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Janet Smith-Peterson

The Sundance Gallery

Over 30 years ago, Janet Smith-Peterson opened a small boutique in Naperville to showcase her love for Native American Art and to promote Native artists. Today, The Sundance Gallery still stays true to those intentions. Janet’s story begins with a trip to Arizona University to visit her brother, and it was there, visiting the Southwest when she had her “a-ha!” moment.

Janet has built relationships and traveled to reservations around the country to purchase authentic Indian artifacts. From pottery to carvings to jewelry, Janet has devoted her life to educate, promote and preserve Native American arts. We sounded off with this down-to-earth buyer on building her business with Native artisans and spreading harmonious energy. Janet also divulges her expert tips in a handy buying guide—so you can keep your eye out and find the best authentic Native American pieces.

G&F SPOTLIGHT_Janet Smith Peterson The Sundance Gallery Quote
Besides the mesmerizing aesthetics of Native American art, what is it that you truly love about the arts and jewelry?
Historically items were not made as art, but were made to be used, worn and shared. This concept is inspirational and when the items are placed in their historical context they tell a story of spirit and survival.  When I see a piece of Native American art, I want to know its story.

What’s one thing you’ve always remembered from your first trip out west and to reservations?
My first buying trip in 1985 was so eye opening and I was so naive. I soon learned that doing business with Native people means doing business with friends and that an appointment can turn into a meal, a hike, a drive or a lesson oral history from the family elder that could last all afternoon! Therein lies the blessing.

And how do you try to embody and apply Native culture in your day-to-day life?
Harmony and balance. We are all connected, all one family and I have learned that cooperation rather than competition is better for the world. Give of yourself and you will be rewarded generously.

A good rule is that if it seems too good to be true, it is probably fake. Janet explains that buying and collecting Native American arts and jewelry begins with your eye and your heart—because often times the pieces are handmade and one-of-a-kind, so you may never see it again. Hinging on education, reputation and keeping detailed records, follow along below as Janet highlights tips on how to be successful when buying pieces.

  1. Get Educated. Learn as much as you can about the arts you love. Read books, ask questions and visit museums. This will help you develop a discerning eye for authenticity and quality. 
  2. Purchase from Reputable Businesses and Artists. While a small number of artists sell directly to collectors exclusively, much of their success depends on the strong relationships with representatives and galleries who market and promote their work. Ask for as much information as possible and if they hesitate to guarantee authenticity, best to walk away. Another tip is to buy the best you can afford. As you become more seasoned in collecting you will be glad you bought one great piece rather than numerous average pieces that you no longer love. 
  3. Keep Good Records of Your Purchases. In addition to being fun, it helps to track the careers of your artists and the value of your investments. Also, your family will thank you if they ever have to disperse your collection.

G&F SPOTLIGHT_Janet Smith Peterson The Sundance Gallery Guide

Get the Look: A. NAVAJO TWO GREY HILLS RUG (see similar weavings here), $850: “This hand woven rug comes from the Two Grey Hills area of the Navajo reservation and is woven with the natural colors of the sheep.” // B. LARGE TURQUOISE BOLO TIE, $900 // C. NAVAJO CEREMONIAL BASKET (see similar baskets here), $210: “This basket is viewed as a way for Navajo people to chart their lives. The design serves as a pathway and allows the Medicine Man to easily locate you in the darkness.” // D. CARVED PENDANT BY MYRON PANTEAH, $550 // E. LAKOTA BEADED PIPE BAG BY ANTON LEBEAU, not for sale: “The Native peoples of the northern plains use pipes to pray to the Creator. The sacred objects are stored in beautiful bags that are often made of smoked hide and beaded with beautiful designs.” // F. RAM FETISH PIN (see fetishes here) $80: “Fetishes are carvings of animals that are meant to both acknowledge the animal as a helper and request favors from them.” // G. Hopi Wicker Basket(see similar baskets here), $275

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G&F SPOTLIGHT_Janet Smith Peterson Click-Thru