Tips for Collectors
Collecting Native American Art

The Indian Arts and Crafts Association provided some of the text regarding tips for collectors below, and I thank them for the clear-cut facts.

American Indian art, in all forms, has never been more alive and dynamic. It continues to be one of the most gratifying and exciting forms to collect. American Indian art combines age-old tradition, innovation and talent. It results in wide varieties of art for all levels of collecting, irrespective of whether you are beginning with a first-time purchase or have been collecting for a number of years. Whichever you do, it is gratifying to know that it helps to continue of the expression and livelihood of American Indian artisans and the preservation of this country's only indigenous art.

These products, many influenced by centuries of history, combine an intrinsic spirit with timeless appeal. Whether it is basketry, in which artists use the techniques and materials their ancestors did thousands of years ago, or silversmithing, which has evolved more recently into classic as well as contemporary wearable art, there is always a place for the beauty that human hands can produce.

The interest in and appreciation of the artistry of American Indians has, unfortunately resulted in misrepresentations and imports in the marketplace. That's why these tips for collectors are so very important.

The popularity has also brought in merchandise that is legitimately represented as "American Indian Inspired". This should not be confused with authentic handmade American Indian arts and crafts. It is important to understand that when you purchase the genuine product, you help to preserve the integrity and commitment of today's artists.

Tips for Collectors

Read about crafts areas in which you are interested. Ask IACA members to recommend books or publications. Many also offer educational brochures on different types of crafts.

Purchase from reputable established dealers or from and IACA members.

Avoid stores with "perpetual" sales or unethical discounting. Prices are often inflated and then marked down.

Talk to people you are purchasing from. IACA artists and dealers are great sources of information and many offer learning opportunities through demonstrations and exhibits.

Ask for a certificate of authenticity or a written record on a business card, letterhead, or receipt. The information should include the item description, materials used, tribal affiliation of the artist, and artist name when possible.

Always keep written records and receipts together for your history/documentation file.

Look for the Native American artist's "hallmark" on the product.

Look for well-crafted items with clear and even images.

If a deal seems to good to be true, it probably is!

Ask questions. A knowledgeable and helpful staff is a good sign of a reputable business.

Ask the following questions when purchasing:

-Materials: Of what is item made? If there are stone settings, are they natural, stabilized, reconstituted or man-made?
-Technique: Was the piece completely handmade, or was it made with manufactured components or processes? For example, if pottery, is it hand coiled, wheel thrown or poured greenware? Is it fired outdoors or in a kiln?
-Artisan: What is his/her name? What is the tribal affiliation? If the item is market only as "Zuni" or "Navajo" jewelry, be sure is made by an individual who is a member or certified Indian artisan of the Zuni Pueblo or Navajo Nation. Is there any additional information on the artist's career, awards, etc. which can be included with the purchase?

Today there is a great variety of work being done by American Indian artisans who use different techniques and materials to create products suitable for all levels of collecting. Since these differences will often be reflected in the price, it is important to be informed about the item you are purchasing.

Buy what you like. Your personal taste and budget will guide you to a selection which will be satisfying to you. For those who choose to invest in the grace and beauty of Indian art, collecting will continue to be an enjoyable and rewarding experience.

If Native American Indian pieces are are of interest for either buying or collecting, become familiar with them and keep in mind the above tips for collectors. Visit museums to study the various forms, materials, tribal affiliations and designs. Go to art shows that showcase Native American artisans. Antique shows are also a good venue - go through the booths of vendors selling these items. If they are passionate about what they have, they will answer your questions. And, of course, inter-tribal powwows are excellent venues to look and ask.

You can also go to The Indian Arts and Crafts Association for a listing of registered and certified Native American Artisans.

Above all, any art form being marketed as a genuine Native American handcrafted item must legally be just that. The spirit of the law is that any artwork or craft fashioned by a Native American, the artisan must be a member of an Indian Tribe, and their membership has been verified and certified.

These Native American artisans are practicing their art perhaps as a livelihood. And, through their art, they are keeping their culture, history and spirituality alive.

Native American Arts has free e-books covering the subjects of Collecting and Fraudulence that are excellent!

Return from Tips for Collectors to Home Page