Since it’s Father’s Day this weekend, and I know so many wonderful fathers, I thought I would devote most of June to men. Men who wear watches, wen who are jewelry designers, men who like fashion, etc. But for this post, I wanted to feature a very particular father and son who are jewelry designers. Fred and Michael Kabotie are Hopi silversmiths and artisans, and their story has some interesting things to say about jewelry in America. I discovered them because I recently became an auntie to a Native American niece and nephew. While I was researching their heritage – they are Hopi – I came across all this beautiful silver jewelry created by the Kaboties.
Jewelry in the Southwest
If you’ve ever visited the southwestern part of the United States, you know it’s a great place to buy silver jewelry, turquoise jewelry, and Native American jewelry. Basically, it’s a great place to drop lots of cash on jewelry! I have several beautiful bracelets in my own collection from past trips to the Grand Canyon and Arizona.
The story of silversmithing the Southwest is actually pretty recent. But we’ll start with Fred, the father, and tell his story.
Being uniquely Hopi
Hopi vets learn to make jewelry
After the war ended, in 1946, Fred and his borother-in-law (Paul Saufkie) put together a small exhibition of Hopi art and silver jewelry. By chance, the Director of Education for the Bureau of Indian Affairs came. After he saw the incredible workmanship, he approached Fred about creating a training program through the recently passed G.I. Bill. The G.I. bill provided training and tuition assistance for returning veterans of the war.
So in 1947, Fred and Paul started their program. Fred taught design, and Paul taught silversmithing. The first program was 18 months long with 15 Hopi veterans. The classes were difficult, but over time, the Hopi created an entirely new silversmithing technique.
The overlay technique
The Hopi developed a new way to use silver scraps called the overlay technique. Overlay means that two pieces of silver are soldered together after a design is cut out of the top layer. This creates a negative design. It might be hard to visualize, but the end product is pretty cool.
All the vets involved had an incredible sense of pride in the technique they created. And it helped spur their creativity, too. They looked to symbols that were meaningful in their culture, and then they worked to incorporate them into their jewelry pieces.
After the first 15 vets graduated, a guild was created to make sure the training would continue. For all Hopi, the ability to create this art, that allows them to tap into their culture, and be able to earn a living, is so important.
Fred & Michael
Michael makes his mark
Sadly, Fred passed away in 1986, and Michael died in 2009. But today, Hopi overlay jewelry is still very popular. And highly collectible.
If you’re interested in seeing some of Fred’s murals, and you’re in the Grand Canyon area, go see the Desert View Watchtower. This a a National Park Service site dedicated to Native American artists. There are some other great murals at the Painted Desert Inn in the Petrified Forest National Park in eastern Arizona.
Michael’s jewelry and art is in museums around the world. Here in the States, you can see his work at the the Heard Museum in Phoenix and the Sequoyah Research Center in Little Rock, AK. Traveling abroad, you can see his art at the British Museum of Mankind in London, England, and the Gallery Calumet-Neuzzinger in Germany.
Want to learn more about Hopi Silver? Amazon has a book for that!