The Legacy Of Fred Harvey Native American Jewelry

Posted by Gregory DeMark on

 The American Southwest is filled with iconic stories of men and women that helped shape the face of our country but one man in particular, during the latter 1800's, helped change the way Americans viewed traveling and learning about Native American cultures.
 Fred Harvey moved to the United States from England at the age of 15 hoping to create a better life for himself. After working at various jobs in NY, New Orleans and Missouri, fate would lead him to Kansas working in the railway mail transport service. At this time Harvey noticed that there was a need for a better quality of food and services to everyone traveling by rail. In 1875 Harvey opened his first rail side restaurant in Topeka, Kansas.
 Serving customers a better quality of food than travelers had been experiencing on the trains proved to be very successful and gave Harvey the idea to approach the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe railroad with a proposal to run the dining cars as well as set up establishments along the line. 
 This model proved to be so successful that the company would soon became the major hospitality service throughout the Southwest from Colorado to California.
 So how does a man that created an empire of hotels and restaurants have his name associated with Native American jewelry during the 20th century? For the answer to that question we need to understand a little about the history of  Fred Harvey, Southwestern Native American silver and the travelers that visited the Southwest with the desire to bring home a small souvenir to remind them of their experience. 
 The first to learn the art of working silver was a Navajo man by the name of Atsidi Sani who first learned to do blacksmithing from a Mexican named Nakai Tsosi somewhere between 1850 to 1853. It is estimated that it would be another 20 years before Atsidi Sani would apply his talents to silversmithing and through him others would learn the art of which more than a few would go on to be well respected for their ability to advance silversmithing in the region.
 Until the 1880's the silver that was created by the Navajo and later the Zuni would be quite heavy and with little decoration other than that which could be created with files, chisels and punches. The work created was for personal use or to trade with other Native Americans with most being for Navajo use and a small amount for trade with Pueblo Indians.
 Fred Harvey being the entrepreneur that he was recognized an opportunity which could help expand his business and allow those that traveled the train lines and stayed at his hotels to bring home a small token of their travels so during the 1890's a curio department was created with Native American art. At first his company would purchase pawned items from the reservation trading posts to add to his newly established gift shops and to sell on the trains but the silver work that was being created at that time proved to be too heavy and not well received by his visitors.
 In 1899 Herman Schweizer, the head of the Indian arts department for Fred Harvey developed the style that would change Native American jewelry to better fit their customer’s needs. At first, he contracted with a Nevada turquoise miner to cut stones to his specifications and with these stones and some silver approached the trading post in Thoreau, New Mexico asking them to have some Navajo silversmiths create lighter weight pieces to his specifications. The lighter weight silver and turquoise along with stamp work designs that tourists might associate with Indians such as arrows and whirling logs proved to be what tourists found desirable and with that success they started contracting with other traders to help fill the demand that the new jewelry styles created.
 One of the first Navajo silversmiths to display his talents off of the reservation was Navajo Jake who created jewelry at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago selling a large quantity to the public. Over the ensuing years the Harvey company would have Native Americans set up at some of their biggest resorts such as the Alvarado in Albuquerque starting in 1902 and the Hopi House at Grand Canyon National Park in 1905 to demonstrate their skills which proved to be a great success. To accommodate the silversmiths and their families hogans were built to house them and as a place to demonstrate their art.
 With a growing demand from not only travelers to the Southwest but those living in many of the larger eastern cities where the Harvey Company shipped large quantities of Native American Art others soon realized the potential of the market and started manufacturing Native American style jewelry, some with silversmiths from the reservations and some with strictly non-Native workers.
The first large scale manufacturer to recognize the potential of the market was the Denver Colorado businessman Harry Heye Tammen who in 1906 set up a factory under the name H. H. Tammen Company to make pieces of lighter weight silver with stamp work designs that were now popular and first introduced by the Fred Harvey Company. This newly formed company produced their line of jewelry in a factory setting using non-native workers who created pieces that were not handmade but instead made on machinery such as presses that stamped out the work.
 The market was rapidly expanding and to meet the demand companies such as Arrow Novelty Company of New York set up and produced a wholesale catalog with pieces created by Tammen and this would soon be followed by two of the most well-known companies of the 20th century, Maisel's Indian Trading Post and Bell Trading Post both in Albuquerque New Mexico and both of whom used Native Americans to create their jewelry and novelty items. Up until this time Native American silversmiths generally used ingot silver which was made from silver coins that were melted down and hand hammered out into sheet and wire to make their pieces.
 Maisel's and Bell began their operations creating pieces on a small scale in the traditional way by hand with Indians but as each company grew to keep up with demand sheet silver produced by refineries and power tools were incorporated into their operations along with what has been described as an assembly line to help the Indian silversmiths increase production where different tasks were carried out by various workers.
 These large-scale operations that were creating lower quality pieces and mass producing them were hurting individual Native American artists ability to make a living so in 1929 the Navajo Nation brought the issue up with the Bureau of Indian Affairs which led to the first organized group to help protect and fight for the Indians rights against unfair trade practices being employed at that time. The United Indian Traders Group - UITA - presented the issue with the FTC that the manufacturing methods being used by Maisel's did not adhere to the laws set that detailed what was genuine Indian made items and the FTC began proceedings against the company to stop advertising that their items were handcrafted but instead made with the help of power machinery in an assembly line method and using sheet metal instead of ingot silver.
 With the ruling against Maisel's in place directing how they could market their items the UITA in 1933 took up the issue of any article that was not truly Indian made could not be sold in the National Parks.
 In 1935 the Fred Harvey company which had been purchasing some items from shops that were manned by Native Americans but using sheet silver instead of ingot silver, decided to remove all items from their inventory that were not truly Indian handmade using excepted methods of manufacturing.
 Although Fred Harvey passed away in 1901 his business would continue on under the direction of family members until 1968 when the last of their properties and name would be sold off.
 The question still remains of how did jewelry with Native American designs created by non-native workers or by Native Americans using methods to manufacture jewelry that Fred Harvey's company would not carry in inventory wind up be called Fred Harvey Jewelry. Although Fred Harvey deserves to have his name associated with the new lighter weight jewelry using turquoise and Indian symbols that helped create a market allowing Native Americans to earn some money for their work, for most of the 20th century this style of jewelry was referred to as railroad jewelry or tourist trade jewelry. It was not until the late 1900's that some enterprising individuals started selling these pieces as Fred Harvey jewelry and the title became so popular that the name became a fixture amongst the fans of a style of jewelry that reminded them of simpler times.
 Today there is a large collector base for the style called Fred Harvey jewelry and as time goes on more collectors discover the charm of these very distinct pieces.
Melzer, Richard - Images of America - Fred Harvey Houses Of The Southwest. South Carolina: Arcadia
Publishing, 2008
Messier, Pat. Kim Meesier - Reassessing Hallmarks of Native Southwest Jewelry. Pennsylvania: Schiffer
Publishing, Ltd., 2014
Adair, John - The Navajo And Pueblo Silversmiths. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1944

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