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Ambrose Roanhorse

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Start/Birth date: 1904
Death/End date: 1982

Prominent Navajo silversmith Ambrose Roanhorse's vision was to create new Native design with non-traditional forms without the customary stamp work. Implementing strong, clean lines made from time-honored methods, his work was embraced by the public who saw it as modernist in its aesthetic which was popular at that time.

He taught at the government Indian School in Santa Fe in the late 1930s instructing many important Navajo silversmiths; and was an informant to John Adair for his book, The Navajo and Pueblo Silversmiths.

In 1941, Roanhorse exhibited his jewelry at the Museum of Modern Art in New York as part of the exhibition, Indian Arts of the United States. in 1967 the Smithsonian Folklife Festival honored him as the sole Navajo jeweler and his work was included in the Wheelwright Museum exhibition, From the Railroad to Route 66: The Native American Curio Trade in New Mexico 2008 - 2009 and is in their permanent collection.

While Roanhorse was certainly progressive, it is noteworthy that this headstall looks almost identical to one created by one of the most important early Navajo silversmiths, Atsidi Chon, which is in the collection of the Laboratory of Anthropology in Santa Fe; and is estimated to date from circa 1875. It is likely that Roanhorse studied the early masters of Navajo jewelry in order to emulate their old styles and processes. He was not a fan of the baroque and it is probable that he wanted to capture what he felt was the essence of Navajo spirit which resided in the old pieces.


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