Tommy Singer (born 1940; death May 31, 2014) was a Navajo silversmith who specialized in chip-inlay jewelry. He died in a motorcycle accident on May 31, 2014. His inlaid turquoise, coral, and silver pieces incorporated traditional Navajo designs. Singer gained acclaim as the originator of the chip inlay design which he developed in the 1970s.
He grew up on the Navajo Reservation and was taught silversmithing by his father, beginning at the age of seven. In the 1960s he invented the "chip-inlay" technique of using turquoise or coral chips in this silverwork. This technique has become widespread in his community. He also used stamps and work in overlay.
When asked about his work, Singer said,"Every piece is made with the various meanings from my traditional ways - the Navajo way of living. My father was a silversmith, too. He taught me, and wanted me to continue this trade. It was my father's dream that I learn to silversmith so that I could continue his beliefs."
After his death, his wife, Rosita (Rose), has continued to create jewelry using designs Singer created prior to his passing. These items are stamped with "T&R Singer.
The emergence of Southwest silver jewelry took place gradually. Although the Navajos and Pueblos had some exposure to silverworking from contact with the Spanish, neither people concentrated on developing their own art forms until the late 1870's, after the Navajo had returned to their reservation from a five-year internment by the U.S. government at Ft. Summer. Novice silversmiths and accomplished blacksmiths both turned to the working of silver, and lustrous jewelry quickly gained prestige as a symbol of status and wealth among the Navajo. Desire for the silver ornamentation spread quickly, and the Pueblo villages of Laguna, Acoma, Hopi, and Zuni soon picked up the craft. By 1915, the Zuni were creating their own distinctive inlaid jewelry styles while the Navajo people continued to develop the quintessential Southwest style: heavy squash blossoms and hefty bracelets set with chunks of variously colored turquoise. In Gallup you will find the traditional styles of Native American silversmithing, each unique and indicative of the creating artist's tribal heritage. The shopper will also find many outstanding contemporary pieces that merge early traditional art with stunning new design concepts.
"On the Navajo Indian reservation anything 100 years old is very old, ancient, or antique. People and property of 50 years are old. Off the Navajo Indian reservation old pawn represents the real Indian jewelry. Contrary to opinions of pseudo-experts, old pawn was not jewelry made only for pawn. Old pawn is not merely a piece of jewelry that an Indian has pawned because he has needed money. The search for old pawn is motivated by more than a romantic urge. For us, the value and emotional attraction for old pawn Indian jewelry is that it has been owned, appreciated, worn, and used by real living Indians. We see old pawn jewelry as an intimate relic of a people and a culture which is slowly and inevitably disappearing into history. The more we learn of Indian silversmiths and old pawn jewelry the more we are convinced that the old silversmiths produced a higher standard of their art for Indians than they did for traders and non-Indians. When a Navajo man or woman wanted a piece of jewelry he went to a silversmith, usually a relative. The piece was made to order and scaled to the wearer's size and build. In most cases the buyer furnished the makings - silver, turquoise, old jewelry or whatever was needed. Indian jewelry served as decoration, a display of wealth, and as collateral against loans at the trading post. The pawn rack was an important and respectable part of the economic and social life of the Navajo. Jewelry moved in and out of pawn at regular seasonal intervals synchronized to the spring and fall lamb, wool, and harvest activities. Much of the jewelry was withdrawn from pawn during the summer dances and ceremonials, and returned to the vaults again during the winter months. The discerning Navajo knew beauty and excellence in craftmanship and would not wear sloppily made, poorly contructed silver. The quality and color of turquoise may not have been the best, but the silversmithing was something else. The Navajos kept their silver bright, shining, and untarnished by brushing it in yucca suds and water. The amount of cash or credit advanced depended on the amounts of silver and turquoise, and the owner's credit rating with the post. It was seldom that a Navajo pawned all his silver with one trader. Old established traders set their own time limits with the individual regardless of the general law which only required traders to hold pawn for thirty days. One licensed pawn rack at
THE MAKING OF A SQUASHBLOSSOM NECKLACE
Molds for casting are made in the Southwest by carving designs in fine grained pumice or sandstone. A capstone is used to close the mold and the molten silver is poured in. When it has cooled the mold is opened and the rough form is removed. The rough edges are filed, the surface is polished and it is bent into shape. Almost all cast silver is made in the Southwest.
Beads were among the first things Pioneer Smiths made, beating them from old coins. At the turn of the century beads were a symbol of fashion and status which continues today.
The horseshoe-shaped "Naja" represents the emblem that adorned Spanish horses, centuries ago. A Squash Blossom Necklace was originally worn with the colorful Indian shirts and blouses, the stunning combination of silver and pure turquoise is unsupassed.
Navajos comprise the largest tribe in the joined states, living on the largest reservation which is situated in northwestern New Mexico and northeastern Arizona. (Of which, most of our jewelry comes from) A feeling of tribal strength is expressed in their own name, The Navajo Nation.
The Navajo were the first to produce jewelry that required the working of metal. Their love of metal working can be traced to the Spanish arrival in the Southwest. The silver bridles and horse trappings of the Conquistadors were admired and often stolen by the raiding Navajos. Later when the area became part of Mexico, Mexican silversmiths traded jewelry to wealthy Navajo for sheep. Jewelry became a symbol of wealth.
WHAT IS HAND STAMP AND REPOUSSE WORK?
Repousse is a technique used by the artist to create a relief design by hammering or pressing the reverse side of the silver surface. In hand stamped work he/she uses hardened metal bits with patterns and a hammer to impress the designs into the metal. The stamps themselves are handmade sometimes from old tools, like worn or broken files, and even railroad nails.
Liquid Silver is a very fine sterling silver ( .925 ) tubing, hand strung into necklaces, bracelets, and earrings. It is very contemporary, and goes great with almost anything. When strung this was, it seems to give the effect of a flowing liquid, hence the name Liquid Silver.
TUFA CAST SILVER JEWELRY
Ring made by Navajo Silversmith Anthony Bowman
Unique Navajo tufa casted ring with a large rodonite polished stone. The ring has been made to fit the stone using the old way of tufa casting. Similar to sandcast, the tufacast jewelry is made by first carving the form in tufa (a porous volcanic stone), then pouring hot molten silver into the form. Tufa is similar to sandstone, with a beautiful natural texture.
Cast jewelry was first created by the Navajo as early as 1870. Tufa, which is compacted volcanic ash, and sandstone were used for molds. Tufa was easier to carve designs in, but sandstone held up better. The tufa stone is cut in half and ground smooth on both sides. After carving out the design on one of the halves, a channel shaped like a cone is carved to the edge on both sides of the mold to allow a passage way for the molten silver. To keep trapped air from ruining the cast, vents are carved out from the extremities of the design toward the edge of the mold.
The mold is heated with a torch fueled by oxygen and acetylene which causes carbon smoke to cling to the inside of both halves preventing the silver from sticking to it. The mold is put together and held by wire or plywood board and clamps. In older times, the molds were held together by wet leather and put in the sun to dry. The silver is heated and melted in a crucible with a torch until it is the right temperature.
Historically, temperature was and still is judged by the color of the molten silver. Today artisans have access to crucibles that have digital controlled heating. This increases the chance for a successful pour. When the temperature of the silver is high enough, the mold is then gravity casted, which means the molten silver is poured down into the impression from the top through the carved passage way. Once the mold is cool, the silver piece can be removed. Extra silver from the passage way and air vents are cut off. At this point the finishing begins with filing, stamp work, soldering on findings, adding stones, cleaning and buffing. A tufa stone mold may allow up to 12 pours on smaller designs. Most of the time it's much less and 1 pour is the usual with the larger carvings.
HISTORY OF HOPI OVERLAY
THE HISTORY OF NAVAJO JEWELRY
(according A Brief history of Navajo Silversmithing by Arthur Woodward
and Turquoise Unearthed by Lowery)
Spanish explorers arrived in the American Southwest in 1540, lured by reports of gold, but not finding any, the Spanish did not settle there until 1598. In due course the Spanish seized the turquoise mines that the native Pueblo peoples had been mining from approximately A.D. 1300. The Spanish introduced metal mining and smithing tools, along with other iron, silver, tin and copper objects and materials that the native population (the Navajos in particular) could rework for their own purposes.
Mexico gained its independence from Spain in 1821, which brought the Southwest under Mexican control. The United States declared war on Mexico in 1847 and took possession of the northern half of Mexico’s territory in North America. From that time on there was continual warfare and active expeditions into the interior of the Navajo homeland by American troops until the final campaign of 1863-1864.
As a means of gaining a foothold into Navajo country, Fort Defiance was established in 1853. The historian Arthur Woodward believes that this was the time that silver and iron working took hold in Navajo country. The man who is indicated as being the first silversmith was Atsidi Sani (the Old Smith), who acquired his knowledge of silversmithing between 1853 and 1858, from a Mexican.
After the Civil War the art of working silver spread and by the 1880s native Navajo craftsmen steadily refined their skills. The original forms of silverware manufactured by the Navajo were relatively simple. Interestingly, the design elements we still see today as Navajo patterns produced by stamping have their roots in the dies used in tooling Mexican leatherwork.
When gold was discovered in California in 1849, the rush was on, and by the 1870’s miners had also found large deposits of copper, lead, silver, and turquoise. In the early 1880’s, with the arrival of the trans-continental railroad, interest in authentic, handcrafted silver Indian jewelry took hold. It was a this time that artisans in Zuni, the Rio Grande pueblos, and in Navajo country began to set turquoise in their jewelry.
After World War II, the population in the Southwest exploded, and so did tourism to the region. Interest in, and demand for, turquoise Indian jewelry expanded exponentially. The federal government even established programs to teach the jewelry making trade to budding Native American artisans.
Quantities of turquoise objects found in burial sites dating back to A.D. 300 throughout the American Southwest confirm that turquoise has been spiritually, decoratively, and economically significant to ancestral pueblo people as well as their descendants today. Turquoise, the “sky stone” is an ancient talisman for health and happiness. The Navajos believe turquoise jewelry will bring good fortune to the wearer. The Zuni associate blue turquoise with Father sky and green turquoise with Mother Earth. Apache hunters and warriors wore turquoise as protection against enemies, and the Pima carried turquoise to ward off illness. Today we wear turquoise not only because of its beauty, but because it represents the beauty of the great American Southwest and its talented native artisans.
BELL TRADING COMPANY
In times past, weavers had few opportunities to talk about their work with anyone who lived a few miles away. As a result, distinct regional styles emerged because weavers only shared what they knew with their children and nearby neighbors. In some cases, traders at the local trading posts fostered particular designs based on popular notions of how a Navajo rug " should " look or trend in home decorating. Traders also provided yarns and dyes that have influenced the colors and techniques weavers used in their rug designs. Many traditional weavers still depend entirely upon their own resources. They raise the sheep and shear them, wash, card, and then spin the wool all themselves. They then dye it as their mothers taught them to, with native plants such as wild walnut, rabbit brush, and lichen, or used the wool in its nature state. After stringing a home-made loom, the weaver sits on the ground and begins to weave at the bottom of the wrap. As the weaver weaves, the completed part of the rug is rolled under to keep it out of the way, and the weaver must remember every nuance of the design until the rug is finished. Four styles are recognized most by their color alone: Burntwater, Klagetoh, Ganado, and Two Grey Hills. The three styles of Navajo rugs that are woven in bands of color are distinguished by the designs within those bands: Crystal, Chinle, and Wide Ruins. There are several other rugs that are identified today by their designs: Pictorial, Teec Nos Pos, Eyedazzler, and Storm. Finally the most recent rug design today, New Lands style, is woven in a particular design using only certain colors and an unusual weaving technique. Today the number of Navajo rug weavers have decreased dramatically. Seventy percent of the Navajo weaver are over the age of Fifty. Navajo rug weaving possibly could become a lost Art.
More on History of Navajo Rugs, Click Here
HAND WOVEN BASKETS
TRADITIONAL HAND COILED POTTERY
Handmade Pottery is one of the most innovative, dynamic forms of American Indian art. Not only do clay and slip colors vary from pueblo to pueblo, Individual designs pertain to specific families or clans within each village. Traditional pottery is made by hand. The artisans shapes the sides by laying up coils of clay, then scraping and smoothing the exterior to obliterate traces of the coils before firing. This is the same technique that the Anasazi used to build pottery in the Southwest a thousand years ago.