Sold: Vintage Solid Copper Cuff Bracelet – Native American Tourist Design

I don’t know much about Native American art, but I’ll brain dump a bit here. If anyone knows better, please comment so I can continue research.

Contemporary Native American art has a special protected status in the art world, somewhat similar to the Protected Designation of Origin that Europe uses to name foods by a place or region, and disallow that use of the place name for any products made outside of that region.  Native American Art must be produced by Native American artists.

From The Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990:

The Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990 (P.L. 101-644) is a truth-in-advertising law that prohibits misrepresentation in marketing of Indian arts and crafts products within the United States. It is illegal to offer or display for sale, or sell any art or craft product in a manner that falsely suggests it is Indian produced, an Indian product, or the product of a particular Indian or Indian Tribe or Indian arts and crafts organization, resident within the United States. For a first time violation of the Act, an individual can face civil or criminal penalties up to a $250,000 fine or a 5-year prison term, or both. If a business violates the Act, it can face civil penalties or can be prosecuted and fined up to $1,000,000.

My sense is that this law has enabled artists to make a living, and raised the general quality of the art available for sale. Objects that might be called “craft” or “design” are of higher technical quality. For the buyer, it’s just more reliable, safer, more beautiful, and probably a better investment that will hold its value.

I don’t know much about the fine art market, but, on the web, I’ve seen works of considerable talent, and the contemporary work intersects with the experiences of postwar America and the Civil Rights movement, and cultural reclamation and recovery from anti-Indian period of US expansion. So, I think, for many people, the art would be resonant, and also a way to reflect on Civil Rights and art of resistance.

Going backwards, however, the unregulated period had different kinds of artwork, not often by Native American people. These works were made either for profit or as a store of value, or both.  Because I don’t know the history too well, I’ll just list a couple terms, and explain what they mean, with some historical context and links to articles.

Tourist – also called Fred Harvey jewelry, was made for tourists riding trains to the west, and buying “Indian” jewelry. This was mostly not made by indigenous people, and employed a mish-mash of symbols and explanations. There is a market for this stuff, and you will see it labeled “Tourist.”

Old Pawn – jewelry from the 1800s that was taken to pawn shops for money, and “old” refers to the fact that it was left at the pawn shops and sold to recover the cash.  However, not all things taken to the pawn shops was personal or ceremonial jewelry, but objects made for sale to tourists or the market, but through this process, Native American people specialized in producing art objects for sale.

Pendleton – the Pendleton wool mills produced blankets and clothing specifically for indigenous customers. The Pendleton’s were white, and not indigenous, but they made the well known “Indian blankets” that are resold. The designs are not traditional, but the company took feedback from their customers. However, with the recent trends, indigenous people have had mixed feelings about Pendleton and cultural appropriation. Follow the link for a good essay about it.

Vintage – on Etsy, this means over 20 years old. So, anything “vintage” just means old. I don’t think it has a meaning with regard to American Indian jewelry, except that it may originate prior to 1990, and has questionable provenance.

Typically, people think to look to the past to find something “authentic” or “real”, but looking back, there are  many layers of intent and meaning with old American Indian art and jewelry, that there is no “authentic” there, except to hold the object as evidence of the layered history of American Indians and their history relationship with white society.

Now, spinning it back to the contemporary law, I think the law has: created the first modern period of authentic American Indian art in American history, where it’s possible to establish provenance, and have few question about the intent of the art: whether for commerce, ceremony, or as fine art and considered within Art History. It does this by recognizing the personhood of the artist, and the existence of indigenous communities and tribes or nations, and then instituting some penalties if someone tries to fraudulently misrepresent an artist.

Source: Vintage Solid Copper Cuff Bracelet – Native American Tourist Design


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