COLLECTING TIPS... written by Susan Pourian

Tips on Collecting and Finding Native American Arts

  1. Become Educated:
  1. Read books on craft areas you are interested in. Learning more about American Indian arts and crafts is often one of the most enjoyable parts of collecting and results in a strong foundation from which you can begin to buy with more confidence. You may also find as you learn more, your areas of interest may change, with each discovery leading you to another! You may not feel the learning process, but it will become evident when you realize you have the knowledge and confidence when making your purchase.
  2. Ask Questions! Talk to people you are purchasing from/considering purchasing from. Established and knowledgeable dealers and artists are a great source of information and enjoy sharing it. They can direct you to publications and can point out what to look for when purchasing. Many dealers, artists and museums also offer rewarding opportunities through exhibits, presentations and demonstrations -- take advantage of these as you see them made available.
  3. Explore trade magazines, publications, and organizations. The Indian Arts and Crafts Association has informational brochures on many craft areas that give a brief history and explanation of the craft, the origins and traditions and tips on what to look for when buying. Many of its members can provide these to you as well. Currently available are brochures on: Basketry, Beadwork, Eskimo Art of Alaska, Fetishes, Heishi, Jewelry, Kachinas, Navajo Weaving, Pueblo Pottery, and Sandpaintings. For your free brochure on the craft area(s) of interest, check with your local dealer or send the request with a self-addressed stamped envelope to IACA, 122 La Veta NE, Albuquerque, NM, 87108.

  1. Purchase from Reputable Businesses and Artists:
  1. Purchase from established dealers and IACA members. Reputable businesses will represent their merchandise accurately and can assure you of your purchase.
  2. Ask for a certificate of authenticity or a written record on a business card, letterhead or receipt for your purchase. The information should include the item description, materials used tribal affiliation of the artist and artist name, when possible.
  3. Avoid stores with "perpetual" sales or unethical discounting offers. Prices are often inflated and then a flat discount is offered that results in paying close to or sometimes more than a fair retail price.
  4. If a deal seems too good to be true, beware!
  5. Ask questions -- a knowledgeable and helpful staff is a good sign of a reputable business. They can help explain materials and techniques used and guide you on what to look for. When an answer is not known, they have numerous resources and will make the effort to find out. One of the most exciting things about collecting is that the learning process continues for everyone -- for both the novice and the aficionados, as well as the artists and dealers in the business.
  1. Keep Records

It is extremely helpful (and very interesting over time!) to keep your receipts and certificates together for the purchases you make. This can be done by simply clipping the receipts and certificates together and placing them in a box or envelope. Many collectors may include a photo and notes or additional information on the artist. Some may even have a journal or album for details, and include updated appraisals for their collection. Having the item description, where and when it was purchased and the purchase price is most important and each person can use the method they are comfortable with. Keeping records:

  1. is a good record of history
  2. is helpful if there is a problem or concern with an item, its condition or care
  3. helps in time of "the failing memory"!
  4. is good information for family members who may some day acquire the item(s)
  5. is good for insurance purposes
  6. you never know when the emerging artist you purchased a piece by becomes the next highly collectable, award-winning artist!
  1. If you feel an item has been misrepresented, allow the person or shop it was purchased from the opportunity to clarify the information -- this can clear any misunderstandings.
  1. Know the Law that Protects You and American Indian Artists. The Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990, PL 101-644, is a truth in advertising law in that it mandates honest representation of American Indian arts and crafts and sets forth the definitions of such. For a copy of the law, write or call the Indian Arts and Crafts Board, Department of the Interior,MS-4004-MIB, 1849 C Street, NW, Washington, DC 20240, (202) 208-3773. Written complaints concerning misrepresentation of Indian arts and crafts can be addressed to them also.


  1. What are the sources for American Indian Art? Isn't it better to purchase directly from the artist?
    Answer: There are different ways of acquiring American Indian arts and crafts -- buying from the artist, shops/galleries and from special shows/ceremonials. Everyone will collect differently -- some only with dealers and some who may add pieces purchased directly from artists. The "best" way overall to collect, is to purchase what you like, what fits your budget and to be assured of what you are purchasing. Many artists establish retail prices for their work, and offer dealers a re-sale discount, so the prices you would pay are often the same. While there is a small artist minority who can make their living by selling their work directly, the success of the majority of artists depends on strong relationships with representatives and galleries who market and promote their work.
  2. Where do Indian artists get ie., lapis? That's not traditional is it?
    Answer: Today artists are using many materials that may or may not be indigenous to their area. Historically, many materials such as shells were traded among tribes. With the arrival of Europeans, trade for other materials such as beads, silver, and gold began. All art evolves, and the term "traditional" may have different interpretations at different periods in history. From the beginning of time, all peoples have borrowed from eachother and over time, traditions have evolved. Today many artists seek out a variety of materials to achieve their expression of art, most often made available by gem/supply stores or through traders who assist in being a source for artists. The evolution of the arts is one of the exciting aspects of buying American Indian arts and crafts.
  3. Which is the best piece of i.e., pottery I should buy? Which i.e., kachina is my best investment?
    Answer: When you are buying American Indian arts and crafts you are buying a piece of art -- your personal taste and budget will guide you to the right choice. We recommend buying first and foremost because you like a piece. There is good quality work being done today by many artists, in different styles and price ranges. Decide on the style of work you like -- subtle detail or very fine detail; traditional, contemporary or somewhere in between. Some people may collect work by certain artists or artist families, some may collect themes or want particular tribal areas, some may want "name" artists and others enjoy collecting emerging artists works -- and some may collect one or two pieces while still others collect a bit of everything! Collecting and buying Indian arts and crafts is very personal and is exciting for many different reasons. For those who choose to invest in the grace and beauty of an object of art, collecting authentic American Indian arts and crafts will continue to be a rewarding experience.