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A very finely-crafted vintage Navajo cast ingot-silver and turquoise belt buckle by
Jack Adakai, c.1950’s-60’s
JACK ADAKAI (Active 1950’s-1980) was a brilliant Navajo silversmith who lived the quiet, rural life of a traditional Navajo way out on the Navajo reservation at the far edge of western New Mexico in the era before the worldwide web, before smartphones and texting, before Facebook, Google, Instagram and Twitter, before the rise of “superstar” Indian Artists becoming social media and cultural sensations. Were Jack Adakai alive and working today, he might well be one of these superstars himself based on his exceptional artistic and technical abilities.
Adakai worked at various times for the various prominent Indian trading concerns in Western New Mexico; C.G. Wallace, Tobe Turpen, M.L. Woodard and he also worked with the Foutz trading family of Farmington and Shiprock, NM. Adakai’s work is characterized by its generally larger scale and its clear technical superiority showing excellent mastery of all traditional Navajo silversmithing techniques such as tufa-casting, fabrication, stamp, chisel, repousse and file work. In addition to his own formidable silversmithing abilities, Adakai was also an excellent teacher and mentor in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s to his young clan nephew, the now highly-renowned Navajo silversmith, McKee Platero (b.1957), who is himself today an international internet sensation and social media superstar made so by his legion of adoring fans, particularly in Japan.
One can certainly see the very strong influence that Master silversmith Jack Adakai had on his brilliant young student in the design and execution of this outstanding buckle and the “family” resemblance both stylistically and technically in both men’s work is quite remarkable, in our view. The deeply-contoured repousse work, beautifully controlled and deeply-applied sophisticated and extremely complex stamp work and chiseled designs all work together marvelously and harmoniously and beautifully highlight the buckle’s central turquoise stone; a lovely hand-carved blue-green oblong stone which strongly appears to be the rare and beautiful Lone Mountain, Nevada spiderweb. The stone is stunning and it is nicely and interestingly set in a high-walled finely-serrated silver bezel. The overall appearance here is of an ultra-sophisticated, highly-detailed miniature three-dimensional precious painting done in silver.
The buckle measures a nicely-sized 3” in width by 2” in height. It weighs a satisfying and confortable to wear 60 grams or 2 ounces. The buckle will accept a belt strap of up to 1” in width. The buckle is in excellent original condition with some amount of age-appropriate wear from use and it is properly signed "J.A." in Jack Adakai’s customary capital letters signature on the back.
This buckle is an outstanding and extremely wearable piece of work by an supremely accomplished artist who is not as widely famous an artist as he deserves to be, but who is nonetheless held in extremely high esteem by those who understand and value the finest in traditional Navajo silver work. The just-right size of this buckle guarantees that it would look just as wonderful and wear just as comfortably and well on either a man or a woman.
Please note that the leather belt shown here is for photographic purposes only and is not included
in the sale of the buckle. If desired, we can recommend an excellent leather belt maker in Santa Fe.
At right, a silver buckle by Jack Adakai's nephew and former apprecntice, McKee Platero, c. 1990’s.