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A superb Navajo silver and turquoise belt
buckle by Fred Thompson, c.1950’s-60’s
FRED THOMPSON (1921-2002) is one of the 20th century's premier Navajo silversmiths, renowned for his exceptional, traditional silver work and his use of often quite large stones of the very highest-quality. Thompson began his silversmithing career in 1936 at the tender age of 15, working for the important Gallup, New Mexico Indian trader, Tobe Turpen for whom he worked his entire career, taking a few years off to serve in World War Two. Thompson worked in a completely traditional Navajo manner, making all of his own stamps and tools, and he eventually achieved worldwide recognition for creating bold, classic designs based around the use of the finest natural stones such as in this outstanding buckle.
Please take a a few moments to note the many extraordinary details of this spectacular piece. First, this buckle features six fabulous-looking, gorgeously hand-carved, extremely high-quality, beautifully-matched, sky-blue natural turquoise stones which, in our opinions, are either from Nevada’s famed #8 turquoise Mine or Arizona’s equally renowned Morenci mine. We are not completely sure exactly which of these mines, the stones have certain characteristics of both, but we have the buckle pictured here with some high-grade #8 Mine spiderweb nuggets we recently acquired and they look remarkably similar. The slightly asymmetrically shaped stones are perfectly matched, perfectly hand-carved and perfectly set in old-style “fold-over” type silver bezels mounted onto the heavy silver body of the buckle. The silver buckle is fully decorated in profuse and complex detail with four beautifully-made deep and very elaborately stamped repousseed panels, two sets of three applied silver “raindrops” at top and bottom and very fine chiseling all the way around the opening.
This is all especially well-executed; the craftsmanship on display here is simply remarkable in every aspect.
It’s like a virtual encyclopedia of traditional Navajo silversmithing techniques done all together in perfect harmony and the end result is completely balanced and beautiful. There is an interesting possibility to consider here regarding the very unusually and finely hand-carved turquoise stones in this buckle. Fred Thompson is known to have made a number of pieces in collaboration with the famed Zuni fetish and stone carver, Leekya Deyuse (1889-1966). Leekya worked in the Gallup area for another famed Indian trader, Charles Garret (C.G.) Wallace for some five decades and he and Thompson were well acquainted and while we certainly cannot say for certain that Leekya carved the stones on this buckle, the general circumstances, timeframe and the distinctive appearance and the quality of the carving of the stones indicates that this possibility certainly exists.
The buckle measures a very nice-sized 3 1/4" in width by 2 7/8” in height and it's somewhat contoured repousseed profile is about 1/2” in depth. The buckle weighs 79 grams or 2 3/4 ounces and it will accommodate a belt of up to 7/8” in width. The buckle is in excellent original condition overall. There is an extremely slight matrix-related crack to one of the six turquoise stones at the upper left, but this is of little consequence in our view and the stone is completely stable in its bezel. The buckle is properly signed on the back with with Fred Thompson’s characteristic “tilde” hallmark.
This is a particularly splendid and handsome historic buckle from the fertile mind and extremely talented hands of a distinguished silversmith whose jewelry pieces are held in increasingly high regard and are correspondingly growing more and more difficult and costly to come by. To view our listings of a Fred Thompson Navajo silver and turquoise bracelet, please click here.
Note: the leather belt and turquoise nuggets pictured here are for demonstrations purposes only and are not included in the sale of this buckle.
Navajo Silversmith Fred Thompson (1921-2002)
Photo source and © Four Winds Gallery, Pittsburgh, PA
Historic photo of the old Tobe Turpen trading post, Gallup, NM
Photo source and ©: Tobe Turpen