Do you have a favorite Native American art show or exhibition you've attended? One that stands out beyond all the others?
For me, that show was in 2007.
That year, the award-winning book Navajo and Pueblo Earrings 1850-1945 by Southwestern jewelry scholar Robert Bauver delighted collectors of Native American jewelry with its release. Bauver’s book outlined the development of early Navajo & Pueblo earrings using the significant earring collection of Robert V. Gallegos, who meticulously curated a group of more than 350 earrings over 20 years. According to Gallegos, his collection originated in 1970 in the back room of old timer Bill Dutton’s Santa Fe shop, RARE THINGS, where Gallegos found an “old flour sack half filled with late nineteenth and early twentieth century earrings.” Gallegos purchased the flour sack of old earrings on layaway over a time period of six months. Can you imagine!
In conjunction with the 2007 release of Bob Bauver’s book, Martha Hopkins Struever, Native American art dealer, collector and scholar, held a very special show and sale of the Gallegos Collection Earrings. Marti was chosen for this significant event due to her close and long-standing friendship with both Bobs (Bauver & Gallegos).
I was fortunate enough to assist Marti with this grand earring show, and I found myself completely and wholeheartedly enraptured by these early works of Native American art. The earrings were superb! To witness the progression of Navajo and Pueblo earring technique and design first hand by working with so many early pairs all at once was a gift that I will never forget.
There’s a purity in these early earrings, an awakening and inspiration that is almost palpable even as you turn the pages of Bauver’s book and relish in its earring photos. To actually hold these rare earrings in your hands or feel them in your ears is as magical as you might imagine.
I don’t expect that I'll ever again see an entire early earring collection as impressive as Gallegos’ in my lifetime. Old Native American jewelry is becoming scarcer with every passing year. In fact, today even the once seemingly ubiquitous Navajo & Pueblo long dangle earrings of the 1960’s and 1970’s are increasingly difficult to find. Yes, there are plenty of contemporary revivals - sometimes they’re even purposefully oxidized by unscrupulous sellers and misleadingly sold as vintage.
When the authentic old Navajo and Pueblo earrings come our way, it’s a celebratory time, and today I have for you a very small group of inspired earrings. One incredible earring is actually from Bauver’s book and Gallegos’ collection. A few others are from the time period that the book and collection detail. Still others date later, but are standout examples of the evolving jewelry form.
My hope is that you’ll spend a little time exploring these rare and captivating earrings. Perhaps they’ll make your heart beat just a little faster or you’ll find yourself weak in the knees. If so, maybe you’ll decide to make a purchase for your collection just like Robert Gallegos did in 1970 when he found that flour sack holding part of his destiny. No matter what you do, if you haven’t already, look for Bob Bauver’s book. You’ll enjoy it immensely!
Wishing you beauty and joy,
Bauver, Robert. Navajo and Pueblo Earrings 1850-1945 Collected By Robert V. Gallegos. Los Ranchos de Albuquerque: Rio Grande Books, 2007