Father & Son Hopi Jewelers

Today I'd like to feature a very particular father and son who are jewelry designers. Fred and Michael Kabotie are Hopi silversmiths and artisans, and their story has some interesting things to say about jewelry in America. I discovered them because I recently became an auntie to a Native American niece and nephew. While I was researching their heritage – they are Hopi – I came across all this beautiful silver jewelry created by the Kaboties.

Michael Kabotie necklace

Jewelry in the Southwest

If you’ve ever visited the southwestern part of the United States, you know it’s a great place to buy silver jewelry, turquoise jewelry, and Native American jewelry. Basically, it’s a great place to drop lots of cash on jewelry! I have several beautiful bracelets in my own collection from past trips to the Grand Canyon and Arizona.

The story of silversmithing the Southwest is actually pretty recent. But we’ll start with Fred, the father, and tell his story.

Fred’s story

Fred was born in 1900 in Arizona, a native Hopi. Unfortunately, he experienced first hand a very dark chapter of American history in his own life. When he was only six years old, his father and other parents were arrested because they refused to send their children to school. Not just any school, you see. A “special” school, where they would have to learn how to be “American,” not Hopi. Where they would learn English, become Christian, and live far away from their family.

Fred’s father and other parents spent a year in jail for trying to keep their children out of these special schools. They even moved away to a different part of Arizona. Unfortunately, they were only able to put off the inevitable. Fred was sent to the American school when he was 15 years old. Luckily, the school Fred went to was run by a man sympathetic to Native American concerns (this man was later fired by the US government for being “too nice”). Fred was encouraged by both the superintendent and his wife to develop his aptitude in art. After he graduated from high school, they helped him find work in the community.

Fred Kabotie, 1945, wearing a squash blossom necklace
Fred Kabotie, 1945, wearing a squash blossom necklace

Being uniquely Hopi

Fred worked as an artist wherever he could, painting murals, teaching art, illustrating books, and selling his own watercolor paintings.

In the 1930’s, there was lots of interest in Native American culture and crafts. Especially silversmithing. Fred and other artists were encouraged to come up with designs that were unique to the Hopi culture, rather than copying Navajo or Zuni designs. Fred and other Hopi artists looked to historical art (pottery, baskets, textiles, etc.) and tried to find ways those symbols and shapes could be incorporated into modern silver jewelry.

Unfortunately, a lot of this work was put on hold as the country entered World War II in 1941. E