TOTEMS TO TURQUOISE: Native North American Jewelry Arts of the Northwest and Southwest
March 31 - August 20, 2006

Museum of the American West
4700 Western Heritage Way (in Griffith Park adjacent to the L.A. Zoo), Los Angeles 90027
Contact, Jay Aldrich
323.221.2164, Fax: 323.224.8223

Web site,
Hours: Tuesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., closed major holidays
Admission: Adults, $7.50; Seniors and Students, $5; Children 2-12, $3

Jim Hart, “Woman in the Moon”, pendant.  Photo:  Kiyoshi Togashi

Los Angeles – An exciting exhibition opens this spring at the Autry National Center’s Museum of the American West. Totems to Turquoise celebrates the beauty, power, and symbolism of modern Native American jewelry arts. This wonderful exhibition comes to the Autry from New York City’s American Museum of Natural History and was designed and produced by the Museum’s Department of Exhibitions, under the direction of David Harvey, Vice President of Exhibitions.
Throughout time, art and ceremony have connected us to the forces of nature and the animal powers that sustain us. No mere ornament, the jewelry arts of Native America are conduits to a beauty beyond ourselves and within ourselves. With more than 500 objects, including dazzling contemporary and historic Native American jewelry and artifacts, Totems to Turquoise: Native North American Jewelry Arts of the Northwest and Southwest celebrates thousands of years of culture and experience through this ancient and ever-changing mode of creative expression.
That tradition is still alive and vibrant across North America today. Some of the most spectacular jewelry, then and now, has been created by the peoples of two very different geographic regions, the American Southwest and the Northwest Coast. Native artists from the Southwest often embrace strong colors and angular geometry, whereas those from the Northwest typically create more fluid, sculptural forms. Yet beneath these differences, the jewelry has much in common.
Native jewelry employs a visual language that communicates on many levels. Bracelets, belts, and rings embody complex cultural beliefs and symbols, but in miniature. Like other Native arts, jewelry provides evidence of a rich, living tradition, passed down from elders and mentors to the next generation. Today’s talented artists respect age-old traditions—and yet reinvent them in exciting and sometimes surprising new ways.
Totems to Turquoise showcases artwork from the Haida, Kwakwaka’wakw, Tsimshian, Gitxsan, Nisga’a, Tlingit, Nuu-chah-nulth, Haisla, and Salish tribes of the Northwest, and the Navajo, Zuni, Hopi, Santo Domingo, Taos and other Pueblos, Apache, and Tohono O’odham tribes of the Southwest, as well as a selection of contemporary totem sculptures, historic and contemporary masks, boxes, weavings, figures, pottery, and other artworks, many from the American Museum of Natural History’s renowned collections, and augmented from the Autry’s permanent collections.

Also included are videos, made especially for the exhibition, featuring Northwest and Southwest rituals that are strongly connected with the cosmological beliefs of each tribe, plus interviews with contemporary artists and footage showing the artists at work.
Contemporary artists represented in the exhibition include Lee Yazzie, a Navajo master goldsmith and inlay artist; Phil Loretto of Jemez Pueblo, who creates intricately detailed jewelry; Christian White, one of the finest contemporary Haida carvers of argillite sculpture and pendants; and Kevin Cranmer’s unique miniature masks. Other artists include Bill Reid, one of the first Haida to interpret the themes of the Northwest Coast Indians in modern works; Charles Edenshaw, a Haida carver who created innovative totems in argillite and silver; and Charles Loloma and Preston Monongye, groundbreaking Hopi artists who introduced modernist style into Southwestern jewelry.

“This exhibition brings together some of the most exciting and vital contemporary Native American art forms from two geographic areas where traditional cultures remain very strong,” said Peter Whiteley, Curator of North American Ethnology at the American Museum of Natural History’s Division of Anthropology and cocurator of Totems to Turquoise. “Both the marine Northwest Coast and the desert Southwest feature an uninterrupted tradition of extraordinary indigenous artwork and iconography: transformed into silver, gold, and lapidary jewelry. This tradition achieves a powerful cultural continuation.”

“This is above all an exhibition about connections,” noted Lois Dubin, lecturer, author of several authoritative books on Native American jewelry, and cocurator of Totems to Turquoise. “These connections range from sacred to pragmatic, ancient to contemporary, macro to micro, and Native to non-Native.”

Advising artists for the exhibition are Jim Hart, a Hereditary Chief of the Haida nation, and an accomplished carver and jeweler who has worked closely with the Museum of Anthropology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver; and Jesse Monongya, a highly regarded Navajo and Hopi jeweler whose intricate, painterly inlay work is considered to be among the finest today. He has worked extensively as an exhibition consultant with the Heard Museum in Phoenix for the museum’s permanent jewelry installation. The Autry National Center is very excited to have Jim Hart here during the opening week working on an original-design, Northwest Coast–style totem that will be accessioned into the Autry’s permanent collection on completion.

The Los Angeles exhibition of Totems to Turquoise is sponsored in part by a generous donation from the James Irvine Foundation.

About the Museum of the American West
The Museum of the American West provides rich learning opportunities for all people by exploring the myths and realities of the American West and its diverse populations. The museum enhances our understanding of the present by collecting, preserving, and interpreting objects and art, making connections between people today and those who have shaped the past.

The museum receives approximately 374,000 visitors annually and each year provides free guided tours and educational activities for more than 40,000 area schoolchildren. It is located in Griffith Park at 4700 Western Heritage Way, across from the Los Angeles Zoo, where the 5 and 134 freeways meet. Admission is $7.50 for adults, $5 for seniors and students, and $3 for children. The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, and on major holidays except Thanksgiving and Christmas. Parking is free. Find out more about Totems to Turquoise by visiting the Museum of the American West’s website at <> .

NOTE: DOWNLOADABLE COLOR IMAGES ARE AVAILABLE BY GOING TO: —look for the Totems to Turquoise release and click on images. If you have any questions, call 323.667.2000, ext. 329, or e-mail

Return to Gallery Pages