Family fortunes: the Yazzie’s Navajo jewellery goes on show in New York

Family fortunes: the Yazzie’s Navajo jewellery goes on show in New York

Steeped in centuries of Navajo tradition, the Yazzie family’s handcrafted jewellery is at the centre of a new show at The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in New York. Entitled, ’Glittering World: Navajo Jewelry of the Yazzie Family’ the exhibit celebrates the museum’s 20th anniversary with a showcase of almost 300 pieces of Yazzie-made contemporary creations along with historic pieces from the museum’s private collection.

The show offers a contemporary look at traditional Navajo craftmanship, exploring materials and cultural influences through the lens of the Yazzie legacy. The museum’s director Kevin Gover, a citizen of the Pawnee tribe, explains ’The exhibition goes beyond Native art to define the interplay between Navajo culture and commerce of today.’

Of the thirteen Yazzie siblings, Lee and Raymond are particularly renowned for their artistry, bordering on mastery of traditional jewellery-making infused with a command of contemporary practice. Many works are in keeping with time-honoured ethnic motifs, but the stars of this show are the pair’s bracelets and rings made of wildly complex combinations of precious stones. Colour blocked lapis, coral, turquoise and intricately inlaid stones create intense visual experiences that coerce an appreciation for their craft. What’s more impressive is their inspiration, which stems from an inherent connection to their environment.

To create these pieces of tessellated jewellery The Yazzies are painstakingly selective and, in a Zen-like ritual, perfect every last detail. Naturally, the jewellery takes a long time to make. Lee revealed to collector Joe Tanner, ’I suppose I don’t have to be ashamed for spending seven months of my life creating one piece of jewellery. I was thinking to myself, "It takes Mother Nature three months to grow one ear of corn." So I guess that makes me half as good as Mother Nature.’

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