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An exceptional Hopi “triple-overlay” style silver
buckle by Michael Kabotie (Lomawywesa), 2004
Some of the most in-demand Native American art in existence today is Michael Kabotie’s (1942-2009) extraordinary
Hopi silver overlay jewelry which is coveted and sought after worldwide today for its unique and distinctive beauty
and artistic expressiveness.
Michael Kabotie grew up in one of the most inspiring artistic environments imaginable. His Father, Fred Kabotie (1900-1986), was one of the most significant Hopi artists and educators of the modern era and the important Co-Founder of The Hopi Arts and Crafts Guild. In that role, along with his colleague, jeweler Paul Saufkie, Fred helped establish the tradition of Hopi silver overlay jewelry which would later become one of his son Michael’s primary artistic vehicles.
The unique “triple-overlay” style, which Michael originally developed, allowed him to achieve a far greater sense of depth, detail and precision in his jewelry than is possible in conventional two-layer Hopi silver overlay. By variously working the surface with the judicious application of stampwork, chisel work, shading, etching and notching on the
top layer of silver and the strategic use of cut-out and tapered panels the piece acquires a marvelous, and intense sculptural quality and vividness of design, almost like a beautifully hand-carved sculptural painting, if you will, vividly rendered by the various artist’s marks into three dimensions.
At left, "Mrs. Roosevelt and Fred Kabotie, Hopi painter," standing in front of an Awatovi Kiva Mural reproduction by Fred Kabotie at the Museum of Modern Art, New York exhibition, "Indian Art of the United States", 1941. At center, Michael Kabotie wearing one of the silver pendant/panels of his "Silver Room of Awatovi" 2001 sculpture seen at right on the display in The American Museum of Natural History's 2004-2005 "Totems to Turquoise" exhibition.
Left photo source and © The Museum of Modern Art Archives, New York. IN123.62. Photograph by Albert Fenn. Center and right
photo source and © "Totems to Turquoise", American Museum of Natural History, Harry Abrams, New York, 2003, pp. 176-177.
At left, detail of an original Awatovi Kiva Mural reproduced by Fred Kabotie and Louie Ewing, Plate "E", "Kiva Mural Decortations at Awatovi and Kawaika-a" by Watson Smith, © Harvard University, 1952. At right, detail of a 2001 Michael Kabotie Hopi mural study depicting The San Francisco Peaks as being the legendary ancestral home of the Hopi Kachina spirit beings.
The San Francisco Peaks as seen from the Hopi mesas.
Photo source and © Sacred Land
The resounding artistic theme that informed and inspired Michael Kabotie’s art for most of his life and career were the magnificent ancient Hopi painted Kiva murals discovered in the 1930’s at the ancient ruined Hopi villages of Awatovi and Kawaika-a on Antelope Mesa on the far eastern edge of the Hopi Reservation as seen below. Fred Kabotie assisted the 1935-39 Harvard University Peabody Museum archaeological expedition that discovered and excavated these magnificent murals and he interpreted and presented them in a set of original paintings done for The Golden Gate Exposition in San Francisco Bay in 1939; a project in which he was assisted by the talented young Hopi artist, Charles Loloma (1921-1991).
These mural paintings are now held in the permanent collection of The Denver Art Museum. Young Michael Kabotie
was completely entranced by the awesome beauty, imagery, majesty and meaning of these sacred Kiva paintings and he subsequently interpreted and reinterpreted them in various ways and forms throughout his life in his own paintings
and drawings and particularly in his spectacular jewelry pieces.
“We the Hopi have a lot to offer from a spiritual standpoint and as a living force. We are
hoping that from the presentation of our traditions and from the interpretation of the Hopi way
in our art and paintings a new direction can come for American spirituality.”
This beautiful buckle is a perfect example, depicting a range of stylized mountains amidst swirling clouds, rain and windstorms, almost certainly a stylized representation of the local San Francisco Peaks located exactly in Hopi’s backyard, so to speak, just outside Flagstaff, Arizona. These majestic peaks are central to Hopi mythology and ceremonialism as being the ancestral “Home” of their kachina spirits. The Michael Kabotie mural study of a kachina being and its power emerging from its home under the San Francisco Peaks shown below illustrates this interpretation well.
The buckle measures 3 3/4” in width and is 1 1/2" in height at its highest point. The buckle weighs an extremely comfortable and easy to wear 50 grams or 1 1/2 ounces and it will accommodate a belt strap of up to 1 1/8" in width. The buckle is in excellent original condition with a couple of very slight age-appropriate abrasions and nicks. The buckle is properly signed "Lomawywesa", Michael Kabotie’s Hopi name which means “Walking in Harmony”, in his customary cursive signature and it is also dated “2004” on the back. This buckle has some interesting provenance. It was originally sold at the Museum Shop of The American Museum of Natural History in New York City during their seminal “Totems to Turquoise, Native North American Jewelry Arts of the Northwest and Southwest" exhibition which ran from late 2004 to 2005. Michael Kabotie’s work was prominently featured in this important exhibition and it is certainly possible that he made this piece and a number of others for sale in the Museum’s Shop at that time.
Since Michael’s untimely death in 2009, the very limited supply of Michael Kabotie jewelry has literally skyrocketed in value. It has almost completely disappeared from the marketplace and on the very rare occasions when something does become available, it usually vanishes very quickly and one can expect to pay quite handsomely for it. Also, it’s nice to know that this is a buckle which can just as easily be worn by a man or a woman so you and your significant other can arm wrestle over who gets to wear it on any given day. No one loses here, of course, the good news is that the buckle will work just as well for the wearer as for the admirer.
This buckle is a rare and excellent opportunity to acquire a particularly beautiful piece of Michael Kabotie’s unparalleled jewelry made at the height of his considerable abilities, a rare and beautiful prize to be admired
and worn with great pride.
Please note that the leather belt pictured here is for display purposes only and is not included in the sale
of this buckle. If desired, we can recommend an excellent custom leather belt maker in Santa Fe.