Atsidi Sani – First Navajo Silversmith

Posted: Sat, Sep 12th 2015, 00:20 | Updated: Tue, Oct 10th 2017, 04:43

atsidi sani

 

Atsidi Sani is one of the most popular names in American jewelry history. While not much is known about Sani, historians and jewelry experts, who have researched about blacksmithing and silversmithing amongst the Indians have mentioned his name in more than one place. Most of the things known about Atsidi Sani are based on what people from his community had to say about him.

Atsidi Sani was probably born in circa 1830 and lived till the ripe age of about 90. He died in circa 1918. He was born near Canyon de Chelly, in present-day Arizona and belonged to the Dibelizhini (Black Sheep) clan of the Navajos. While not much is known about his parents, it can be safely assumed that they like most typical Navajo people were involved in sheep rearing and farming.

 

atsidi sani cross necklace

 

atsidi sanihorse necklace

 

According to various reports, this famous Navajo silversmith was known by several names. In fact Atsidi Sani translates to Old Smith in English. The Mexicans called him Herrero or the “Iron Worker”. He was also known as Delgadito or Little Thin, Herrero Delgadi, the Thin Smith and Beshil theeni or the Metal Worker or Knife Maker.

 

atsidi sani necklace

 

AtsidiSani learnt ironwork as a young boy from a Mexican by the name of NakaiTsosi or the Thin Mexican, approximately in between 1850 and 1953. He utilized his initial learning in a commercial capacity to make bridles, something that the Navajos had to buy from the Mexican ironworkers previously. After Sani learnt the art of making bridles, the fellow Navajos were able to buy them from a local source.

 

atsidi sani hand cuff

 

atsidi sani hand cuff

 

It took him approximately another 20 years to move to silversmithing. According to Grey Moustache, the grand-nephew of the silversmith, Sani started working with silver only after returning from Fort Sumner. 

Atsidi Sani’s Silversmithing Works

Apart from working with iron and making bridles, Atsidi Sani’s silversmithing primarily consisted of making conchas, bracelets, and other jewelry pieces. In those days there wasn’t profit in jewelry making, especially for the Navajos due to which Sani and others like him stuck to blacksmithing. Jewelry making and silversmithing became popular only after the Navajo-American war where the former were defeated and were force-marched to Bosque Redondo in 1863.

 

atsidi sani hand cuff

 

 

Atsid Sani’s most important contribution was that he passed on his knowledge to others within his community. His first students were probably his four sons. He was also a paid teacher and taught many the art of silversmithing. One of his most successful students was his younger brother who was called Slender Maker of Silver. He innovatively used silver and stone to create several interesting artworks in between 1880s and 1890s.

atsidi sani necklace

 

atsidi sani ring

It is believed that Sani became blind at a later stage of life, after which he probably did not continue making bridles or jewelry.

REFERENCES

https://iiamericas.org/a-history-of-southwestern-silversmithing/

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designer jewelryjewelry designerAtsidi SaniFirst Navajo Silversmith

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