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A historic Hopi silver overlay belt buckle by an anonymous silversmith of the Hopi Silver Crafts Cooperative Guild, circa 1940’s-1950’s

This buckle is a wonderful and unusual piece made by an unknown, but clearly very talented Hopi silversmith working under the auspices of the prestigious Hopi Silver Crafts Cooperative Guild. The Hopi Guild was started by artists Fred Kabotie and Paul Saufkie in the late 1940’s with the active encouragement and support of the Hopi Tribal Authority. The Hopi Guild promoted an officially sanctioned style of jewelry making known as “silver overlay” which Kabotie and Saufkie had been instrumental in developing and which they believed was important in establishing a separate and different look and unique identity for Hopi silver work that was distinct from that of Navajo silver which Hopi silverwork had generally resembled in previous years. Over the sixty-plus years since the founding of the Hopi Guild, Hopi silver overlay jewelry has generally become lighter in gauge and weight and is often now somewhat dainty in appearance and very seldom uses set stones.

This buckle is in the earlier, more substantial, heavier style and it still shows several earlier Navajo influences

in its overall oval “concho” style shape and use of repoussee and stamp work. In our opinions, these characteristics, plus the heavier gauge of silver used and the turquoise and coral set stones all seem to indicate that this is one of the very earliest Hopi Guild pieces. And, it is an extremely ambitious piece indeed with a number of very interesting details. The buckle’s base is a large oval-shaped piece of silver which is decorated all the way around the perimeter with three parallel bands of interesting and very well done stamped designs. Attached at the center of this oval base layer is a diamond-shaped silver overlay panel composed of heavy-gauge silver and cut out in a very complex, decorative pattern around its outside perimeter and its inside opening. This panel is also beautifully-decorated with stampwork designs. The panel has been repousseed or domed upwards to enclose and highlight the red coral and blue turquoise stones set inside it. These two stones are set in finely-serrated silver bezels which are encircled by twisted silver wire surrounds.

The buckle measures a good-sized 3 1/2” in width and 3” in height and it is 1/2” in depth. It weighs a substantial

75 grams or 2 5/8” ounces. The buckle can accommodate a belt of up to 1 3/8” in width. It is hallmarked on the back with The Hopi Guild’s official “Dawa” or Kachina sun face insignia and it is also marked with the individual maker’s mark of a crescent moon. We can find no reference anywhere for which particular maker this might have been,

but, whoever he was, he was a highly-accomplished artist and craftsman. The level of artistic imagination, detail, composition and meticulous technique demonstrated in this unique buckle are most impressive. It is truly a stunning and historic early piece of Hopi Guild jewelry.

Price $1,450

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Fred Kabotie (front left) and Paul Saufkie (front right) with students displaying various Hopi Guild jewelry trade marks, including a crescent moon at upper right, at The Hopi Silvercrafts Cooperative Guild, c. 1947. Photo copyright Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, AZ.