Indian Jewelry of the Pacific NW
The distinctive artistic tradition of the Indians of the Pacific Northwest has shown a continuing vitality despite the generally devastating effect of the coming of the Europeans upon their culture. Today this tradition is flourishing with younger artists both following and reinterpreting the traditions of the older culture and responding to the newer forces of their present life. The carvings, paintings, textiles and jewelry are finding an enthusiastic reception not only within the tribal communities and with tourists, but in the artistic world at large. We are pleased to offer you an extensive collection of Northwest Coast Indian jewelry, all made in the USA or Canada.
Native Americans along the northwest coast of America from southeast Alaska to southern British Columbia have a style of art which, although varying between tribal groupings, is both unique and distinctive to the area. Native American art here is bold, whether realistic or abstract, stylized yet innovative, and adaptable to an exceptional degree to fill space or shape.
The most highly stylized work is done among the Haida and the Tsimshian, with a gradual shift to greater realism towards the northern Tlingit in Alaska and south to the Coast Salish in southern British Columbia. These Indians lived along the sea shore and estuaries, and in the river valleys, where a mild climate and an abundance of easily harvested food allowed them to form large settlements and to devote much time to endeavors other than providing a basic existence, such as art. With a social structure based on an intricate web of prestige and privilege, the Native American art was devoted to affirming, reinforcing, and displaying social status and privilege.
While fine basketry, weaving and painting were done, the principal focus was on carving in wood, horn or other suitable materials, figures of men or totemic animals, birds, or fish. By far the most significant material was the wood of the cedar tree, that grows abundantly in this wet coastal environment. Wooden masks were made for ceremonial use, and totem poles to witness status and privilege. Relief carvings decorated boxes, and small items such as spoons, fish clubs, and articles of personal adornment were all decorated with or carved into the shape of chosen figures. With the coming of Europeans, and better access to metals, the Native American art readily adapted to engraving silver bracelets and other jewelry. With metal axes, adzes and other tools, the capacity to produce wood carvings expanded greatly, particularly with respect to the larger carvings as totem poles, potlach bowls and house posts.
One of the earliest trade items was the copper sheathing used on the ships to protect the wooden hulls from fouling and teredos. Extra sheathing was carried for repairs, and this sheet copper proved a popular trade item. Prior to this the Indians had used native copper, when they could find it, but the sheet copper enabled them to make bracelets in greater numbers, and the large shield-like plaques called “Coppers” that were symbols of wealth. Silver and gold coins were worked into jewelry, both silver and gold, taking over the market from copper over time.
Suppression of the Native American culture in the early to mid 1900’s severely diminished the need for art within the community, but in recent years with a more favorable environment and a renewed self-respect among the people, Indian art has had a resurgence, and has recaptured much of its old vitality, both within the culture and for sale to a sophisticated art market.
In the early 1900’s Mayer Brothers, a jewelry manufacturer in Seattle, set up to produce silver bracelets to sell to the Indians up the coast, using designs from Tlingit carvers. These trade bracelets became favored items to be given away at potlaches. Production has continued to this day under a succession of manufacturing companies, using both modern designs and the designs from the early 1900’s, with rings, earrings and pendants as well as the traditional bracelets added to the line. The primary market continues to be in Alaska, and the jewelry is sold to both Indians and tourists. The Indians buy mainly the traditional designs, with the most popular bracelet still being the Lovebirds.
One of the earliest trade items between Europeans and the Pacific Northwest Indians was the copper sheathing used on the ships to protect the wooden hulls from fouling and teredos. Extra sheathing was carried for repairs, and this sheet copper proved a popular trade item. Prior to this the Indians had used native copper, when they could find it, but the sheet copper enabled them to make bracelets in greater numbers, and the large shield-like plaques called “Coppers” that were symbols of wealth. As part of our interest in the tradition and history of the Northwest Coast Indian art, we are pleased to offer a selection of copper jewelry.
Sterling Silver Jewelry
Our sterling silver Northwest Indian jewelry is either lost wax castings or stamped pieces made in the USA. The sterling silver pendants come with with sterling silver chains. Most of our sterling silver jewelry is available for immediate delivery, and is shipped to you gift boxed with a card explaining the background of the piece.
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