Jon Bonnell holds a heavy silver necklace decorated with squash blossom designs and oval stones that appear to be turquoise. It looks like authentic Navajo-made jewelry, but the Scottsdale gallery owner points out telltale signs that the necklace is not made with genuine stones and was not made by American Indians.
“This is real silver,” he says, turning the necklace over in his hand to reveal ornate patterns of red, white and green stones on the necklace’s back side. “But it’s made in Taiwan . . . everything on this necklace is plastic.”
Looking under a jeweler’s loop, “the plastic (looks) a little like the surface of an orange peel,” he says.
Bonnell is the owner of The White Hogan Gallery in Scottsdale, which specializes in genuine American Indian art. His parents founded the gallery in Flagstaff 60 years ago this May.
Bonnell will provide Indian art evaluations at the Indian Art Roadshow at the Indian Artists of America Show this weekend. He can tell you whether jewelry is fake and estimate the value of the piece.
Five years ago, just nine people brought their art and artifacts to Bonnell when the Indian Art Roadshow began. With the growing popularity of television shows such as PBS’ “Antiques Roadshow,” hundreds of people flooded the show last year, waiting in line for hours. “I did appraisals for 273 people in two days,” Bonnell says.
Organizers are asking $20 per customer this year for the Roadshow and limiting patrons to three pieces each.
Fake jewelry is made primarily in Asia and Mexico. In some cases, it is constructed with the real materials but sold as Indian art by dealers.
When buying so-called “Indian-made” art, don’t be afraid to ask questions of the dealer or trader, Bonnell says. Ask for a certificate of authenticity. Bonnell suggests buying from dealers or galleries with established reputations.
This is the 10th annual show for the Arizona Indian Artists Alliance, a group founded 10 years ago by Don Owen of Tubac. Owen has spent 45 years dealing in Indian art and helped found the Santa Fe Indian Market in New Mexico more than 30 years ago.
Other elements of the show include a benefit auction at 3 p.m. today supporting the alliance and its education programs, and a Contemporary Indian Fashion Show and Sale at 3 p.m. Sunday.