Hopi Silver Overlay Jewelry
The jewelry of the Hopi has a style distinct from that of the other Native Americans. The Hopi are known for the use of silver overlay, which utilizes a technique of fusing two layers of silver. The eye-catching and often elaborate design is on the top layer, while the bottom layers serves as a base.
It was not so long ago that the Hopi developed this technique. In fact the Hopi were not much into the making of silver. In their relative isolation on the northeastern Arizona high plains, or mesas, they were somewhat firewalled (so to speak) against external influences. Even their interaction with other Native Americans was limited.
Silversmithing of Native Americans
So while the Navajo learned and developed their silversmithing skills, a technique brought to the south-west of the American continent by the Spaniards, and which was then taken up by the Zuni, the Hopi were still practising their own artistic heritage based on weaving and pottery. They were also adept at the making of kachina dolls, for which they deservedly remain renowned.
Time, of course, would not stand still, and even relatively isolated communities began to open up. Trading and commerce grew and the Hopi through their interaction with the Zuni exposed them to the craft of silver jewelry, at which the Zuni were now skilled. Lanyade, a Zuni, learned his silversmithing from the Navajo, and began to sell his silver jewelry. He travelled amongst the Hopi and Sikyatala became his student in 1898.
Sikyatala is credited to be the first Hopi silversmith. It is reported that while Lanyade was at the Hopi reservation for four months, making and selling his silver jewelry pieces, Sikyatala wasstudiously observing and learning from the master at close range.
Sikyatala then began to use the technique of making silver jewelry. Other Hopi also began to follow and emulate the work of Sikyatala. In time the Hopi developed their own style, that of using overlay silver.
Hopi Silversmiths Paul Saufie and Fred Kabote
This technique did not so much evolve as was created by the Hopi silversmiths Paul Saufkie and Fred Kabote who were involved in a program at the Museum of Northern Arizona in 1938. After World War II the Hopi Guild was formed to encourage a program of silversmith training.
The designs of the silver overlay jewelry of the Hopi were also unique in that they adapted designs from the old broken pottery pieces of the 15th and 16th centuries. New motifs were also incorporated by the Hopi Guild, including kachina symbols.
The cross-currents in Native American jewelry nowadays mean that there are cross-influences as well. And different styles from the different currents may well find themselves evident in any piece of modern American Native jewelry.
But the fascinating development of Native American silversmiths and their crafts, in their different streams of artistic design, does not totally obscure the original creativity. The silver overlay technique was the creation of the Hopi, even if it may now be employed by others.
In ending, it may be noted that the work of Fred Kabote was continued by his son Michael Kabote (also spelled ‘Kabotie’). Michael Kabotie recently passed away at the age of 67. He was a trail-blazer in the Native American fine arts movement, both as a Hopi artist and jeweler. His paintings were well-received, depicting traditional Hopi life. For a number of years, he also taught the Hopi overlay technique at the Idyllwild Arts program in Southern California.