Indigenous art. Indigenous perspectives.

How It Was Handed to Me: The Caesar Family Legacy


Santa Fe, NM—The Coe Center is pleased to host an unparalleled jewelry event on December 12. How It Was Handed to Me: The Caesar Family Legacy, organized by Kenneth Johnson (Muscogee/Seminole), gathers jewelers and jewelry from New Mexico, Oklahoma, and beyond into a complex story of generational and creative legacies.

Bruce Caesar

Bruce Caesar (Pawnee/Sac & Fox), Tiara, German silver, 1975, collection of the Coe Center for the Arts.

Leading the public event on December 12 is a gathering of jewelers connected either through family or apprenticeship legacies. As Johnson explains, this event is about the end project and the process of how Native jewelers pass on their skills and practice to the next generation. The jewelers in attendance on December 12th include Keri Ataumbi (Kiowa), Cody Sanderson (Diné), and his protégé Adrian Standing Elk Pinnecoose (Diné/Southern Ute), Pat Pruitt (Laguna), Kenneth Johnson and daughter and mentee Skye (Muscogee/Seminole), Samuel LaFountain (Diné/Ojibwe), Jodi Webster (Ho-Chunk/Potawatomi), Maria Samora (Taos), Emmett Navakuku (Hopi), J.J. Otero (Diné/Hopi), and Bruce Caesar (Pawnee/Sac & Fox) and his family. The artists will all be at the Coe to share their work with the public, of which some is available for sale, while visitors will be able to enjoy the exhibition of How It Was Handed to Me: The Caesar Family Legacy.

The majority of the works in How It Was Handed to Me were created by one family beginning with Julius Caesar (Pawnee, 1910–1982), who was a leader in 20th-century German silver jewelry making on the Southern Plains and established a thriving family legacy passed on to his son Bruce. Bruce has subsequently taught his own children, especially his son Adam Caesar (Pawnee/Kiowa), and they have all continued to be the top family of German silver jewelers — the makers most sought after to create dance regalia across the Plains region.

Blue Deer, Julius CaesarThis is the first exhibition to be mounted in Santa Fe that focuses on Plains jewelry created from German (or nickel) silver. German silver is an alloy of copper, zinc, and nickel and actually contains no silver – despite its name and appearance. It is widely used across Plains communities for dance regalia and for Native American Church ceremonies. Because it is lighter, brighter, and more affordable, nickel silver is favored over sterling silver — which tarnishes easily when exposed to heat and moisture. This art form, while readily collected by Native people, has not found a wide market yet among non-Native collectors – a notable exception being Bill Wiggins of Little Rock, Arkansas.

This exhibition actively connects us across time, individuals, families, and communities via these stunning pieces including detailed tiaras, long, dangling earrings, brilliant armbands or cuffs, and more. They are powerful expressions of the beauty and vibrancy that art can bring to life.

Exhibition and public programs are generously sponsored by Palace Jewelers at Manitou Galleries.


  • Thursday, Dec. 12, 2019: Opening reception with the Caesar Family, 4:00 pm–8:00 pm
  • Thursday, Jan. 17, 2020: Curator Kenneth Johnson will lead a discussion about mastering metal and authenticating jewelry
  • Thursday, Feb. 21, 2020: Pairings of jewelers will discuss community and relationships in Santa Fe metal-working community


Coe Center for the Arts is located at 1590 B Pacheco Street, Santa Fe, NM 87505

More information

  • Read “Germany Silver Jewelry of the South Plains Indians,” by Denise Neil, PhD (Delaware Tribe/Cherokee Nation) in FAAM 14, digital | print


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