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Book About Native American Curio Trade Wins Publication Award

A book about the Native American curio trade recently won the first Thaw Publication Award for Excellence in Scholarship on Native North American Art History
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Jonathan Batkin, author of The Native American Curio Trade in New Mexico, was recently awarded the first Thaw Publication Award for Excellence in Scholarship on Native North American Art History.

“My purpose in writing it was not only to explain the deep collaboration between artists, dealers, and collectors that has driven the market for Native American arts for generations, but to bring to light the identities of artists whose careers were launched while working in curio shops,” Batkin said in a release. “Many survived the Great Depression by learning silversmithing and other crafts, only to enjoy successful careers as artists and educators after World War II. That so many people shared their stories with me was a gift I needed to share.”

The book tells the story of the controversial curio trade, when Pueblo and Navajo artisans collaborated with non-Natives to invent artifacts to satisfy the demand for Indian goods. Jewelry was manufactured with help from machines and sold in a variety of retail spaces.

“Many young men who learned silversmithing in curio shops went on to have celebrated careers as jewelers,” reads an online description of the book.

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The 317 page hardcover includes an appendix of more than 200 silversmiths who worked in Albuquerque and Santa Fe and was created in conjunction with an exhibit titled From the Railroad to Route 66: The Native American Curio Trade in New Mexico, which was shown at the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian from May 2008 through April 2009.

Batkin has been the director of the museum since 1990, and was awarded a $10,000 prize for the Thaw Publication Award, which was established by the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown, New York.

“This book breaks new ground in the study of intercultural commerce and art in the American southwest,” said prize committee member Janet Berlo in the release. “Batkin’s beautifully written study of Navajo and Pueblo silversmiths in New Mexico elucidates an art form in which both Native silversmiths and white traders played complex roles. Mechanization and hand-craftsmanship both played a part, as did aggressive marketing of both the products and the makers.”

In this video, Jonathan Batkin presides over a ceremony honoring Marti Struever, an American Indian art dealer: