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An exceptionally rare “U.S. NAVAJO 60” Navajo silver belt buckle made at the Santa Fe Indian School between 1937-1942, very likely by Ambrose Roanhorse
This fabulous buckle has the unique and interesting distinction of being the only one of its kind that we have ever seen in over thirty-five years of buying and selling historic Southwestern jewelry. Any “U.S. Navajo” marked piece is immediately among the rarest and most unusual Navajo jewelry pieces ever, as only a very small amount of them were ever made and all were made to an extremely high standard of quality for a very short period only,1937 to 1942, under the strict auspices of the United States Government’s Indian Arts and Crafts Board (IACB) directed by the world-famous jeweler and educator, Rene D’Harnancourt and the renowned Navajo silversmith and jewelry teacher, Ambrose Roanhorse. Roanhorse, one of the finest silversmiths and effective educators of his time, was recruited by D’Harnancourt to supervise the IACB program, hand make all the various “U.S. NAVAJO” stamps, and, later, to personally inspect the finished jewelry pieces submitted to see if they met the required stringent standards of excellence in materials, design and craftsmanship. Only then could the appropriate “U.S. Navajo” quality stamp be applied to the piece and Roanhorse was the only person who was authorized by the IACB to actually apply the stamps to the jewelry.
Ambrose Roanhorse, circa 1930’s
The various specific numeric designations following the “U.S. Navajo” prefix correspond to the individual private companies, Indian Schools and other organizations who were officially licensed to produce and sell IACB-approved silver jewelry. “U.S. Navajo 1”, for example, was the numeric designation of the well-known Charles Ilfeldt Trading Post in Gallup, NM while “U.S. Navajo 2” was that of the famous C.G. Wallace trading post in Zuni, NM. “U.S. Navajo 60”, the designation marked on this buckle, is perhaps the most prestigious and rarest designation of all, that of The Santa Fe Indian School, whose chief jewelry instructor in the late 1930‘s was none other than Ambrose Roanhorse himself, who, in our view, very possibly also made this fantastic buckle.
Although the buckle is not signed with the hallmark of the artist who crafted it, in keeping with the customary directives during this time period for Navajo jewelry made under the auspices of the IACB (only
the tribal designation (U.S. Navajo) and the specific organization code (60) were allowed, we believe that Roanhorse is the artist for several important reasons. The first of these, of course, is the Santa Fe Indian School designation. But even more significant identifiers, in our opinion, are the outstanding overall quality of the buckle’s craftsmanship and the beautiful particulars of its design scheme. It would be very difficult to find a more finely and traditionally-crafted buckle--the silverwork is exceptionally well done in keeping with Roanhorse’s unique abilities. The strikingly original, stamped, filed, chisel-cut and repousseed design is completely traditional, yet starkly modern at the same time (another distinctive Roanhorse characteristic) and the band of perfectly-applied stamped “E”-shaped zigzag chevron designs around the buckle’s perimeter are quite similar in appearance to stampwork designs which we have seen on other artist-signed Ambrose Roanhorse jewelry pieces.
The buckle measures just shy of 3” in width and it is 2” in height and ¼” in depth. It will accommodate
a belt strap of up to 1” in width. (The belt pictured here is not included.) The buckle is properly stamped
“U.S. Navajo 60” on the back and it is in excellent original condition.
This buckle is an exceptionally beautiful, exceedingly well-crafted, “rarer-as-hen’s teeth” historic piece virtually guaranteed to make Indian jewelry aficionados everywhere turn appropriately green with envy and start drooling uncontrollably. Moreover, you and your significant other, be they male or female, can constantly wrangle over who gets to wear the buckle and when since it looks equally attractive and is as easy to wear on both men and women.