Fraud in other Native art

So after the discussion about fraud in Native American art on the micro inlay thread, it got my husband thinking (I had been talking about it with him). Are there similar problems with rugs and pottery as in the jewelry? I didn’t really know. Would it be harder to make fakes of those things? Is jewelry easier because it’s a smaller item? I really have no idea.

1 Like

There’s fakery, but it takes different forms. It doesn’t have to be a hypothetical overseas or Mexican shop imitating the goods; more on the order of being false in the dating of the piece, the materials used, and the methods of production. This can theoretically be very lucrative fraud territory, because in these art forms decades make a huge difference in the value and price. However, I’m not aware of a rampant industry of churning out fake rugs and pottery, or busts of operations like that. There’s a ton of African baskets that get randomly put on the market as being Navajo or Pueblo, though (of course not by any respectable businesses). I think a good resource to check further on this would be the ATADA website.

6 Likes

There are plenty of Mexican copies of Navajo rugs, and commercial green ware painted with Pueblo motifs being passed off as Pueblo pottery, but these are really easy to spot.

Jewelry on the other hand is compact, valuable, and very easily transportable. A million dollars can be packed into a few cases, and transported in the trunk of a car. For money launderers, and criminals seeking to move around large sums of money, its an ideal medium because it can be bought, sold, and traded under the table for cash with no receipts, and no tracking.

It’s relatively easy to copy and counterfeit, and like counterfeit money, it can easily be mixed in to the flow of legitimate trade without attracting attention, so it’s not hard to understand why fraud abounds, and illegitimate product is being widely trafficked.

6 Likes

Thank you both for the info! I’ve seen the pottery in stores, but it was always sold as cheap touristy stuff, and not marketed as legit. Same with the Mexican rugs, but the ones I saw clearly looked different. However, a lot of the rugs in the link look an awful lot like deliberate copies of Navajo rugs.

My husband had said kind of what you said, @mmrogers, on the jewelry; he wondered if it being valuable and so easily portable due to size would have something to do with the proliferation of fakes.

2 Likes

“he wondered if it being valuable and so easily portable due to size would have something to do with the proliferation of fakes.”

Yes it does. He’s absolutely spot on.

1 Like

Let me preface my comment with saying that I am surely no expert and there are varying degrees of fakes out there that can fool anyone, but I think it is easier to look at a fake piece of pottery or textiles (than jewelry) and realize that they are fake. There is just something about handmade and genuine weaving and pottery work that looks quality compared to a fake.

To @mmrogers point, jewelry is easier to fake. Any type of jewelry, not just NA crafts. There are so many ways to make good copies of stones and metal, and for that matter, there are so many stones out there to choose from but most people just don’t know anything about them to know if what they’re looking at is fake. To further complicate matters, the piece may technically be a real stone, but because of the way it was used in a particular piece or how it was created would disqualify it as a real whatever it’s claimed to be. Not to mention how portable jewelry is that would enable fakers to easily make, ship, and sell it like crazy.

4 Likes

Here is an example of what some would consider a fake, Navajo ring. Yes, it is my avatar here.
It was the first one I ever made, in the 1980’s. I was mentored by a long time, Navajo craftsman who taught me how to make jewelry. I am not part Navajo, but loved the culture and jewelry when living there.
This is made from a Sleeping Beauty cabochon I made from a rough pipeceand a piece of natural red coral that I polished/shaped. The only thing pre-made for this was the ring shank, twist silver trim and bezel.

I am only 18% Native American, so do not qualify for status.
This does not mean that I do not embrace my heritage and make jewelry.

I have worn the ring a lot, as I love it. Would never sell it.
My daughter knows this is something I made and would never sell it as Native American jewelry.
This is true with all the Native American style jewelry I make.


11 Likes

Since we’re having an educational chat, can you share what was involved for you, as in, was it mostly assembly of readymade, purchased elements? What handcrafting was involved (I’m guessing the bezeling but not the lapidary or the shank making)? It does look like what’s sold now as vintage Navajo in style.

1 Like
I made the cabochons from rough rock/coral.  I cut the bezel to size.  I cut/shaped the wire for face of ring.  I cut the silver backing.  I made the balls that are on ring.  The shank was purchased, as was the bezel.  
I did all soldering and assembly of pieces.  

You can not imagine how pleased I was with how it turned out.  My mentor kept it for a while.  Showed to his friends.  Was telling them than an "Anglo" could be taught how to make jewelry.  
At the time, I did not know my Native American heritage.  

I will never make anything and say it is Native made.  Just love having the knowledge to make jewelry that has a Native american Style to it.  





6 Likes

Thank you for answering, that’s more handwork than I had guessed. I’m sure it’s rewarding to have this in your collection. :slightly_smiling_face:

6 Likes

It’s beautiful! And what a wonderful way to learn about making jewelry. I wouldn’t consider it “fake” unless you were selling it dishonesty. Thanks for sharing.

4 Likes

Thank you for posting this Fernwood. I too apprenticed with Navajo craftsmen in the very early 70’s. Knowledge I have been privileged to pass on to young Native American craftspeople employed in my jewelry workshops over many years

We encouraged within the workshop a program and culture of mentorship. We paired many aspiring young silversmiths, with real masters like Bruce Morgan, Jimmy Secatero, Julius Yazzie, Herbert Begay, and many others. It was a real pleasure to watch apprentices master techniques and processes, and become in their own right master craftsmen and women.

With regard to working in one style or another as legitimate or illegitimate for an individual of one background or another, as an artist and craftsman I have always found that concept to be shockingly narrow minded and petty. The successful evolution of human culture and art has always followed the path of an open exchange of ideas and concepts, goods and services between people of very different backgrounds. This is literally how human societies evolve.

The notion that to be valid and non-offensive, an art and style has to be exclusively reserved to one people, or culture, or race is a relatively recent phenomenon, and one which I hope fades as quickly as it appeared.

If something captures ones heart, and imagination, one feels drawn to it, and finds themselves working in that medium or style - that is and has always been a completely legitimate means of expression, spiritual, and artistic growth. Nothing is ever created in a vacuum, and without the introduction and exchange of ideas, concepts, and energy from diverse sources, creativity literally dies, and culture dies with it.

I love your ring, and the thought and skill that went into to making it. As a fellow silversmith who’s worked in the medium, I can see for example that you used pinking shears to scallop the bezel, the fact that the swirls are created in 14 1/2 round, that the beads were created by melting bits of scrap, and hand soldered on, that the shank was most likely split with Wiss shears.

The work is lovely. You represent your ring for exactly what it is - and THAT is the essence of authenticity!

12 Likes

@fernwood

“I will never make anything and say it is Native made. Just love having the knowledge to make jewelry that has a Native american Style to it.”

And that’s why I would be honored to buy such a piece, even if it was made by an “Anglo”. You’re honest about who you are, didn’t misrepresent anything, and it is a loving tribute to a people and style that you love. :smiley:

5 Likes

Thank you everyone for the comments.
When living on the Navajo Nation and being mentored by the amazing artists I met, I felt drawn to not only the culture, but the craftsmanship that went into so many things.
I am not Navajo, but either Chickasaw or Kickapoo, as near as I could determine. Am still working on determining my Native American Heritage.

I am still purchasing supplies from the vendor I was told to use in the 1980’s.

I learned of my heritage from a close cousin. Oing after I had worked with Navajo’s.
he gave me a copy of a mutual ancestors marriage certificate. It stated her parents were a soldier and a savage. Thus, my research began for further info.

My other heritage includes Norwegian and Irish. My extended family I grew up with had black hair. Mine was blonde. I have Native American facial features.
Was educated to respect the environment, animals. To take only what ws needed. To thank Miother Earth for everything that was provided. To use plants for many things to heal.
To become one with various animals I would encounter.
At age 5, I was allowed to wander 200 acres, alone.
All of this happened in Wisconsin, where i still live.

Am hoping, to someday have a genetic test done to determine if my genealogy research is correct, or maybe not correct.
Will also be getting back into making silver, turquoise and coral rings and bracelets later this year.

I just love the mentors I had and knowledge gained.

4 Likes

So there was actually an enterprise run by the Ute Mountain Ute tribe here in Cortez, Co called Mesa Verde Pottery. They hired mostly Navajo folks to paint pre-manufactured greenware to sell to tourists. The Ute are not potters. They are headers.

2 Likes

Typo…… autocorrected beaders into headers!!!

1 Like

Hi Lilly.

The Ute Tribe in that area are long time jewelry customers. It’s a great outfit, and I’m well familiar with the Mesa Verde pottery line, which the Tribe represented for what it is.

Where I see misrepresentation is at the retail level, by individuals who either don’t know what they have, or deliberately misrepresent to close a sale.

Cortez was part of my Jewelry territory for a very long time (decades), and I’ve done business with just about everyone in that area at one time or another up until around 2006 when we went from a wholesale model to a retail model.

1 Like

Sure. I just wanted to point that out since the Etsy link shared said “Mesa Verde Pottery.” I’m glad they presented it as what it was, and realize that it’s how people on the secondary market list things. The business closed down a few years back when several folks in the tribal government were caught in a large embezzlement scheme.

2 Likes

I was probably busy building guns by the time that happened. I’ve always stayed away from Tribal politics for good reason. The Utes were good jewelry customers. Paid a fair price, bought in quantity and paid in full on receipt.

2 Likes

This has been interesting, @mmrogers and @lilyelgato . I’ve been to Mesa Verde 5 times, the most recent being this past summer. We visited a nephew in ABQ, and then went by way of Mesa Verde to Grand Junction to visit his brother (who is the superintendent of Colorado National Monument - great way to get the inside scoop on a park!). What a beautiful drive. I would have loved to have stopped at Notah Dineh in Cortez, but was shopped out after ABQ and a stop at Toadlena Trading Post. How wonderful it must be to live in that area!

So I feel like I have seen that pottery often in gift shops (represented correctly). Interesting that it’s out of business.