Page 10 - IACA Journal, Spring 2012

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My husband, Ron, and I pur-
chased Indian Village in Palo
Alto, California in 1991.
Growing up in Oklahoma, we
had developed an appreciation
of American Indian culture and
art. However, we had much to
learn about selecting, purchas-
ing and selling authentic Native
Art. We were fortunate to at-
tend our first IACA market in
October of 1991 where we met
many wonderful people who
were willing to share their ex-
pertise. One of those people was
Joe Douthitt., the founder of
Towayalayne Trading. Joe was extremely generous with both his time and knowledge.
He talked to us about turquoise and the importance of natural stones. He described
the difficult and delicate process of making the various styles of Native American jew-
elry. He talked to us about the artists from various tribes, their creativity and their
dedication to their craft. The most important thing he communicated to us was his
passion for teaching the public about authenticity and the beauty of American Indian
Art. Thank you, Joe!
Beth Hale
Joe Douthitt, IACA president in 1992 and board member for 12 years, found
himself in the business of selling Indian jewelry back in the late 1960s. His plan
had been to teach for a while on the Navajo reservation in Ft. Defiance, Arizona,
but while teaching remained his primary occupation for many years, life moved
him in the direction of trading.
At first, Navajo kids would come to school with a ring or a bracelet that Mom
or Dad made and Joe would buy it for a few dollars to give to friends and relatives
in Tucson. Acquaintances of these friends and relations expanded his market and
people began paying for the jewelry. He formalized this avocation after his in-
terest, his reputation, and the demand for jewelry grew. When Mark Bahti, who
had recently taken over Bahti Indian Arts in Tucson, bought Joe’s entire stock in
about 1973, Joe founded Towayalayne Trading, a wholesale enterprise that has
been in business ever since.
Although Joe’s interest blossomed in Navajoland, where he studied silversmithing
along with some of his students and their relatives, he found it difficult doing
business on the 27,000+-square mile Navajo reservation. “You had to drive all
over to find the artists,” he recalls. He branched out to Zuni, where the artists all
lived in one place. Besides convenience, he discovered that “in terms of variety,
numbers of artists, and craftsmanship, it was all there.” He continues today to
work with jewelers from both tribal communities, meeting artists monthly in
Flagstaff and Gallup now, as well as visiting Zuni.
As a trader and IACA member, Joe began to notice during the late 1970s that
inauthentic pieces were beginning to appear for sale. His first experience was with
a bracelet that he bought from a Native woman, assuming she had made it. He
grew suspicious when he saw several more just like it. When he did some
sleuthing, he discovered that the silver piece was inlaid with “block” (plastic),
which had been purchased in Gallup. He switched it out for an authentic piece
and bought up all the plastic material he could find.
That incident began a passionate effort on Joe’s part to educate the buying pub-
lic—collector, wholesaler, or retailer—about how to avoid fakes and frauds. He
developed a presentation that includes a “fraud kit.” It holds real and fake pieces
that demonstrate the difficulty of recognizing knock-offs. “I can’t make people
into experts,” he declares, “but at least I can make them suspicious.” Joe even
participated—voice changed, face blurred—in some “undercover operations,”
one of which was shown on Dateline. Today, he is training National Park Service
employees, using the same kit.
While he remains vigilant, Joe says that the problem of fakes, particularly online,
has declined somewhat since the 1990s. Still, he suggests that buyers stay alert,
particularly at swap meets, flea markets, and places where real and fraudulent
pieces are mixed together. Douthitt, the voice of experience, learned to appreciate
the real thing from a lifetime in the business. “I’ve always been a one-horse op-
eration,” he observes, “and I’m the horse.”
T o w a y a l a n e T r a d i n g C o m p a n y
J o e D o u t h i t t
b y A n n i e O ’ B r i e n
Joe Douthitt developed his own guidelines for protecting authenticity:
1. Ask: Who made it?
2. Ask: How it is made?
3. Ask: What it is made of?
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