“How it was handed to me” The Caesar Family Legacy

by | Nov 30, 2019 | Coe Collaborations, Collections Programming, Exhibitions

The Coe Center is pleased to host an unparalleled jewelry event on December 12th. How It Was Handed to Me: The Caesar Family Legacy, organized by Kenneth Johnson (Muscogee/Seminole) gathers jewelers and jewelry from New Mexico, Oklahoma, and beyond into a complex story of generational and creative legacies.

Leading the public event on December 12th is a gathering of jewelers who are connected through either family or apprenticeship legacies. As Johnson explains, this event is both about the end project and the process of how Native jewelers pass on their skills and practice to the next generation. The jewelers in attendance on December 12th include Keri Ataumbi, Cody Sanderson and his protégé Adrian Standing Elk Pinnecoose, Pat Pruitt, Kenneth Johnson and daughter and mentee Skye, Samuel LaFountain, Jodi Webster, Emmett Navakuku, J.J. Otero, Brian Fleetwood, and Bruce Caesar and his family. The artists will all be at the Coe to share their work with the public, of which some are available for sale, while visitors will be able to enjoy the exhibition of How It Was Handed to Me: The Caesar Family Legacy.

The majority of the works in How It Was Handed to Me were created by one family beginning with Julius Caesar, who has been referred to as “the dean of contemporary Native American metalsmiths” and established a thriving family legacy passed on to his son Bruce. Bruce has subsequently taught his own children and they have all continued to be the top family of nickel-silver jewelers—the makers most sought after to create dance regalia across the Plains region.

This is the first exhibition to be mounted in Santa Fe that focuses on Plains jewelry created from nickel (or German) silver. Nickel silver is an alloy of copper, zinc, and nickel and actually contains no silver – despite its name and appearance. It is widely used across Plains communities for dance regalia and for Native American Church ceremonies. Because it is lighter, brighter and more affordable, nickel silver is favored over sterling silver—which tarnishes easily when exposed to heat and moisture. Sadly, because of the purely functional element of this material, it has lead it to being often overlooked by outside collectors and institutions and deemed “less valuable.”

This exhibition actively connects us across time, individuals, families, and communities via these stunning pieces including detailed tiaras, long, dangling earrings, brilliant armbands or cuffs, and more. They are powerful expressions of the beauty and vibrancy that art can bring to life.

Please save the dates:
Jan 17, 2020:  Curator Kenneth Johnson will lead a discussion about mastering metal and authenticating jewelry
Feb 21, 2020: Pairings of jewelers will discuss community and relationships in Santa Fe metalworking community



Exhibition and public programs are generously sponsored by Palace Jewelers at Manitou Galleries, with additional support from Mary McElroy, Kallas Jewelers, Linda Pierson of Pierson Gallery, Tulsa OK, and Teri Greeves and Keri Ataumbi.

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