In the world of American Indian jewelry, there are the real deals and there are the impostors.
At the Mid-America All-Indian Center’s annual American Indian Festival, though, you won’t have to worry about buying knockoff art, museum executive director April Scott said.
The festival this weekend will feature 26 Indian arts and crafts booths, including traditional jewelers, sculptors and painters.
“It’s about giving them a marketplace – an opportunity to shop directly with the people who are making these products,” Scott said.
Robert Goombi, who is Kiowa, is one of the jewelry dealers who will be at the festival this year.
He and his wife Katharine, who is Choctaw, have been selling authentic handmade Indian jewelry for the past 41 years, he said.
And he likes to emphasize the word “authentic.”
“A lot of people are cognizant of the stuff that is handmade,” Robert Goombi said. “People who have been buying for a long time can tell the difference. We have many comments at our jewelry place; they say, ‘Boy, it’s good to see the real stuff.’”
From their home in Eudora, the Goombis buy jewelry primarily from the Navajo and Zuni tribes, but they also purchase necklaces from the Santo Domingo tribe and the Taos Pueblos.
“We’ve had a good relationship with them, and really for the Indian people it’s a win-win situation,” Goombi said. “We keep it authentic. We know the Indian people that make it and guarantee that it’s Indian handmade.”
He sells a variety of goods, including men’s belt buckles and bolo ties, women’s rings, necklaces, earrings and pendants – all ranging in price from $6 to about $700.
“We have all kinds of stones – white buffalo turquoise is a real hot one right now,” Goombi said.
The problem of counterfeit American Indian jewelry has been compounded in recent years with the rise of sites like Craigslist and eBay, said Tony Eriacho, who is the president of the Council for Indigenous Arts and Culture. He has been leading a crusade in his home state of New Mexico against phony jewelry but said it’s become a bit of an uphill battle.
“It’s a complex issue,” Eriacho said. “Why am I beating my head against the wall when nobody gives a hoot?”
Eriacho, who is Navajo and Zuni, said if people buy authentic Indian jewelry, it helps support the artists who make their livelihood by selling such pieces.
“About 75 percent of our Zuni community relies on the art to make a living,” he said. “The average artisan here at home doesn’t know why it’s so hard to make a living off selling it, when a few years ago it wasn’t a problem.”
Scott said all of the artists who will be selling their wares at the American Indian Festival have been vetted thoroughly – every artist had to be personally invited by the museum to set up a booth.
“We know the quality of the work before it gets here,” Scott said. “We want to protect our artists and not misrepresent anything we sell.”