What does it mean to be the “first” to do something? It takes the ability to put your ego on the line and to take a chance with the confidence that it will work out.
Zuni Silversmith Dan Simplicio was one of those people. He lived a short life of 52 years, passing away in 1969. He was the first to use coral in its natural form, the first to set rough cut coral in rings and he introduced the common use of leaf work in Zuni jewelry.
Family members claim that his inspiration for the leaves in his jewelry came from his exposure to classic European sculpture when he was in Europe during World War II.
As a young man he worked for one of the most famous Zuni Indian traders, C.G. Wallace, as a silversmith. During this time, he honed his silversmithing skills and his work was collected by Wallace. When Wallace’s decided to divest himself of his jewelry collection in 1975, he donated 500 pieces to the Heard Museum and sold the remainder in an exciting auction through Sotheby’s at a hotel in Phoenix. The room was packed, this was before internet sales of course! Over 50 pieces of Dan Simplicio’s jewelry were sold at the auction, all bringing high prices.
Dan’s work made with a combination of coral and turquoise is widely collected and admired. Many silversmiths, both Zuni and Navajo, have copied and used his work as an inspiration, but few have matched his design and silversmithing ability.
Today, we are offering a beautiful necklace and earring set with deep red Mediterranean coral and natural Kingman nugget turquoise that was made in the 1960’s. His classic silver leaves accent the work and the stamped silver drops put the final touch on this great set by Dan Simplicio.
I think it is pretty amazing that a piece of jewelry fashioned over 50 years ago, so easily holds its own with modern Indian jewelry. That is a testament to the ability and workmanship of the artist.
This is a great example of work by one of the most important Indian silversmiths in modern history. It is a piece that anyone interested in the history of Zuni or Native American jewelry, and who loves great work, should consider.