A Study of Navajo Concha Belts, one of the most impressive and beautiful books on handcrafted Navajo silver jewelry ever written, has recently been published by Don Richards and his wife, Karen.
This is not a fluff book, it is a serious study of the development and history of the Concha Belt, one of the original and most valued styles of jewelry to Navajo people.
In this massive 8 pound, 655-page book, Don has examined the origin and the history of the Concha Belt. He traces the development of this style of jewelry across different parts of America, throughout the Southwest and chronicles the influence of the traders.
He also makes what I think is a convincing attempt to connect the concha belt to Asian influences that could have come from the Navajo and Apache overland migration across Beringia, the land bridge that existed between Alaska and Siberia. The Navajo/Athabaskan connection is examined in detail and, beyond what relates to the Concha belt, it is a fascinating study of the migration of the Navajo to the Southwest.
In dedicated chapters, he looks at the materials that were used in early belts, where those materials came from, and how their use evolved. He looks at the tools and techniques used through the ages, how to date belts, and determines their authenticity.
A chapter on maker’s marks, or hallmarks, and other ways of identifying the artist is interesting, as is his examination of various influences on the artists, from schools to traders to other art forms. He also looks at some of the most important private and museum collections to illustrate the work.
The photography in this book is exceptional. Most of it the pictures were taken by Karen, and she has an eye for bringing out the detail in the jewelry. In the “Belt Catalog” section, they have over 400 examples of concha belts! I had to be careful with my copy to keep the drool from hitting the page! There is no question that this is the largest collection of photographs of historic and contemporary concha belts in existence.
These are divided into groups beginning with the earliest examples of Navajo work and moving through their different phases. His examination of the different styles, including Hopi and Zuni belts as well as examples from Plains tribes and Muslim and Mongolian sources.
I enjoyed his chapter on the origin of some of the designs that appear in the early belts, particularly the “Thunderbird” which later became a common symbol found in Fred Harvey jewelry. There are tidbits of information throughout this book that make you wonder, “How did he think of that?” or “Where did he find that?”
I have had the opportunity to read a few Ph.D. dissertations, and I have never read as complete of an examination of any subject as A Study of Navajo Concha Belts. And I have never read one that had as many interesting stories or as many beautiful photographs.
Don and Karen should be incredibly proud of this accomplishment. It has taken years and there were times when disagreements with the publisher or not being able to find the right information or just plain overwork would have caused a lesser person to drop the project. He stuck to his guns, insisted on including much that the publisher wanted him to eliminate because of space, and continued to search for material until they finally said, “Enough!”
In the end, I think this book is a result of a back-and-forth collaboration and tug of war between Schiffer Publishing and the author that resulted in a better book and one that both can be proud of publishing. The book can be ordered from Schiffer or Amazon. Your local bookstore can also order it for you.
The reason I say you might not want to order it from us is that we only have signed copies. We bought the book, shipped it to Don, and he signed and shipped it back to us and, at eight pounds, the cost of shipping means we must sell it for about $30 more than you can get it from a book dealer. But it would be signed, and it can be ordered on our website.
I’m giving this book Five Stars. And, on behalf of every dealer of Native American Art, every Museum that has Native Collections, and every collector, I would like to say “Thank you” to Don and Karen for this amazing work.