Kirk Smith is a renowned Navajo silversmith whose work we've been buying since 1994. We've recently begun buying his pieces again on a selective basis as he seems to be experiencing a personal artistic renaissance. This piece, like others we've acquired lately had the inspiration and immediacy of the original pieces we bought from him in the mid-90's.
This is a large showpiece concha belt (not a belt-loop concha belt). It consists of the buckle and eleven conchas (five large rectangles and six butterflies). The conchas are all leather-backed. The leather backing on the conchas is of practical significance on two counts: 1) the layer of leather between the concha and the wearer eliminates any possibility of discomfort from pointed or angular edges; 2) the leather backing protects the clothing from silver tarnish marks which might result if the leather did not form an interstitial layer. Authentic, traditional concha belts have loops of copper (or sometimes silver) soldered to the back of the concha which allows the concha to be strung on belt leather. This belt has copper loops on back; two per concha to assure that they remain properly aligned on the belt.
The buckle of this belt is a generally rectangular shape with its corners defined by what John Adair called "shallow s-shaped figures" in his 1944 book The Navajo and Pueblo Silversmiths (University of Oklahoma Press). Adair's reference to this pattern and inclusion of an illustrative photograph in his book (Plate 2E, 1989 paperback edition) amply speaks for the traditional design of this piece. Besides these "s-shaped figures" done in repoussé, Kirk has done impeccably precise stampwork, most notably around the cut-out center where the belt leather passes through and is held in place by the tongue. The outside dimensions of the buckle are 3 3/4" x 2 3/4". Set in the buckle are two large oval cabochons and four smaller oval cabochons.
The large rectangular conchas are also of an archetypal traditional design (1920's and later because of all the stone sets and butterflies) both because of their classic scalloped edges and their repoussé (domed) rectangular centers. Again, the stampwork is intricate and well-executed. Each large concha has a large oval cabochon of turquoise set in its center and twelve smaller oval cabochons set around the periphery of the concha. The outside dimensions of these rectangular conchas are 3" x 2 5/8" and each is mounted on a round-cornered leather backing which measures 3 1/8" x 2 3/4".
The butterflies interspersed between the rectangular conchas are once again of a traditional design and what Adair calls "...an hourglass, with indentation[s] at the top and at the bottom...." Adair also identifies these as the last major stylistic addition to Navajo concha belts as of his writing of the book (field work finished in 1938, text completed in 1940, published in 1944). So, again, we see Kirk Smith drawing on verifiable traditional design in this aspect of the piece. The butterflies have outside dimensions of 2 5/8" x 1 3/4" and each sports a large oval cabochon in the center and six smaller cabochons; three each along the top and bottom edges.
The turquoise set in this belt is natural, untreated Chineses turquoise with richly spiderwebbed matrix and there is excellent continuity of color to the set of stones across the full range of the belt. The large oval cabochons are set in straight-edged bezels, while the smaller ovals are set in serrated bezels.
The conchas are strung on black cowhide with a matte finish which measures 1" in width. The length of this belt strip is 47". In terms of sizing of this belt, we've made careful measurements to accurately portray the fit of this belt. Without showing all the calculations, the bottom line on this belt is that you need a waist size of 34" or larger to wear this belt properly (without removing any conchas). A 34-inch waist allows for 1/4" spacing between each of the conchas and 1/2" between the buckle and the first concha to left and right of it. But bear in mind that such a belt is worn over a long, or untucked, garment and that would have implications for the sizing. More importantly, in the consumer market, such belts are most often bought by women and often worn "at the hips" and not at the waistline. Still and all, 34" is the minimum size this should be adjusted to so that the conchas have some spread between them to show their full richness collectively and individually. It could be adjusted to a much larger size while remaining wholly visually rich with conchas. Once the conchas and butterflies are re-positioned to be evenly spaced around the waist, then hole(s) can be punched in the strip. Detailed instructions for adjusting the size and for care of the belt over time are included with each belt we sell. It is not a difficult process to perfectly adjust this to one's specific size.
Kirk Smith now uses the hallmark "Kirk Smith"in script and this bears his hallmark and is stamped "Sterling" under his name.
Stones: (13) oval cabochons 1/2" x 3/8"; (100) oval cabochons 5/16" x 1/4"
Buckle: 3 5/8" x 2 3/4"
Rectangular conchas: (5) 3" x 2 5/8"
Butterfly Conchas: (6) 2 5/8" x 1 3/4"
Fits waist size 34" to 44"