Published on November 30, 2011 by Amy
Whether you’re drawn to the beauty of turquoise and silver jewelry or the earth tone colors of Indian pottery, having some knowledge about American Indian arts and crafts can help you get the most for your money. Be aware also that because Indian arts and crafts are prized and often command higher prices, a few unscrupulous sellers misrepresent imitation arts and crafts as genuine.
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The Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990 helps ensure that buyers of Indian arts and crafts products get what they pay for by making it illegal to misrepresent that a product is made by an Indian. Under the Act, any item produced after 1935 that is marketed using terms such as “Indian,” “Native American” or “Alaska Native” must be made by a member of a State or federally-recognized tribe or by a certified Indian artisan. A certified Indian artisan is an individual who is certified by an Indian tribe as a nonmember Indian artisan.
In advertising or marketing a product, it is a violation of the Act to state or imply falsely that the product is made by an Indian or is the product of a particular tribe. For example, advertising or marketing a product as “Navajo Jewelry” that is not produced by members of the Navajo Nation is a violation of the law. Terms such as “Indian,” “Native American” or the name of a particular Indian tribe, accompanied by qualifiers such as “ancestry,” “descent” and “heritage” — for instance, “Native American heritage” or “Cherokee descent” — do not mean that the person is a member of an Indian tribe. These terms do mean that the person is of descent, heritage or ancestry of the tribe, and the terms should be used only if truthful.
1. American Indian arts and crafts are sold through many outlets, including tourist stores, gift shops and art galleries. Here are some tips to help you shop wisely:
2. Buy from an established dealer who will give you a written guarantee or written verification of authenticity.
3. Get a receipt that includes all the vital information about the value of your purchase, including any verbal representations. For example, if the salesperson told you that the piece of jewelry you’re buying is sterling silver and natural turquoise and was handmade by an American Indian artisan, insist that this information appear on your receipt.
Before buying Indian arts and crafts at powwows, annual fairs, juried competitions, and other events, check the event requirements for information about the authenticity of the products being offered for sale. Many events list their requirements in newspaper ads, promotional flyers and printed programs. If the event organizers make no statement about the authenticity of Indian arts and crafts being offered for sale, get written verification of authenticity for any item you purchase that claims to be authentic.
For an Indian art or craft object to be an “Indian product” all work on the product must have been by an Indian or Indians. More information about the Indian Arts and Crafts Act and related regulations can be obtained by visiting the Web site of the Indian Arts and Crafts Board, www.iacb.doi.gov.
1. Price — Although Indians may make and sell inexpensive souvenir-type items, authentic high-quality Indian jewelry can be expensive.
2. Appearance — Well-crafted jewelry has no wavering lines or lopsided designs. If a design is stamped into silver — the most common metal used — the image should be clear. Images on imitations often are blurred. High-quality pieces use stones that are well-cut and uniform in size, and fit snugly into their settings. The stones on imitations may be poorly cut, leaving a large amount of metal-colored glue visible between the stone and the metal. Look for the artist’s “hallmark” stamped on the jewelry. Many Indian artists use a hallmark — a symbol or signature — to identify their work.
3. Guarantee of Authenticity — A reputable dealer will give you a written guarantee.
The most common stones used in American Indian jewelry include:
Turquoise and other natural or mined stones used in jewelry may have been treated. Treating refers to any alteration of the properties or appearance of natural turquoise and other stones, with the exception of cutting and polishing. Under the FTC’s Jewelry Guides, consumers should be told if a stone has been treated and the treatment is not permanent, the treatment creates special care requirements, or the treatment has a significant effect on the stone’s value.
It’s not always easy to spot a counterfeit item but price, materials, appearance, and the seller’s guarantee of authenticity may help.