What does frilly Victorian flatware have to do with Navajo silversmithing? More than you might imagine.
In her new book, Navajo Spoons, Cindra Kline uncovers the unlikely convergence of Victorian America's obsession for commemorative spoons, love of tourism, and the "classic period" of Navajo silversmithing.
In the late 1800s, when the railroad reached the West, America's middle class became first-time tourists, and commemorative spoons, popularized in Niagara Falls and Salem, Mass., were a favorite portable memento. Navajo silversmiths found a market for hand-hammered, "genuine, reservation Indian" spoons.
Since souvenir spoons held no particular significance for the Navajo, the crafted flatware artwork contained whimsical and playful variations on typical Navajo jewelry design. Spoon-stems decorated with horse heads, bears and cats, turquoise-inlaid iced tea spoons, stamped and scalloped bonbon spoons and thunderbird Fred Harvey company spoons are just a few in the book's hundreds of glossy photos, described in historic context.
But why the fuss over spoons, you ask? "The very love of the spoon, which is innate in all hearts, may account for the selection," concludes an 1891 edition of The Jewelers' Circular. If you doubt that you have ever experienced innate spoon-love, the charming pieces in Kline's book and their unusual history may convince you otherwise.
Navajo Spoons: Indian Artistry and the Souvenir Trade, 1880s-1940s,Cindra Kline, Museum of New Mexico Press, 2001. Softcover: $27.50. 128 pages.