich, complex, and controversial story of the curio trade in New Mexico is told here for the first time. It is not only a story about artifacts, but of personalities, innovations, perseverance, and ultimately the survival of traditions.


Set of Silver Brooch, Bracelet, and Ring by Manuel Naranjo, ca. 1940. Manuel Naranjo made this matching set of silver brooch, bracelet, and ring, all set with moss agate, in about 1940 for Denver curio dealer E. Rosalia Callahan. He made the bezels without backs so light could pass through the stones. Naranjo did not sign any of his work before World War II, and he made all of his jewelry with commercial silver sheet and wire.
Ashtrays from Southwest Arts & Crafts, ca. 1930s. The head, tail, and legs on the copper bird at left are nickel silver. Harold Gans stated that of all the items in the shops line, the cowboy-hat ashtray was the most time-consuming to make; this example is silver, but in catalogs the type was offered only in copper. No jewelry or other metalwork made at Southwest Arts & Crafts prior to World War II is hallmarked. Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian (in order as described), 47/1388, 47/1385, 47/1344, gift of Susan Brown McGreevy.
Silver Spoons & Letter Opener by Jake (Navajo Silversmith), ca. 1880s. Silver spoons and letter opener attributed to the Navajo silversmith, Jake, who worked at Fort Wingate, New Mexico, in the 1880s. Letter opener: collection of Harold J. Evetts. Spoons: Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, 2002.13.21, 2002.13.22, the Carl Lewis Druckman Collection.
Silver watch fob by an unidentified Navajo silversmith, ca. 1880–1890. Each of the large panels has a loop on its back, with which it is attached to a strap of leather. Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, 2008.2.1, gift of George Taylor Anderman.
Trio of Tesuque Rain Gods. This trio of Tesuque rain gods represents the Japanese maxim, “See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.” Girard Foundation Collection, Museum of International Folk Art, Department of Cultural Affairs, Santa Fe, A.1979.53.716V.
Rattle ca. 1890. Rattle made at Tesuque from cowhide or horsehide with a tail attached to the handle, ca. 1890. The floral design was typically painted on Tesuque pottery of the late nineteenth century. Museum of Indian Arts & Culture/Laboratory of Anthropology, Department of Cultural Affairs, Santa Fe, 23140/12.
Hand Drums. Hand drums made at Tesuque from cheese rings and either goatskin or sheepskin. Left: collected at Tesuque, August 1886. Right: collected at Santa Fe, January 1885. Museum of Indian Arts & Culture/Laboratory of Anthropology, Department of Cultural Affairs, Santa Fe, 23968/12, 23165/12.
Silver Box, Bracelet, and Ring by David Taliman. 1950s or 1960s. David Taliman made this silver box, bracelet, and ring, all set with turquoise, in the 1950s or 1960s. All are hallmarked d. taliman, and the box is also stamped hand made sterling. Bracelet and ring, Naranjo Family Collection. Box: Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, 47/589, gift of Byron Harvey III.
Silver and Turquoise Necklace by Mark Chee. Mark Chee became an accomplished jeweler. He was awarded a blue ribbon for this silver and turquoise necklace at the 1946 Gallup Intertribal Indian Ceremonial. His hallmark, on the back of the naja, is the name, Chee, enclosed in the profile of a bird’s head and upper torso. Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, 47/750, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Arthur W. Rogers in honor of Mark Chee.
Silver necklace by Ambrose Roanhorse. Probably 1950s. Roanhorse’s hallmark on the back of the naja is a stylized rocking horse incorporating the letters A and R. Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, 47/1200, gift of Susan Brown McGreevy and Tom McGreevy.
Silver cup by Ambrose Roanhorse. ca. 1937. Roanhorse made this unsigned piece for the Indian Arts and Crafts Board “as one of several possibilities for new forms in Navajo silverwork.” Denver Art Museum, 1953.293, museum purchase from the Indian Arts and Crafts Board.