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An outstanding Modernist-style Navajo silver

cuff bracelet by Sam Roanhorse, c. 1950’s

Sam Roanhorse (1916-1988) was one of the 20th Century's finest Navajo silversmiths, although his fame has often been eclipsed by the towering reputation and distinguished achievements of his older brother, Ambrose Roanhorse (1904-1981). Sam Roanhorse began his silversmithing career at the Fort Wingate Indian school in the 1930’s learning the craft from his brother and then moved on to become a silversmithing instructor at the Santa Fe Indian School. He then continued on to a succession of silversmithing jobs, working for various trading concerns and very probably working anonymously for the Navajo Arts and Crafts Guild where Ambrose Roanhorse was the original Founder and Director. For a five-or-six year period from the late 1940’s to the mid-1950’s Sam worked at the famous White Hogan shops, first in Flagstaff and later, in Scottsdale, Arizona, under the the leadership of the brilliant Navajo silversmith, Kenneth Begay and alongside Begay’s three talented cousins, George, Allan and Ivan Kee.

After leaving the White Hogan Shop around 1956, Roanhorse worked independently (and likely again for the

Navajo Guild) until the 1970’s when he went to work at the famed M.L. Woodard’s Indian Arts shop in Gallup, NM.

Sam Roanhorse’s silverwork is always beautifully and traditionally crafted with a distinctly Modernist design sense in much the same manner as that of his brother, Ambrose and this bracelet is an excellent example of it; perfectly made and beautifully designed with an exceptional pattern of repeating all-over stamp work inside a finely-chiseled border like a perfectly framed Navajo-style Modernist field painting. The use of positive and negative spaces in the composition is completely remarkable. The bracelet’s profile is very slightly domed making it extremely comfortable.

This bracelet measures slightly less than 1 1/8” in width all the way around, the inner circumference end-to-end is

5 3/4” with a 1 5/16” gap between the terminals for a total interior circumference of 7 1/16”. The hefty silver shank is just shy of 1/8” in thickness and it weighs a very satisfying yet extremely comfortable 94 grams or 3 1/4 ounces. The bracelet is in excellent, original, age-appropriate condition with a few nicks and scratches and a very fine soft patina. It is properly signed with Sam Roanhorse’s capital letter initials “SR” on the interior and it is also marked “Sterling” and “Handmade.”

This bracelet is an outstanding example of the work of this very accomplished artist. It can be worn anywhere anytime and its classic modernist design gives it a timeless and enduring relevance and appeal. It is a beautiful historic piece, but it doesn’t look like an old artifact locked in the past.