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A rare and beautiful Navajo ingot-silver
figural pendant of a “Fred Harvey Girl” by Austin Wilson for C.G. Wallace, c. 1930’s-40’s
This extraordinary piece brings together three of the most illustrious names in modern-day Southwestern history,
the extraordinary Navajo silversmith, Austin Wilson who crafted it, the renowned Indian Trading impressario, Charles Garrett (C.G.) Wallace who most likely facilitated it and the famous Fred Harvey Company who almost certainly commissioned it and for whom it was likely created.
Austin Wilson (active 1920’s-1960’s) was one of the titans of 20th Century Navajo silversmithing who spent a considerable amount of his distinguished career, particularly in the early years working at the Zuni Pueblo trading Post of prominent Indian Trader, C.G. Wallace (1896-1972). C.G. Wallace catered to an extremely high-end clientele and with his roster of extremely talented, best in the business Navajo and Pueblo silversmiths such as Austin Wilson, Leo Poblano, Roger Skeet, Sr., Charles Begay, Della Cassa Appa and John Gordon Leak, Wallace was known far and wide as the place to come for the finest quality jewelry and other special silver pieces.
At left, Zuni inlaid silver sculpture of a Fred Harvey Girl by Leo Poblano for C.G. Wallace, 1948, gift of C.G. Wallace to Fred Harvey's great-grandson, Byron Harvey III. At center, Judy Garland starring in MGM's “The Harvey Girls”, 1946. At right, a Fred Harvey Company/Santa Fe Railway menu.
Left photo source and © "Inventing the Southwest", The Heard Museum, Northland Publishing, 1996, pp 4. Center photo source and © MGM Pictures. Right photo source and © Fred Harvey Company.
At left, Charles Garrett (C.G.) Wallace, c. 1960. At center, Fred Harvey, c. 1880's. At right, C.G. Wallace pictured at his trading post at Zuni Pueblo with his Navajo and Pueblo silversmiths, c. 1930’s. Austin Wilson is likely somewhere in this photo.
Left and right photo source © Gene Cain. Center photo source and © Wikipedia.
We have seen only one other similarly related piece to this pendant who was also from C.G. Wallace; a large inlaid silver standing jewelry sculpture of a Fred Harvey Girl made in 1948 by the great Zuni Pueblo jewelry artist, Leo Poblano which was given by C.G. Wallace to Fred Harvey’s Great-Grandson, Byron Harvey III, and which is pictured below. Like his talented Navajo silversmith contemporaries and colleagues, Ambrose Roanhorse and Kenneth Begay, Austin Wilson also had a distinctly Modernist design sensibility and he used his formidable mastery of traditional Navajo silversmithing techniques to create this piece with a spare and highly-refined design sensibility.
The pendant measures a good-sized 2 3/8” in height including the hanging loop and it is 1 1/8” in width at its widest point. It weighs an extremely comfortable and very wearable 12 grams or 3/8 ounce and is in excellent original condition with a fine soft patina from many decades of age and use. The bright “color” of the cast ingot-silver on this piece is particularly beautiful. The pendant is currently strung on a nice black silk jewelry cord which is included, but it could also be easily and beautifully worn, if desired, on a leather thong or strung onto a strand of vintage Navajo silver beads.
The pendant is properly signed on the back with Austin Wilson’s characteristic “Bow-and-Arrow” hallmark. You can argue with your Husband or Wife, your Boyfriend or Girlfriend or your significant other, as the case may be, about who gets to wear this unique and wonderful piece more often. You will both win—there is more than enough enjoyment to go around here for both wearers and admirers alike.
For serious enthusiasts and admirers of Southwestern history and jewelry this is a rare-as-hen’s-teeth prize piece,
“the cat’s Meow” so to speak, a veritable over the wall, outside the park bases-full grand slam home run!
The form of the figural pendant is defined by masterful and distinctly Modernist-looking stamp and chisel work.
The visual contrast created by the subtle beveling and texturing of the precisely stamp worked areas against the smooth expanses of silver in other areas gives the pendant an elegant, streamlined appearance and a certain feeling of lightness and lively animation. This pendant has PERSONALITY! To achieve this feeling in thick, unyielding metal is quite something. It may look simple, but it is truly anything but.
“The Fred Harvey Girls were so beautiful with the starched white aprons, the long aprons, the uniforms. They were so pretty. I used to say “Oh, I’d like to grow up and be a Fred Harvey Girl.”
-Mildred Prado, Laguna Pueblo, Age 77, 1995
Quotation source and © "Inventing the Southwest", The Heard Museum, Northland Publishing, 1996, pp 2.
To the larger question of how this pendant came to be, it certainly stands to reason that it (and possibly a few companion pieces) could very well have been commissioned from C.G. Wallace by the Fred Harvey Company intended as gifts to some of the Harvey Girls themselves or to commemorate some kind of company milestone. We will likely never know this exactly but some dedicated research in the C.G. Wallace archives might shed some light on it. What we do know is that we acquired this piece from one of our Santa Fe colleagues recently who acquired it from an older New Mexico man who told him that his Father had formerly worked for the Fred Harvey Company in some capacity.