Peter Nelson, Handmade Navajo Jewelry


Peter Nelson is an award winning Navajo artist. He recently took (3) First Place Ribbons at the Tribal Gathering in Gallup (2017).  He took Second Place at 2016 Santa Fe Indian Market in Concho Belts.  This is the first time he had bothered to enter in 16 years (last time he won also).

Scroll down to see a small part of our current inventory (Not posted are a large quantity of earrings, pendants, and bracelets). His work is instantly recognizable and in considerable demand. 

Peter is a member of the last generation to be born and raised on the Navajo Reservation in an earth and stick hogan sans both electricity and water.  As did many Navajo's, at that time, his father worked for the railroad and traveled frequently. When Peter's mother went into labor, her husband was away and she was taken to the hospital by one of her husband's brothers. The hospital placed Peter's uncle's last name on the birth certificate. At that time Navajo culture was still a predominately matrilineal so Peter's last name should have been Nez from his mother. All his siblings are known by Nez. The complete name he now uses is Peter Nez Nelson.  His mother, Jeanette Nez, is a weaver who still sells a few pieces a year. 

Born in 1954, he is the eldest of ten children. He attended various BIA boarding schools in Leupp, Dilkon, and Greasewood. The instructors were a mix of Native and Anglo. Peter doesn't tend to complain about much but he has told me of being punished for speaking Dine, his native language and what was spoken in his home. I was (naively) shocked to learn this was still happening within my lifetime.

His talent was recognized at an early age and he was selected and sent to Santa Fe to attend the IAIA (Institute of American Indian Arts.)  It was at IAIA that Peter received formal training from some of the best known Native artists of the time, including Allen Houser (1914 - 1994) and Otellie Loloma (1922 - 1993). He learned  jewelry (metal & stonework), painting, sculpture, and drawing. Ultimately his calling was found in jewelry although he still does an occasional painting.

Upon leaving school he took a job fabricating jewelry and doing repairs for a high end (non-native) jewelry store in Scottsdale. He credits his time at this store as providing invaluable training in working with gold and platinum. Simultaneously he was selling at weekend swap meets and moving piece work to a number of stores specializing in Native American work. On the side, he competed in Indian rodeos but, after breaking many bones on multiple occasions, he "hung up his spurs." 

Peter knew he had the talent and motivation to move beyond shop work so he took the financial gamble and set out on his own in 1982.

As far back as the 1970's, Peter has been a recognized presence on the Native American jewelry scene. In the 1990's and early 2000's, whenever he entered competitions, he won many awards including some Best of Show and 1st place ribbons variously for belts, bolos, buckles, and/or necklaces at Santa Fe Indian Market, Heard, and Museum of Northern Arizona. As mentioned above, until 2016, the last juried show he entered was in 2000. Peter's designs tend to evolve a bit about every seven or eight years. While his overall visibility has dropped some since he stopped competing the distinct originality and quality of his work remains. 

Peter has done private commissions for museums and individuals but is satisfied attending a couple of shows a year and working through a few re-sellers of which I am pleased to be one. He has made a point of keeping his work priced in a range that can be afforded by more than just a few people.

Peter continues to live in Arizona near the Reservation.  Until recently he kept horses on his ranch property but, due to the drought, has returned them to his parents house on the Rez.  He is married to Shirley George and is the father of three daughters,  two grandsons, and one granddaughter.  He and Shirley go to the Rez frequently to gather with the extended family and help with the ranch duties.

He is fond of family, plain food, the Arizona Cardinals, Las Vegas, and a good laugh. His Stetson is such a hallmark that it is difficult to recognize him without it.

Our first meeting was pretty tenuous to say the least and, retrospectively, very funny.  We quickly found we share a similar sense of humor and I'm proud to consider him a good friend. If you want Peter to make you something custom, let me know, he is very accommodating.  I hope you enjoy his work as much as I do.

All information is derived from personal interaction with the Peter. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED


Peter's designs, and those of several other award winning artists, are now being imitated by an online store that clearly thinks nothing of "borrowing" designs with no acknowledgement or compensation.  Peter always signs his work, look for his name; wherever you may ultimately choose to buy his work, please don't buy a knock-off - you won't save much money and you will get an inferior piece.