Meet Monty Claw and his Unique Jewelry

Monty Claw

We are so happy to have met Monty Claw and feature some of his unique jewelry in our webstore.

Navajo artist Monty Claw is largely self-taught although he did study at The Institute of American Indian Arts.

He has worked in many mediums including leather and beadwork, making feather fans, painting and silversmithing.       

See two of Monty’s fans below in this slide show   – for more details, see Fans on our website. 

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Monty Claw and his work have been featured in a number of publications including The Smithsonian Magazine and Native Peoples Magazine.

Monty’s pieces appear in museum quality collections such as Nelson Atkins, The Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, The Denver Art Museum, The Sam Noble Museum, and Musée Du Quai Branly in Paris, France. Watch the slide show below to see some of his museum quality pieces. 

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Although he has only been a full time jeweler since 2011 he has already started accumulating awards: SWAIA Santa Fe Indian Market, The Heard Museum Indian Market, and Cherokee Art Market in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Today Monty focuses mainly on jewelry and metalsmithing and specializes in tufa cast pieces. He creates amazing works of silver and gold occasionally set with precious gems like turquoise, coral, and diamonds. But truth be told, he really prefers to work in all metal.

He enjoys creating sculptural pieces that look like they are going to walk or fly off a ring or bracelet and come to life.

His pieces are unique, with singularly creative details. His ideas range from traditional to beyond modern, from beautiful to edgy, from simple classics to groundbreaking creations. He creates many pieces related to animal and spiritual beings. Click on the photos below to see more views and dimensions.

First People

Yei Bi Chei

Apache Crown Dancer

Raven Spirit

Dragonfly Spirit

Wolf Spirit

 

His work is highly sought after by major collectors, museum board members, major curators and Native American jewelry enthusiasts who just love to wear his pieces.

Monty Claw tells us stories with his jewelry as he continues on his creative path.

Paula – I’m closing with a photo of the first of my many Monty Claw pieces – a treasured buffalo inlay buckle………..

Paula’s inlay buffalo belt buckle by Monty Claw

Stop Counterfeiters and Fraudsters on eBay with the VRO Program

Have you spotted fraudulent listings on eBay? You might find this information interesting and useful. Especially if you are an artist whose work is being copied and the seller is using your name or hallmark to describe and sell the item, you need to read this.

It has been frequently brought to our attention that sellers on eBay have used our copyrighted photos or information from our website to fraudulently list items for sale.

Horsekeeping LLC

At first I just contacted the seller, giving him or her the benefit of the doubt, figuring some people just don’t KNOW what they are doing.

Well, I’d say in about 10% of the cases, the seller, somewhat embarrassed at being caught in the act, apologized profusely, removed our copyrighted items and changed their listing.

Another 10% wrote back with rude remarks and denial and didn’t change anything.

The other 80% just didn’t reply at all.

So then my MO changed to using the Report Item link which is located on the eBay item page way over to the right above Item Description.

Although that made me feel like I was doing something official, that process usually yielded no result in my personal experience.  Maybe one or two instances over the years resulted in a removal of the item.

Then I discovered the Verified Rights Owner Program on eBay.

Basically this program is designed to eliminate these infringements:

Trademark infringement
A trademark is a unique sign (such as a name, word, phrase, logo, or symbol) that a company uses to identify its products or services. For example, eBay is the name of our company, but it’s also a trademark used on our site and on various eBay products. Trademark laws are primarily designed to protect consumers from confusing one company’s goods or services with those of another.

Replica and counterfeit
It’s illegal to sell counterfeits, fakes, or replicas of brand-name items. We don’t allow these items to be sold on eBay.

Example

  • Items that weren’t made by the manufacturer but the items are labeled with the brand, like a purse that has a Burberry label on it but wasn’t made by Burberry.

Brand name misuse
You may not use brand names in your listing if the product isn’t manufactured by or compatible with that brand. You may use “compatible with,” “fits,” or “for” before a brand name if the item you are describing is specifically designed to be compatible with the products of that brand.

Examples

  • A generic case made for an iPhone uses the brand name “Apple”.
  • Listing an adidas shoe and adding the brand name “Nike”.

Logo misuse
If you include logos in your listing descriptions, make sure you’re authorized to use them. Using someone’s logo without permission is a violation of trademark laws and can be misleading for buyers. Creating a logo that’s similar to someone else’s can also be a trademark infringement.

Example

  • Listing a branded item and including logos in your description or images without authorization.

 

Every time I have used the VRO Program to report an item, not only is the item removed but the seller has been removed in some cases as well.

This is an effective tool to get fraudulent items and sellers removed from eBay. I haven’t heard much talk about it on Facebook or groups, so I wanted to be sure that artists and eBay watchers are aware of it.

Paula

Native American Reference Library at Horsekeeping LLC

There are many good reference books on Native American topics that prove valuable when researching items in the estate lots that come into our store. Starting with a handful of essential hallmark books, our reference library has grown !

Below my signature at the end of this post is a list of many (but not all) of the books in our reference library.

Some we reach for every day, others only when a unique question comes up.

I reach for this 3 Volume set regularly – Zuni, The Art and the People

I’ve organized the books in my list by categories so that I can find them easier when I need them – that’s what the headings and abbreviations refer to.

As usual, comments are welcome. If you post in the comment section at the end of this article, other readers will be able to see what you have to say. Let us know if you have read any of these books – which are your favorites, which might have misinformation, which ones are trusted.

I am continually on the lookout for books to add to the reference library and that results in me (more often than I’d like to admit) purchasing the same book twice! Have you ever done that? That’s the main reason I made up this book list  – so I can see at a glance what is in the library.

Once a year I go through the entire library to find the duplicates. Click on the book below to go to the page of extra books we have for sale right now.

Used Native American books for sale

 

Paula

HORSEKEEPING LLC – NATIVE AMERICAN REFERENCE BOOK LIST

ARTS AND CRAFTS

AC Guide to American Folk Art of the Southwest – Lamb

AC Native North American Art – Berlo

AC Navajo Arts and Crafts – Schiffer

AC North American Indian Artifacts – Hothem

AC Southwest Art Defined – Booker

FETISH

F Guide to Zuni Fetishes and Carvings – Lamb

F Guide to Zuni Fetishes and Carvings Vol 2 – McManis

F Native American Fetishes – Whittle

F Spirit in the Stone – Bahti

F Zuni Fetish Carvers McManis

F Zuni Fetish Carvers of the 1970s McManis

F Zuni Fetish Carvings Finkelstein

F Zuni Fetishes 1966 – Cushing

F Zuni Fetishes 1999 – Cushing

F Zuni Fetishes and Carvings First Edition 2004 – McManis

F Zuni Fetishes and Carvings Second Edition 2010 – McManis

F Zuni Fetishes– Bennett

F Zuni Fetishism – Kirk

FRED HARVEY

FH Fred Harvey – Armstrong

FH Fred Harvey Jewelry – June

FH Inventing the Southwest Fred Harvey Company – Howard

FH Native American Curio Trade in NM Battin

HALLMARKS

HM American Indian Jewelry I II and III Schaaf

HM Hallmarks of the Southwest – Wright

HM Hopi Silver – Wright

HM Little Book of Marks on Southwestern Silver – Hougart

HM Native American and Southwestern Silver Hallmarks – Hougart

HM Reassessing Hallmarks of Native Southwest Jewelry – Messier

HOPI

H Book of the Hopi – Waters

H Hopi Following the Path of Peace

H Loloma

H Spider Woman Stories – Mullett

H Truth of a Hopi – Nequatewa

KACHINA

K Hopi Kachina Dolls – Colton

K Hopi Kachinas – Wright

MEXICAN

M Mexican Jewelry – Davis and Peck

M Mexican Silver & Hallmarks – Hougart

M Mexican Silver – Morrul and Berk

NATIVE AMERICAN JEWELRY

NAJ Beesh Ligaii in Balance The Besser Collection – Torres-Nez

NAJ Collecting Southwest Native American Jewelry – Bahti

NAJ Evolving Southwest Indian Jewelry – Schiffer

NAJ Fine Indian Jewelry of the Southwest Millicent Rogers Museum Collection – Tisdale

NAJ Generations The Helen Cox Kersting Collection – Nottage

NAJ Guide to Indian Jewelry of the Southwest – Simpson

NAJ How to Invest in Indian Jewelry – Gillespie

NAJ Indian Jewelry Fact and Fantasy – Lund

NAJ Indian Jewelry of the American Southwest – Turnbaugh

NAJ Indian Jewelry on the Market – Schiffer

NAJ Indian Silver Jewelry of the Southwest 1968-1930 – Frank

NAJ Jewelry by Southwest American Indians – Schiffer

NAJ Masterworks and Eccentricities The Druckman Collection – Bauver

NAJ Native American Art 2018 Magazine

NAJ Native American Bolo Ties – Pardue

NAJ Navajo Jewelry A Legacy of Silver and Stone – Jacka

NAJ Navajo Silversmith Fred Peshlakai: His Life & Art

NAJ Silver and Stone – Bahti

NAJ Skystone and Silver – Rosnek

NAJ Southwest Indian Silver from the Doneghy Collection – Lincoln

NAJ Southwest Silver Jewelry – Baxter

NAJ Southwestern Indian Bracelets – Baxter

NAJ Southwestern Indian Jewelry 1992 – Cirillo

NAJ Southwestern Indian Jewelry 2008 – Cirillo

NAJ Southwestern Indian Rings – Baxter

NAJ What You Should Know about Authentic Indian Jewelry – Conroy

NAVAJO

NAV Navajo English Dictionary – Morgan

NAV Navajo Indian Myths – O’Bryan

NAV Navajo Taboos – Bulow

NAV Navajo Walking in Beauty

NAV The book of the Navajo – Locke

NAV The Navaho – Kluckhohn and Leighton

NAV The Navaho – Watkins

PLAINS

PL American Buffalo – Rinella

PL Black Elk & Flaming Rainbow – Neihardt

PL Fools Crow – Mails

PL Healing Power of Horses – Lessons from the Lakota – Baker

PL Indians of the Plains – Lowie

PL Keep Going – Marshall III

PL Lakota Belief and Ritual – Walker

PL Lakota Seeking the Great Spirit

PL Lame Deer Seeker of Visions – Lame Deer and Erdoes

PL Madonna Swan – St. Pierre

PL Offering Smoke – Paper

PL Red Horse Owner’s Winter Count – Karol

PL Stories of the Sioux – Standing Bear

PL The Journey of Crazy Horse – Marshall III

PL The Sacred Pipe Black Elk – Brown

RUGS

R Guide to Navajo Rugs – Lamb

R Guide to Navajo Weaving – McManis

R Navajo Weavings – McManis

R Weaving a Navajo Blanket – Reichard

REFERENCE

REF Antique Jewelry Warman

REF Dictionary of the American Indian

REF Encyclopedia of Native American Jewelry – Baxter

REF Field Guide to Southwest Indian Arts and Crafts – Page

REF Idiots Guide to NA History

REF Indian Jewelry of the Prehistoric Southwest – Jacka and Hammack

REF Jewelry and Gem Buying Guide Matlins

REF Jewelry of the Prehistoric Southwest – Jernigan

REF Jewelry Warman

REF Native American History – Nies

REF North American Indian Jewelry and Adornment – Dubin

REF Rocks, Gems and Mineral

REF The Earth Shall Weep – Wilson

REF Warman’s Jewelry Price Guide

SILVER

S Indian Jewelry Making Vol 1 and 2 – Branson

S Indian Silver – Navajo and Pueblo Jewelry – Bedinger

S Indian Silver Vol 2 – King

S Indian Silversmithing – Hunt

S Indian Silverwork of the Southwest, Illustrated Volume One and 2 booklets – Mera

S Navajo and Pueblo Silversmiths – Adair

S Navajo Silver – Hegemann

S Navajo Silver , a brief history of Navajo Silversmithing– Woodward

SYMBOLS

SYM American Indian Design and Decoration – Appleton

SYM Field Guide to Rock Art Symbols Patterson

SYM Heart of the Dragonfly Birt

SYM Picture Writing of the American Indians 1 & 2

TURQUOISE

T Arizona Highways Turquoise Blue Book

T Jewel of the Southwest – Turquoise – Osburn

T Turquois Pogue

T Turquoise and the Indian – Bennett

T Turquoise Jewelry – Schiffer

T Turquoise Jewelry of the Indians of the Southwest – Bennett

T Turquoise Mines Mineral and Wearable Art – Block

T Turquoise The Gem of the Century – Branson

T Turquoise The World Story of a Fascinating Gemstone – Lowry

T Turquoise Trail – Karasik

T Turquoise Unearthed – Lowry

TRADITIONS, MYTHS, and RELIGION

T&M American Indain Ceremonies

T&M American Indian Stories – Zitkala-Sa

T&M Animal Speak – Andrews

T&M Encyclopedia of Native American Healing – Lyon

T&M Hisoric Books Detailing Native American Indian Religions – DVD

T&M Indian Legends – Clark

T&M Native American Dance

T&M Native American Mythology Gill & Sullivan

T&M Native American Myths and Legends Taylor

T&M Native American Traditions – Versluis

T&M North American Indian Mythology Burland

T&M Southwestern Indian Ceremonials

T&M The Sons of the Wind – Dooling

T&M The Spirit of Indian Women – Fitzgerald

T&M The Voices of the Winds – Edmonds and Clark

T&M The Wind is My Mother – Bear Heart

T&M The Wisdom of the Native Americans – Nerburn

TRIBES

TR America’s Indian Background – Walker

TR American Indians of the Southwest Dutton

TR Enclyclopedia of Native American Tribes – Waldman

TR Encyclopedia of Native American Indians – Hoxie

TR Encyclopedia of North American Indians – Ciment

TR Native American The Pueblos Erdoes

TR The North American Indian Images – Curtis DVD

TR The Story of the Cherokee People – Underwood

ZUNI

Z Figural Designs in Zuni Jewelry – Sei

Z Hopi Bird and Sunface in Zuni Jewelry – Sei

Z Kachinas and Ceremonial Dancers in Zuni Jewelry – Sei

Z Knifewing and Rainbow Man in Zuni Jewelry – Sei

Z Whos Who in Zuni Jewelry –

Z Zuni Jewelry – 3rd edition – Bassman

Z Zuni, A Village of Silversmiths – Ostler

Z Zuni, the Art and the People, Vol 1, 2 3 – Bell

Z Zunis, The by Zunis

 

MORE BOOKS SUGGESTED BY READERS……..

Ray Manley’s Portraits and Turquoise of Southwest Indians” with text by Clara Lee Tanner.

Native American Jewelry Authentication Resources – Buyer Beware

This necklace fooled a lot of people, including the savvy collector who bought it years ago as well as several dealers in the business for over 40 years. It is not Native American made – it was made in the Philippines.

 

BUYERS

If you are thinking of purchasing a piece of vintage or contemporary jewelry and you assume or are told by the seller that it is Native American made, before you plunk down the cash, I encourage you to read through this article to find ways to authenticate the piece.

ebay has some very good sellers and can be a great place to shop but it is also loaded with counterfeit items and misrepresented pieces. BUYER BEWARE !

This is especially important if you are considering purchasing on eBay, etsy or one of the Native American warehouse type sites. While there are many educated, experienced, honest sellers on the internet, there are also those who either  A. don’t know or B. intentionally misrepresent. The latter type of seller really confuses things for everybody. So buying Native American jewelry on eBay or other auction sites is definitely a case of Buyer Beware.

SELLERS

I know there are many long-term, experienced and honest sellers of Native American jewelry around. So this information is not directed at you. The intent is to help new and inexperienced sellers of Native American jewelry.

If you are new to the Native American jewelry arena, know that if you are describing a piece as Native American made, you have a legal responsibility to be sure that it is authentic. These resources are provided to both serve your customers AND protect you as the seller.

Your reputation depends on satisfied customers and honest transactions. It doesn’t take long for word to get around if you are trying to pull a fast one to make a bigger sale through misrepresentation. And using “I didn’t know” doesn’t cut it. As a seller you are legally obligated to accurately represent the authenticity of an item. If you don’t know, take a deep breath, say you know don’t know and most importantly, don’t call it Native American.

NATIVE AMERICAN MADE OR NATIVE AMERICAN STYLE?

There is

A. authentic Native American made jewelry

B. counterfeit jewelry sold as Native American made (see next section)

C. Native American style jewelry that is not Native American made.

The latter type is also sometimes referred to as southwest jewelry since it copies many of the materials and designs of the southwest tribes.

I got into a funny back and forth discussion once with a customer who was trying to sell us her jewelry collection, mostly non NA made. They were nice sterling silver inlay pieces very typical of the southwest style. I said we weren’t interested as they were not authentic NA made. But she kept insisting that they were “real”, I think referring to the materials. Yes, real in the sense that you can touch and see the sterling and stone but they still were not made by NA hands, so they were not authentic NA made.

A perfect example of this type of “real” southwest jewelry (but not authentic Native American made jewelry) is Carolyn Pollack jewelry. Some of the pieces from that company are sterling silver and some also have real stones. People that like it love it.

Carolyn Pollack Southwest Style -Sterling Silver-YES …………………….. Real Turquoise – PROBABLY NOT ……………………………………………Pretty- YES ………………………………………………………………………….. Native American made – NO

There is a place for all type of items in the marketplace – as long as they are described accurately. Call a spade a spade.  You can read a little bit more about southwest style jewelry in my article “Info please on this pendant necklace with a crescent moon and a R”.

To qualify as Native American made, the piece must be made by a recognized, enrolled member of a Native American tribe.

Sterling Silver Wedding Basket Pendant by Navajo artist R.H. Begay

Read about the rules and regulations at the website of The Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990 where it states that “it is illegal to offer or display for sale, or sell any art or craft product in a manner that falsely suggests it is Indian produced, an Indian product, or the product of a particular Indian tribe.”

Below is an excellent article about a historic authentication group UITA.

Quest for Authenticity – The United Indian Traders Association: Better Quality, Greater Sales by Bille Hougart

FAKE NATIVE AMERICAN JEWELRY

There is a lot of counterfeit jewelry around – it is being sold as Native American made but is NOT. This is a distressing fact of life. What is even sadder is that the counterfeiters even copy the known hallmarks of legitimate NA artists, cutting sharply into the profits of the authentic artists and making it hard for even seasoned retailers to know the difference. Grrrrrrrr………..

Some of the counterfeit jewelry seized in a recent raid

Much of this type of counterfeit jewelry comes from overseas and is blatantly sold right in the heart of Indian country such as Gallup, Santa Fe, Albuquerque and the like.

To read about this problem and the latest sting operation, read  Biggest Fake Native American Art Conspiracy Revealed

HALLMARKS

 

 

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Hallmarks are a great aid in linking an artist to a work but they are only one piece of the puzzle. It is just as important to know materials and design style of an artist. And due to the counterfeiting of the hallmarks themselves, some hallmarks are faked!

Authentic Native American items may or may not be hallmarked. Hallmarks are much more common since the 1970s but even today, many artists do not sign their work. This is especially true of stone necklaces, Navajo Pearls and earrings where there isn’t a convenient place to put a a hallmark. Hallmark tags are sometimes used on necklaces.

For more on hallmarks, read my articles:

What is a Native American Hallmark?

Native American Hallmark Books

Book Review – Native American and Southwestern Silver Hallmarks by Bille Hougart

Here is another great article from a favorite blogger of mine Kim Messier Reassessing Native American Hallmark Books

There is also an extensive hallmark list on this website

BOOKS

Besides hallmark books, there are many other books and published materials related to vintage and contemporary Native American jewelry. Look through the list of books in our reference library by clicking the link below:

Native American Reference Library at Horsekeeping LLC

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BUY DIRECT FROM THE ARTIST OR FROM TRUSTED SELLERS

The best way to know you are buying authentic items, is to buy directly from the artist or from trusted galleries and sellers.

Horsekeeping LLC

Most artists are not set up to sell retail – they do not have stores or websites. Some artists do. But most sell to gallery or store owners that want to carry their work.  For example, read our authenticity policy at our webstore horsekeeping.com.

Authenticity of Native American Jewelry Policy at Horsekeeping

Vintage Shop at Horsekeeping LLC

Our MO (Method of Operation) is that if we have not purchased the item directly from the artist (which occurs frequently when we purchase estate lots) we try to authenticate the origin definitively. If we can not, then we do not call it Native American, we do not call it Navajo, Zuni or Hopi. We just sell it as-is even though it might show all the characteristics of being Native American made. This is important to us, to our customers and to Native American artists.

If an item is of unknown origin and/or materials and does not show design or workmanship characteristics of Native American jewelry, it goes into the Bargain Barn. We have made a few mistakes over the years and put some valuable things in there just because we couldn’t authenticate them. But better to err on the safe side.

Bargain Barn for items of unknown origin

 

CERTIFICATE OF AUTHENTICITY

Unless filled out by the artist, a COA is not worth the paper it is printed on………..

Legally, only the artist who makes a piece can fill out a Certificate of Authenticity (COA). Otherwise IMHO, a COA is not worth the paper it is printed on. Therefore, for a seller to send you a generic certificate or one that the seller signs serves no purpose. Most artists sign their work with a hallmark.  Of those that do not sign, very few provide COAs.

NATIVE AMERICAN JEWELRY GROUPS

So what to do in the case of unsigned vintage or contemporary pieces? One route it to find Native American jewelry “experts”. The internet makes this possible through groups.

There are many groups on the internet that are devoted to Native American jewelry,. Some have great educational and sharing atmospheres! Others are negative and combative and some members give answers and opinions that are self-aggrandizing and self-serving. As with any group, the cream will rise to the top.  I’ll list a few of my favorite groups below. After you successfully join the group, ask for comments on the piece you are considering buying or are getting ready to sell.

Here are some group tips:

  1. When you post to a group, give as much information as possible: dimensions, weight, type of materials, where you got it, any other provenance you might have.
  2. Include a lot of photos with your question. They should be large, clear and show all aspects of the piece, including closeups of key features and hallmarks. Even with all this it is sometimes hard to tell for sure if something is authentic from photos. There is nothing like having the piece in hand. But in many cases, photos do the trick because certain aspects are easily recognizable.
  3. Everyone has an opinion. Some opinions are better than others. And some opinions are just not right ! Once you join a group you will soon learn which members not only have an opinion but back it up with experience, facts, information and research. Those members are gold.
  4. Some comments might sting because not all members filter their thoughts. Your 1970s bracelet might be called rough or ugly even if it IS NA made. So brace yourself for some honest opinions. Also be ready for people to make inappropriate comments when they haven’t even taken the time to thoroughly look at your photos, read your description or read previous comments. Some just leap before they look. Or look but do not see. So take all comments with a grain of salt.
  5. Be polite and grateful and contribute when you can – that’s what makes a community work !
  6. Don’t use the group space for personal chatter and silliness. Most groups prefer to stick to the topics at hand. Post a serious inquiry, you are likely to get a serious answer. After all, that is what you want, right?

Here are some of my favorite groups – please let me know of others that you think should be added to the list.

Navajo Jewelry: Antique, Mid-Century, & Contemporary

Historic Navajo Jewelry

Let’s Talk Turquoise

Historic Hopi and Pueblo Jewelry

Contemporary Zuni Jewelry

Historic Zuni Jewelry

Zuni Jewelry – Let the Buyer Beware

Paula

The Three Stone Navajo Bracelet

One very traditional Navajo bracelet layout is the three stone bracelet.

#8 Turquoise 3 Stone Shadowbox bracelet by Navajo Wilbur Muskett

This layout is usually used when there are wonderful stones to showcase.

Vintage 3 Stone Bracelet with chisel mark E

The Three Stone layout works best if the stones match.

Vintage unsigned Royston Turquoise 3 Stone bracelet

Often the central stone is larger and the two sides stones are smaller.

Vintage unsigned 3 Stone bracelet

Sometimes the central stone is smaller and the two side stones are larger.

Vintage unsigned 3 stone bracelet

 

It is equally suitable to use the layout on a wire bracelet or a cuff.

Read about wire bracelets here – Wire Bracelets

Vintage unsigned 3 stone Bisbee turquoise bracelet on heavy 3 wire frame

 

Three stone White Buffalo Stone cuff bracelet by Joe Piaso

Read about White Buffalo Stone.

 

Vintage 3 stone bracelet with partial hallmark of P. This is a cross between a wire and a cuff bracelet. There is a heavy 4 wire framework and a solid sterling faceplate under the stones.Paula

National Geographic March 15, 2018 Biggest Fake Native American Art Conspiracy Revealed

Biggest Fake Native American Art Conspiracy Revealed

Jewelry dealer Nael Ali will be the first defendant sentenced in the most extensive federal investigation into Indian arts and crafts fraud.

At a Senate Committee on Indian Affairs hearing held at Santa Fe Indian School on July 7, 2017, William Woody, then Chief of Law Enforcement for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, called the $250,000 maximum penalty a “pittance” for those who pass off mass-produced imports as Indian made.

PHOTOGRAPH BY U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE, AP

High on the Colorado Plateau in northwestern New Mexico, a dusty main road runs through the Pueblo of Zuni. Pull over to the side, and someone in threadbare clothing will soon approach your window holding out a mysterious little box. In Los Angeles, where I live, such an offering could only mean trouble, and you’d be wise to roll up the window and make a quick getaway. But here in the homeland of the Zuni people, it’s safe to take a look. The box is lined with soft cloth, and in it you’ll find an exquisite creation this person made with his own hands—a travertine animal carving, silver earrings inlaid with the Zuni sun face motif, a corn maiden pendant of carved shell.

The Zuni people rely heavily on hard-won earnings from handmade jewelry and crafts. The tourism department of Zuni Pueblo estimates that 80 percent of working adults there make arts and crafts for sale. Yet it’s getting harder and harder for them to make a living.

 

Navajo jeweler Liz Wallace works on a piece in her studio in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

PHOTOGRAPH BY MAXINE MCBRINN

For as long as the Zunis and other indigenous artisans have sold their crafts, they’ve been undercut by fakes—nonnatives posing as Indians to sell more of their work, factory made goods sold as handmade. But today’s fakes include a virtual torrent of knockoffs cheaply manufactured overseas and masquerading as genuine Native made—baskets made in Pakistan sold as Navajo, beadwork made in China sold as Plains Indian, Hopi katsina dolls cranked out in the Philippines—none more profitable than counterfeit Indian jewelry.

The insult isn’t just financial. “Our arts and crafts give us a really concrete way to stay connected to our culture and our history,” says Navajo jeweler Liz Wallace. “All this fake stuff feels like a very deep personal attack.”

But even though the rampant sale of counterfeits in the Southwest has been widely acknowledged for decades—and has ties to organized crime, according to affidavits by federal investigators—only recently has the U.S. government taken any serious action to shut down the major operators. Whether the crackdown has teeth will be tested in New Mexico in April, when Albuquerque jewelry dealer Nael Ali will be sentenced for fraudulently selling imported jewelry as Native American made.

 Ali, the owner of several retail stores in Albuquerque’s Old Town district, pleaded guilty on October 18, 2017, to misrepresenting as Native-made jewelry sourced from two family-run networks he said were supplying him with counterfeit jewelry made in the Philippines. These two networks make for the largest Native American art fraud conspiracy ever brought to light.

Ali’s sentencing is the first in the ongoing federal investigation called Operation Al Zuni, which began in March 2012, and is the most extensive ever conducted into Native American art fraud.

The investigation was named Operation Al Zuni after Al Zuni Global Jewelry, a well-known business in Gallup, New Mexico, owned by Nashat Khalaf, a Palestinian immigrant and prominent Indian arts dealer. Al Zuni, which claims to be the “largest wholesaler of Indian jewelry serving the Southwest since 1977,” has its storefront in Gallup but also sells at gem and jewelry trade shows where retailers from all over the country buy inventory.

Misrepresenting arts and crafts, including jewelry, for sale as Native made when they’re not is a federal crime under a law passed in 1935 called the Indian Arts and Crafts Act. The act provides for penalties of up to $250,000 and five years in jail for first time offenders, but until now it has rarely been enforced. Federal law also requires that “Indian-style” products imported into the United States be permanently marked with the country of origin. That law too has been widely flouted.

 

Billboards along Highway 40 in Arizona and New Mexico tout indigenous-made arts and crafts, from pottery and rugs to moccasins and jewelry.

PHOTOGRAPH BY MARAYA CORNELL

It has been estimated that the Native American arts and crafts industry brings in more than a billion in gross sales annually nationwide. And although many would say that not enough profits have ever reached the artists, the sale of handmade jewelry, baskets, pottery, carved figurines, beaded leather, and other crafts provide livelihoods for thousands of indigenous people.

According to federal investigators, the two families running counterfeiting networks are both Palestinian, known to law enforcement as the Sterling Coalition and the Aysheh brothers. The Sterling Coalition, the larger of the two, operates an importing company in Albuquerque called Sterling Islands, which is owned by Nashat Khalaf’s brother, Jawad Khalaf, and niece, Sheda Khalaf.

In affidavits filed in support of 18 search warrants executed in October of 2015, investigators name these and other members of the Khalaf family, and associates, as participants in a scheme to import and fraudulently sell counterfeit Native American jewelry manufactured in a factory in the Philippines called “Fashion Accessories 4 U.” Jawad Khalaf and his son, Nader, have owned the factory since at least 2006. None of the Khalafs has been charged yet.

Albuquerque lawyer John Boyd, who represents Nashat Khalaf and Al Zuni Global Jewelry, calls the allegations against his client “wrong.” The business and its owner, he said in an email, “have supported Native American artisans for decades, maintain good relationships with them and provide the most important outlet in the area for Native Americans to sell their work. Al Zuni and Khalaf deny that they have ever attempted to pass off or have passed off any jewelry as Native American, Navajo, Zuni, Hopi, or any other tribe, when it is not.”

Mark Baker, another Albuquerque lawyer, who represents Jawad Khalaf and Sterling Islands, emailed that his clients “certainly deny that they violated the law or otherwise engaged in any deceitful conduct. This is a family of people known in the community as honest and responsible.”

 Law enforcement estimates that Sterling Islands has imported into the U.S. contraband jewelry worth $11,800,000 in wholesale value between October 2010 and October 2015. According to court records, retail buyers and wholesalers would place orders for replicas of particular pieces of genuine jewelry and pick them up at Sterling Islands.

The four Aysheh brothers running the other alleged conspiracy—Imad, Nedal, Iyad, and Raed—were charged in February 2017. Their trial is scheduled for October of this year. None has yet entered a plea.

 

Zuni jeweler Roxanne Seoutewa uses a flint spark lighter to fire up her torch in preparation for soldering hand-formed bezels to a silver sheet. Later she’ll fit in the tiny stones she’s cut and sanded.

PHOTOGRAPH BY MARAYA CORNELL

In October 2015, when Operation Al Zuni went public, 11 jewelry and Indian arts stores were raided in New Mexico and California, including two of Nael Ali’s Albuquerque stores, Gallup 8 and Galleria Azul. The Indian Arts and Crafts Board estimated in 2016 that the retail value of the 350,000 pieces of jewelry seized during the raid exceeded $35 million.

Operation Al Zuni was conducted by the Office of Law Enforcement for the Southwest Region of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and funded through an agreement with the Indian Arts and Crafts Board, an agency within the U.S. Department of the Interior tasked with developing and promoting arts and crafts as a source of income for American Indians and Alaska Natives, as well as with enforcing the Indian Arts and Crafts Act.

MADE BY INDIANS?

In the Pueblo of Zuni, jeweler Roxanne Seoutewa sits in a folding chair at a cramped desk in a well-worn trailer, soldering tiny hand-made bezels to a piece of silver sheet. Into the bezels she’ll fit the seed-like stones she’s cut, sanded, and polished to form the close, stitch-like pattern known as needlepoint and recognized by collectors the world over as one of the classic Zuni styles of handmade jewelry.

This miniature silver canteen, photographed by investigators at Al Zuni Global Jewelry, was sold to an undercover agent as Navajo made on November 24, 2014. Two years before, 20 identical canteens were found in a shipment from Fashion Accessories 4 U in the Philippines.

PHOTOGRAPH BY U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE, AP

Compared to artisans trying to sell their work on the street, Seoutewa is doing well. But she has to go farther and farther from home to get a decent price for her work. She doesn’t sell to the local shops in Zuni anymore, or even to the wholesalers 40 miles away in Gallup. The problem, she says, is all the cheaply made foreign imports illegally sold as Zuni handmade.

It was the arrival of the railroads in the Southwest at the turn of the 20th century that set off a roaring business in indigenous art and crafts, and the industry has been a defining presence in the Southwest ever since.

And it was a boom in the tourist industry along Route 66 in the 1960s and 70s that attracted fortune-seekers from the Israeli-occupied Palestinian West Bank. In 1972 Nashat Khalaf and three of his brothers were among the first to arrive in Gallup, the wholesale center for the arts and crafts produced on nearby Indian reservations. They opened a business selling Zuni jewelry, calling it Al-Zuni Traders. As Khalaf told Al Jazeera years later, he and his brothers had such instant success in the jewelry business that they “called everybody” back home. “It was a bonanza,” he said. “It was a gold rush, and they all came here.” By 2002 several hundred Palestinians had settled in Gallup, most reportedly in the Indian jewelry business.

Today road trippers driving Interstate 40 through Arizona and New Mexico are bombarded with billboards hawking crafts “MADE BY INDIANS.” Much of what’s for sale hasn’t been made by Indians at all. Even Santa Fe, regarded as the heart of the high-end Indian art market with its world-renowned plaza shopping district, is rife with forgeries—so much so that the city recently announced an ordinance to try to rein in the fraud.

Higher-end jewelry knockoffs are copied from one-of-a-kind pieces by master Indian artisans and stamped with initials and symbols to mimic an artist’s hallmark. In stores the fakes are often mixed in with genuine pieces but sold at a discount, forcing jewelers who painstakingly craft each piece by hand to compete with counterfeits produced in sweatshops.

Navajo silversmith Aaron Anderson, of Gallup, New Mexico, holds out a tufa stone negative he’s carved, which serves as both the mold for a belt buckle and a guarantee of authenticity for the buyer.

PHOTOGRAPH BY MARAYA CORNELL

The Indian Arts and Crafts Board collects complaints about potential violations of the Indian Arts and Crafts Act, but without a law enforcement bureau of its own, the board must rely on other agencies to investigate complaints. In 1990 a major overhaul of the act increased penalties for violations and gave the FBI primary responsibility for enforcing the law. But the FBI had other priorities, and the bureau generally declined referrals of potential violations from the board, according to a report by the Government Accountability Office.

By late 2011 when the Fish and Wildlife Service agreed to look into fraudulently sold Indian arts and crafts, no jewelry dealers, or large-scale dealers in Indian arts and crafts of any kind, had been charged under the act. On several occasions during the 1990s and 2000s, New Mexico attorneys general sued jewelry stores in Santa Fe and Albuquerque, including several dealers identified by Operation Al Zuni as selling the Sterling Coalition’s Philippine counterfeits, but their suppliers were never identified. And even though the rampant sale of counterfeits in Arizona and New Mexico has been widely acknowledged for decades, no major counterfeiters had ever been charged.

Yet federal law enforcement had been alerted to at least one potential supplier as early as 1994, when the Arizona law firm Kirkpatrick & Kramer wrote to a Department of the Interior investigator on behalf of Hopi jeweler Jason Takala warning that “an outfit in eastern Gallup, New Mexico named ‘Al Zuni’ is mass-producing copies of original Native American jewelry.”

It wasn’t until nearly two decades later, after the Fish and Wildlife Service had taken over enforcement of the Indian Arts and Crafts Act, that a piece of counterfeit Indian jewelry in a retail store was traced back to the Khalafs.

MAKING THE CASE

On November 26, 2012, a Monday, Fish and Wildlife Service Special Agent Russell Stanford walked into Gallery 8, an upscale jewelry shop in Albuquerque owned by Nael Ali. Posing as a jewelry dealer, Stanford bought two rings stamped with the initials CK, which the clerk told him stood for the Navajo artist Calvin Kee, according to court records. (There is no known Navajo jeweler named Calvin Kee.)

Ultraviolet light exposes otherwise invisible markings on a ring sold as Navajo made by Gallery 8, in Old Town Albuquerque, New Mexico. Special Agent Russell Stanford marked the ring when he intercepted a UPS shipment full of jewelry imported from Fashion Accessories 4 U in the Philippines.

PHOTOGRAPH BY U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE, AP

Later Stanford looked at the ring under an ultraviolet light and confirmed that it had come from the Khalafs’ factory in the Philippines: There were the dabs of otherwise invisible ink he’d applied to the ring two and a half months before when he intercepted a shipment of jewelry coming in from Fashion Accessories 4 U and bound for Sterling Islands.

In just months Stanford, working as the sole investigator on Operation Al Zuni (a second agent wasn’t added until June 2014) had done what no federal investigator had yet been able to do: substantiate a source for the high-end counterfeits that had been turning up in retail stores for decades.

Less than 30 days later, Gallery 8 was featured in a Christmas shopping guide in the Albuquerque Journal. Nael Ali claimed that he purchased all his jewelry, except for the Polish amber jewelry, directly from Native artists. “There’s no middleman for me,” he said.

Ali, along with Mohammad Manasra, a traveling jewelry seller (who Ali admitted in his plea agreement was indeed his middleman) were arrested in October 2015 in Operation Al Zuni’s initial take-down and became the first jewelry dealers ever to be charged with violating the Indian Arts and Crafts Act. (The charge against Manasra has been reduced to a misdemeanor, and he isn’t facing incarceration.)

In Nael Ali’s plea agreement, filed October 18, 2017, he admitted that the Philippine-based factories run by the Khalafs and the Aysheh brothers were the sources of counterfeits (some supplied through Mohammad Manasra) that he was fraudulently selling as Native made at Gallery 8 and at Galleria Azul, another store in Albuquerque. Ali confessed to mixing the knockoff jewelry with genuine Indian-made jewelry and ensuring “that none of the Philippine-made jewelry was marked with its country of origin.”

TAKING OUT THE THORN

The ongoing prosecutions against the alleged fraudsters in New Mexico are sending shockwaves through the Indian arts and crafts industry. Nidal Abdeljawad of All Tribes Trading Post, an Indian arts store in the Pueblo of Zuni, claims that Nashat Khalaf’s Al Zuni Global Jewelry supplies 90 percent of the retail stores in the U.S. that deal in Native art. “If this guy has to close his shop, it will be a disaster for the Native Americans,” Abdeljawad says.

 

On the remote Zuni reservation in northwestern New Mexico, an estimated 80 percent of working adults make jewelry, pottery, stone animal carvings, or other arts and crafts for sale to tourists and dealers.

PHOTOGRAPH BY MARAYA CORNELL

Other Southwest dealers fear that prosecutions against business owners accused of peddling fakes make for bad publicity and that customers and collectors, concerned about getting ripped off, will avoid shopping for Indian arts and crafts altogether.

Justin Winfield, of Winfield Trading Company, a large buyer of Indian jewelry and crafts located on the highway between Gallup and Zuni, disagrees. Fanning out the thick stack of newspaper articles he’d collected since October 2015, he told me last July that he thought the ongoing prosecutions were already having a “positive impact”—that buyers for retail stores were taking greater care to ensure authenticity.

A few spooked customers in the short-term is a price Winfield is willing to pay if it means curbing the influx of fakes. “It hurts to take the thorn out,” he said. “But after it’s out, you can heal up.”

William Woody, who championed his agency’s investigations into Indian arts and crafts fraud when he was chief of law enforcement at the Fish and Wildlife Service, thinks Operation Al Zuni has “just scratched the surface.” At a Senate field hearing last July—Woody’s final day on the job—he said, “We have not begun to take a comprehensive look into the markets for other Native American items in the Southwest, including pottery, paintings, blankets, etc., where there is likely similar fraudulent activity.”

“In order for things to change,” wrote the editors of the Gallup Independent in October 2017, “the federal government, as well as attorneys general in states like New Mexico and Arizona, must get a lot tougher on these frauds.”

The sentencings of Nael Ali and Mohammad Manasra, who have confessed to knowingly dealing in fakes from both alleged networks, will test how tough New Mexico judges are willing to be. Manasra isn’t facing prison time. But Ali, who pleaded guilty to a felony, faces up to 18 months in prison and could be the first person ever to go to jail for violating the Indian Arts and Crafts Act.

Prosecutors have requested that the sentencing in Albuquerque of Ali and his co-defendant, Mohammad Manasra, be on the same day in April so that any Native American artisans who wish to be heard by the court won’t have to travel twice. “Now’s the time for these artists to come forward,” says Special Agent in Charge Nicholas Chavez, who supervised the Fish and Wildlife Service’s investigation.

Book Look: Who’s Who in Zuni Jewelry by Gordon Levy

This 1980 hard bound book is full color, 64 pages and 11 3/4″ x 8 3/4″

My copy of this book had no author on the binding, no title page, no copyright page, nothing to indicate who wrote this book and when it was published. But with a little digging, I found it was written by Gordon Levy and published in 1980 by Western Arts Publishing Co.

It doesn’t have an ISBN but it does have an ASIN –  B001LQQM8Q

There are ample quantities available new and used if you search by the title.

Now to the book itself. Here is the the copyright page that was not in my book but I found on line.

Copyright page from “Who’s Who in Zuni Jewelry”

On the copyright page (above) and in the Introduction (below), there is mention of future volumes but I am only aware of this one volume. If anyone knows of subsequent volumes, please leave a comment at the end of the article.

Introduction from “Who’s Who in Zuni Jewelry”

The front matter contains:

ZUNI JEWELRY THE ART AND THE ARTISAN

  • Jewelry Designs
  • Jewelry Pricing
  • The Stamping or Signing of a Piece of Jewelry
  • Availability
  • The Meaning Behind the Making of Zuni Jewelry

CULTURAL BACKGROUND

  • Sociocultural
  • Political System
  • Economic Base
  • The Art and Craft of Silversmithing
  • Tribal Heritage and Goals

GLOSSARY

TURQUOISE FACTS

  • Natural Turquoise and How to Care for It
  • Stabilized Turquoise
  • Reconstitute Turquoise

Following the front matter are full color pages about the artists. Here are the artists that are covered in this book.

Following are some sample pages

Sample interior pages

Sample interior page

Paula