An Interview with Frank Hill

Jan.s: Frank, when did your interest in the indigenous arts of the Americas begin?

Frank: My parents, JD and Grace came to Arizona in the 1930's and worked for the Santa Fe railroad along the mainline of the Santa Fe in Winslow and Holbrook, Arizona bordering the Navajo and Hopi reservations. So I grew up with Navajo weavings and jewelry in our house.  


They had moved to Glendale, Arizona by the time my brother Fred and I were born, but we had a pass to ride the Santa Fe and would visit Winslow, the Grand Canyon, and on to see my aunt Inez in Albuquerque.  

They knew old cowboys and Navajos and  western characters.  From the time I was a kid, I've always loved the romance and history of the southwestern part of this country.  

Starting in my early 20's, influenced by the environmentalists and the writer Ed Abbey, I began hiking, backpacking and mountain climbing as a hobby and have rarely left Arizona and New Mexico in my time.  

In my youth I would rather go on a week's backpacking trip in the Grand Canyon and ended up never getting much of anywhere else. I just don't feel right without canyons, mesas and mountains and that big horizon and light that you get in this area. 

 Frank & Amy Hill...Grand Canyon 2011

In the late 1970's I was doing a reggae radio show in Phoenix on the NPR affiliate, KJZZ, which, because it was heard throughout the state of Arizona, meant I had a lot of Native American listeners, who related to the message and philosophy of that music.  

A group of Hopi invited me to Hopiland to help with having reggae concerts there.  On one of my first visits they invited me to the Kachina dance ceremonies.  Watching that happen in the plaza, watching those dancers in the plazas of the ancient Hopi villages was the most powerful spiritual experience I had ever had.  

My Hopi friend took me to see her father, who was a village elder, and I started buying Kachina dolls from him.  Remembering the Navajo weavings and objects I had grown up with, I realized I preferred old things.
For me, there is just a charm and soul in these antique pieces that speaks to me. 

Jan.s: Is there a particular piece or a collection that is of interest?

Pin Photo‏

Frank: For the last few years I have specialized in early Navajo and Pueblo jewelry, made before 1930. Jewelry, to the Navajos, was more than personal adornment, but part of their philosophy of  "Walking in Beauty" and being in harmony with the cosmos. 

Navajo Bracelets, 1900-1920

I like to think about when these pieces were made, horseback was the main form of transportation on the Navajo reservation, and silversmiths would make these incredible pieces of jewelry with a few simple tools, and primitive methods. 

Jan.s: You are based in New Mexico...I'd love you to share with us something about the other work  in your collection.

Photo from "Rugan, Hopi Katsina, circa 1910‏

Frank: I specialize in  Hopi (who are in Arizona), Navajo (who are in both AZ and NM) and Zuni and art of the Rio Grande pueblos, which are in New Mexico. Also photographs and paintings by Native and Western artists.   

I also deal in Mexican and Guatemalan folk art.  I collect and deal in masks from Mexico, Guatemala, Africa and Asia. 

Guadalupe, Retablo, Mexico, circa 1890

All photos copyright & courtesy of: Frank Hill 2011

Here is my website:

 Tigre Mask, Guatemala, circa 1880


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