Native American jewelry merchants bought and sold tens of thousands of dollars in authentic handmade items this weekend at the fall wholesale market in Mesa.
The Indian Arts and Crafts Association hosted its annual Fall Wholesale Market Friday and Saturday at the Mesa Convention Center, featuring Native American artists and wholesale businesses displaying handcrafted American Indian artifacts.
“People don’t realize the volume of sales that come from here,” said Gail Chehak, the association’s executive director.
“People come in and may spend $10,000 to $50,000,” she said.
About 30 dealers and artists set up temporary glass display cases and counters in the convention center. A single buyer might represent more than a dozen regional outlets, Chehak said.
Artists, retailers, wholesalers, museums and collectors gathered to build relationships and purchase various artifacts. Booths featured sterling silver and turquoise jewelry, along with high quality leatherwork, beadwork, weavings and paintings.
Nancy Kiernan, of the wholesale business Kiernan Enterprises, said the IACA does a good job of educating the buyers on the artifacts being presented.
“I think what has stayed consistent (with the IACA) is the rigor of authenticity,” Kiernan said. “It is a great reassurance to people walking through the door.”
Michael Garcia, who’s in his fifth year as president of the group, said the main goal of the organization is to provide confidence to buyers in knowing the artifacts are authentic, handmade jewelry.
“The good thing about this organization is we really stress authenticity, because there’s just too much fraud,” he said.
According to Chehak, the organization has been working “to preserve, protect and promote handmade Native American arts and crafts.”
She said inspectors pay close attention to jewelry presented to ensure its authenticity. The IACA also has an ethics committee to aid in determining if the artifacts are Native American, she said.
“We have terms and conditions that are very specific on what vendors can sell,” Chehak said.
All items presented at the wholesale market must be Native American, according to IACA guidelines. It costs $215 per year to be a wholesale/retail member of the IACA. Members benefit by advertising their association with the IACA, because buyers have confidence in the authenticity of the artifacts they are selling.
“It has increased my business,” said Patrick Harrington of Harrington Trading. “This just gives me a little more exposure to other people.”
Harrington said he has seen a decline in the number of consumers, compared with when he started the business during the Native American jewelry boom in the 1970s. The IACA helps greatly by having two annual wholesale shows, usually in Albuquerque, New Mexico and another in Mesa, he said.
Deanna Olson, whose Silver Sun wholesale business specializes in high-grade natural turquoise, has been a member of the IACA for 30 years. The IACA began in 1974.
“It’s the best hope to preserve the market,” Olson said.
Olson’s Silver Sun business features handmade high-quality jewelry with turquoise stones mined in Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico and Colorado, she said.
The IACA now has more than 1,200 artists on its mailing list, Garcia said, and 700 members worldwide.
“We’re doing a really strong advertising campaign for native peoples,” Garcia said. “Also right now, we’re trying to pursue more opportunities for artists, like retail shows.”
“I think it has a lot to do with timing,” he said. “We’re trying to strike while the iron’s hot.”