© 2010-2024 by Fine Arts of the Southwest, Inc. All rights reserved.
Unauthorized reproduction or use is strictly prohibited by law.
A rare and historic Navajo heavy twisted
brass wire bangle bracelet, c. 1920’s-30’s
Let’s talk about creative recycling and the re-purposing of humble found materials to make beautiful, artistic objects.
Years before the Navajo began making silver jewelry, they were making jewelry from brass and copper. Brass and copper metals were much cheaper and much easier to come by in the remote reaches of Navajoland in the latter decades of the 19th Century than the infinitely more expensive and precious silver. Silver had to be purchased at a dear price most likely from an Anglo or Mexican trader, cowboy or possibly a soldier, but these other humbler materials were at hand much closer to home. There were old worn out brass and copper kettles or skillets to salvage, cut up and use, there was heavy copper telegraph wire to scavenge and repurpose.
Even as Navajo silver jewelry began to become more commonplace in the late 1880’s and 1890’s the old ways and materials persisted in the more remote areas of the Navajo Reservation such as the vast rugged trackless territory around Marsh Pass, Tsegi Canyon, Monument Vallery, Navajo Mountain and the old Oljato Trading Post in far northern Arizona near the Utah border where brass and copper jewelry was still being commonly made well into the 1920’s and 1930’s and this is most likely the region where this particular bracelet was made though we cannot know that for sure. Wherever it was made, it was certainly made with a considerable amount of skill and no small amount of strength.
At left, c. 1940's view of the old Oljato Trading Post near Navajo Mountain and Monument Valley on the Arizona/Utah border.
The Oljato post was established in 1906 by John and Louisa Wade Wetherill. We purchased a number of pieces in 2003 from the trading post’s original collection including a group of Navajo copper and brass jewelry pieces made in the Oljato area. At center, Navajo silversmith at work in his hogan, c. 1920. At right, The vast trackless territory in the vicinity of Navajo Mountain on the Arizona/Utah border. The old traditional Navajo ways still persist today in this still very remote and sparsely populated area of the Navajo Reservation.
Left photo source and © Presevation Utah. Center photo source and © Amazon. Right photo source and © Google.
The main part of the bracelet’s shank is composed of two very thick strands of brass wire each just shy of 1/4" in diameter. They were twisted around each other to form the center panel of the shank and then hammered together
and flattened for the terminal ends. It’s a beautifully simple yet incredible difficult construction to achieve and the unknown Navajo metalsmith who did it did it remarkably well with superlative artistry and practiced skill.
The bracelet measures 1/2" in width at the widest center point and tapers down to 1/4" at the terminal ends. The inner circumference end-to-end is 5 7/8" and the gap between the terminals is 1 1/16" for a total interior circumference of
6 15/16", just shy of 7". The bracelet weighs a substantial yet quite comfortable 75 grams or 2 5/8 ounces. The bracelet is in excellent original condition for its century of age with some degree of wear and a wonderful patina. The rough-hewn yet soft and smooth surface texture and color of the brass metal is particularly attractive.
This beautiful historic bracelet is a solid and very handsome reminder of the early days way out on the Navajo Rez.
It’s a fascinating piece of artistry, history, necessity, culture, improvisation, and recycling all rolled up into one.
For all these reasons, this is a particularly rare and compelling piece or as they might say in a more hip, more modern-day lingo, “It’s really twisted”!