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A unique and beautifully crafted set of vintage Navajo

Arts and Crafts Guild silver ice tongs, c.1940’s

In the category of things you definitely don’t see every day are these wonderful historic Navajo silver ice tongs. One of the most interesting occurrences in the modern-day history of the American Southwest is the unusual and fascinating intersection of traditional Native American arts and crafts such as pottery, jewelry, basketry and textile weaving and the consumer desires of Anglo-American and European material culture.

It’s the sort of cultural collision and collusion that began in the late 19th century as the Fred Harvey Company and The Santa Fe Railroad created the beginnings of a tourist visitation industry across the Southwest and it brought about the creation of an entirely unprecedented and unique range of cross-cultural household objects such as Hopi and other Pueblo pottery candlesticks, ashtrays, umbrella stands, flower vases, salt and pepper shakers and chafing dishes as well as Navajo silver key chains, serving trays, money clips, watchbands, chess boards, salad sets and various bar utensils, such as this wonderful set of silver ice tongs made by one of the extremely talented silversmiths of the renowned Navajo Arts and Crafts Guild. Talented indeed to be able to make so well an object that is most definitely not part of the normal inventory of Navajo households, a traditional desert culture having little need of such domestic niceties as ice tongs.

Upper left to right: The El Rancho Hotel, Gallup, NM,  The Hotel Alvarado in Albuquerque and The Hotel El Tovar at the South Rim of The Grand Canyon.

Image source and © El Rancho Hotel, Wikipedia Inc. Image source and © Hotel Alvarado and El Tovar, The Fred Harvey Company

The Navajo Arts and Crafts Guild, now renamed the Navajo Arts and Crafts Enterprise, is still active today. Here is its present-day showroom in Cameron, Arizona.

The Navajo Arts and Crafts Guild’s historic silverwork is some of the finest Navajo silver ever made. From their

very beginning in 1941, The Navajo Guild were the elite special forces of Navajo silverwork so to speak, a virtual all-star silversmithing team recruited, trained and led by their brilliant Founder, Ambrose Roanhorse (1904-1981), one of the greatest Navajo silversmiths in history. Under Roanhorse’s inspired leadership the NACG’s silver work emphasized traditional Navajo craftsmanship and silversmithing techniques; the use of restrained and spare decorative designs, a predominance and reverence for all-silver pieces without the use of too many or any set stones, and, above all, a distinctly Modernist, elegant, streamlined look; emphasizing and understanding the techniques and designs of classic traditional Navajo silverwork while respectfully and appropriately modernizing it.

And was it ever a success! The finest work of the Guild, like this marvelous unique set of silver ice tongs, is truly excellent and many of the great silversmiths who anonymously created it (Only the Guild’s distinctive “Horned Sun” hallmark was ever allowed to appear on the Navajo Guild’s silver pieces.) went on to remarkable and distinguished careers under their own names, outstanding artists such as Kenneth Begay, Fred Peshlakai, Allan and George Kee, Charlie Bitsui, Jack Adakai and Lewis Lomay. To learn more about the Navajo Arts and Crafts Guild, please click here.

It is fascinating to imagine where these tongs might have been formerly owned and used. Were they used, possibly,

to help serve cocktails to John Wayne, Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn at the bar at the old El Rancho Hotel in Gallup or to Clark Gable, Frank Sinatra and Elizabeth Taylor on the Santa Fe Railway’s exclusive “Super Chief” train to Los Angeles? Could the tongs have possibly been employed in the luxurious lounge of Albuquerque’s famed Fred Harvey Company Alvarado Hotel or delivered along with a cold ice bucket to summer guests on the terrace of the equally renowned El Tovar Hotel on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon? Who knows, of course,

but it’s certainly fun to contemplate all the various romantic possibilities.

Evoke the elegance and charm of a bygone era and impress your friends and depress your enemies by dramatically making and serving your next Martinis or Margaritas in the height of old Southwestern style and class with these unique historic Navajo Guild silver tongs. We can pretty much guarantee that your bar will be the coolest place around, the only place in the neighborhood (or anywhere else) that has a set of these.

Price $750

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The Santa Fe Railway’s “Super Chief” en route from Albuquerque to Los Angeles

Photo source and © Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway

The tongs are meticulously crafted from cast-ingot silver likely made from melted-down silver coins. They were beautifully hammered out and very finely and sculpturally shaped and then, in a lovely finishing touch, they were perfectly decorated all the way around the outside with a continuous panel of elegantly simple precisely applied parallel chiseled and stamped linear designs which have a marvelous positive/negative appearance. Of course, we will never conclusively know the name of the anonymous Navajo silversmith who made these tongs, but if we had to guess based on their design, superlative craftsmanship and overall appearance and feel, our educated guess would be the great Kenneth Begay (1913-1977). We believe we see his hand at work here.

The tongs measure 6” in length and they are just under 2” in width at their widest point. They weigh a comfortable 41 grams or 1 3/8 ounces and they are in very fine original condition with some age-appropriate wear and a wonderful soft patina to the silver. The sides of the tongs are very slightly uneven in profile and thus they project a marvelous and completely hand-crafted appearance and “feel” to them. The tongs are properly signed “NAVAJO” in the customary capital block letters and are also hallmarked with the Navajo Guild’s distinctive “Horned Sun” insignia on the interior back of the handle.