FEATURE STORY – SPRING/SUMMER 2019

Baskets, Beads & Bowls

Greater Phoenix gift shops offer treasure troves of American Indian goods | By Nora Burba Trulsson

For some of us, a visit to a gift shop might be an afterthought after spending hours at a museum, attraction, or casino. There’s a perception that the gift shop might only offer granola bars, souvenir mugs, and key chains. However, if you’re in the market for American Indian jewelry, art, and crafts, the gift shop is exactly where you should head—especially at some local museums, a certain resort, and area casinos.

Photo by Foskett Creative.

The Museums

The Heard Museum in Phoenix is one of the preeminent facilities in the world that’s dedicated to the art and culture of native peoples. As such, it would probably be wrong to call the Heard Museum Shop a gift shop—at close to 6,000 square feet, it’s more of a gallery where everyone from the casual visitor to a serious collector can find museum-quality jewelry, textiles, pottery, basketry, kachinas, fetishes, fine art, and more, made by not only members of Arizona’s tribes, but also scores of others across North America.

The shop has a long history of being a gathering place for American Indian artists, who sell their pieces—often in person—directly to the shop, as well as a long history of nurturing the careers of many noted artists, such as jeweler Charles Loloma and kachina-maker Arthur Holmes Jr. None of the pieces sold in the shop is manufactured or bench-made—everything is created by hand and has a story behind it, whether it’s a $15 pair of earrings or a $120,000 painting. Estate pieces are also offered. Need something more in the realm of a souvenir? The museum’s Books & More, located across the courtyard from the shop, has you covered.

Also in Phoenix, Pueblo Grande Museum and Archaeological Park is a National Historic Landmark that preserves the remains of a prehistoric Hohokam ball court and platform mound. Inside the museum—which tells the story of this ancient town and the people who lived here—the gift store has been operated for four decades by Pueblo Grande’s auxiliary. Proceeds fund things like changing exhibits, summer reading programs for kids, speakers, and demonstrations.

The shop’s inventory is largely native-made, with an emphasis on works by members of Arizona’s tribes. Look for such pieces as Tohono O’odham basketry made of yucca fibers and devil’s claw by weavers like Mary Pablo, kachinas by Hopi Pueblo artist Andrew Sahmie, and Maricopa pottery by A. Avis Pinon. A case full of Navajo and Hopi silver jewelry, original watercolors and acrylics, and Zuni carvings made of marble and shells are other choices. Want a soundtrack to remember your museum visit? CDs by American Indian musicians are also available.

Opened in 1987, the Huhugam Ki Museum, just east of Scottsdale, chronicles the history of the surrounding Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community. The museum, whose name translates to “house of the ancestors,” is located in a traditional adobe dwelling, and its gift shop emphasizes arts & crafts made by community members as well as other Arizona tribes.
Shop for hand-sewn aprons and traditional dresses, greeting cards, yarn dolls, and baskets, as well as Navajo- and Hopi-made silver and turquoise jewelry. Best sellers are items sporting the community’s “man-in-the-maze” symbol, which can be found on mugs, bola ties, wall hangings, and clothing.

Photo by Foskett Creative.

The Casinos

The gift shop at Harrah’s Ak-Chin Casino in Maricopa recently relocated from its previous spot within the casino, and the new digs have more display space for the shop’s expanded collection of American Indian arts & crafts, including sand art, pottery, dream catchers, wall art, and Navajo and Zuni jewelry. If you’re desiring some quick education along with a purchase, the shop’s sales associates have access to a reference binder that tells the provenance of the American Indian items, plus a chart that details the origins of the turquoise used in the jewelry.

When the Fort McDowell Casino near Fountain Hills moves into its new building in 2020, the gift shop will have an expanded space. But in the meantime, the store carries a great selection of certified, American Indian-made pieces, including Navajo jewelry and horsehair pottery, as well as handcrafted burden baskets. The shop also sells beaded necklaces made by a member of the surrounding Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation. For those with a few aches and pains, look for Medicine of the People, Navajo-formulated balms, oils, and lotions based on traditional herbal remedies.

At Talking Stick Resort and Casino and its sister property, Casino Arizona, small gift shops offer sundries and logo-branded merchandise. But among the most interesting items featured at the two respective shops, located on the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community bordering Scottsdale, are several cases and displays stocked with certified, American Indian-made pieces, including jewelry crafted by members of the Navajo, Zuni, and Santo Domingo tribes; dream catchers, kachinas, rattles, greeting cards, and more.

Photo by Foskett Creative.

The Resort

The Sheraton Grand at Wild Horse Pass, a 500-room resort near Chandler, is all about celebrating the surrounding Gila River Indian Community’s heritage and culture, from the architecture and the art to the signature restaurant, Kai, which serves American Indian-inspired cuisine.
It serves to follow that the resort’s Kahagam (“Bluebird”) gift shop and Iipay (“Lifestyle”) fashion shop have native-made offerings. At the gift shop, you can find hand-painted gourds—grown at nearby tribal farms—done by Maricopa artist Amil Pedro, whose watercolors also grace the shop’s walls. Hopi kachinas and bow-and-arrow sets, Navajo horsehair pottery, and Pima pottery can also be found on the shelves.

At the boutique, two cases display Hopi and Navajo silver and turquoise jewelry, plus porcupine quill earrings made by a Cherokee tribal member. To keep the mood going, the resort’s shops and its spa also sell Indigenous, a line of toiletries developed by tribal members using traditional ingredients like sage and cedar.

Photo by Jill Richards.


Arizona Jewelry Gems

Looking for some other indigenous gifts—or value-priced jewelry? Here are two other shopping options.

Amateur geologist Kurt Cavano owns an amethyst mine on Four Peaks in the Mazatzal Mountains, 50 air miles from metro Phoenix. But an easier way to learn about Arizona’s gem and mineral riches is to visit his Four Peaks Mining Company store in Scottsdale’s OdySea in the Desert dining and entertainment center. The 2,500-square-foot store features an interactive “mini mine” that you can walk through to learn about minerals, geodes to buy and break open, and cases full of amethyst jewelry. Rock hounds will love the minerals, fossils, and crystals from all over the world, not to mention a massive malachite boulder that you can buy for your garden. Other treasures abound—amber and turquoise jewelry, gifts for kids, kaleidoscopes, and an 80-carat amethyst from the mine (sorry, that one’s not for sale!).

Step inside Tempe’s Elite Jewelry & Loan and you will discover an elegant shop with cases that are filled with fine jewelry, watches, hollowware, and American Indian jewelry designed to catch the eye of a serious collector. The 3,600-square-foot shop—which offers a mix of pre-owned and wholesale-priced new pieces—is run by a family with three generations of experience in the jewelry industry. A recent visit revealed pre-owned Rolex, Tag Heuer, and Panerai watches; vintage Tiffany silver hollowware; contemporary David Yurman designs; and Mikimoto pearls—all priced 50% to 70% less than at traditional jewelry stores. There’s also a large bridal selection, and custom design and repair are offered.