“The Navajo were the first Southwest American Indians to work silver……A man named Astidi Sani (Old Smith) is credited by historians as being the fist Navajo silversmith. His Spanish name was Herrero Delgadito (Little Ironworker). Reportedly he acquired a basic knowledge of ironworking in 1853 from a Mexican blacksmith/silversmith.”
From Indian Jewelry, Fact & Fantasy by Marsha Land
Early Navajo metalwork was limited to iron and was for utilitarian purposes (knife blades, bits), not adornment.
Mexican Silversmiths (plateros), on the other hand, were typically adorned with silver as a display of their wealth and, for some, their metal-working skills – silver concha belts, buckles, buttons on shirts and down the sides of pants, hat bands, silver embellished saddles and headstalls and much more.
This side view of a pair of vintage Mexican charro pants (circa 1890) give you an idea of the lavish silver embellishments. An example of an ornate vintage Mexican silver saddle.
John Lawrence Hubbell opened his first trading post at Ganado, Arizona in 1873. When the well-dressed nomadic plateros came to the Ganado area, the Navajo took notice. Soon they began to trade horses and livestock to the plateros in exchange for learning metal-working skills.
Hubbell saw the potential in of Navajo silverwork for his trading post so he brought in two Mexican silversmiths (Thick Lips and Benedito) to teach their skills to the Navajo he had working for him.
From Navajo Silver, a brief history of Navajo Silversmithing
The dictionary mentioned in the following quote was published in 1910.
For a much more detailed account of Atsidi Sani AKA Herrero, as well as how Navajo smiths learned silver casting methods from plateros and much more………. read John Adair’s book:
Metal-working skills were passed from the Spaniards to the Mexicans and then to the Navajo. Interestingly, early Navajo silversmiths chose to use leather stamping tools for their designs, thus distinguishing Navajo pieces from Mexican silver work early on.
Watch for more on this topic in a future post.