Yazzie JOHNSON (b. 1946, Winslow, Ariz.) and Gail BIRD (b. 1949, Oakland, Calif.) may doubtless be reckoned among the finest and most innovative jewelers working today. Of Navajo and Pueblo origin, respectively, Johnson and Bird were childhood friends and have been making jewelry together for over four decades. Their work is a mélange of influences past and present, the product of an internal genius powerfully shaped by innumerable visits to prehistoric Southwestern petroglyph and pictograph sites. The late Martha Struever (2007) describes the pair thus: "The jewelry they produce is distinct from the work of other American Indian jewelers. Their pieces are frequently dramatic and always wearable. By seeking out stones of unusual color and surface pattern or pearls of various shapes and hues, then juxtaposing them in original compositions, they have created a unique style. ... Gail and Yazzie have developed a body of work that is both distinctly their own and continuously evolving."
By their beautiful command of form, unique invocation of the past, use of unconventional stones, and general unorthodoxy, Johnson and Bird have firmly established themselves within the contemporary canon while retaining an important place in Native art. The jewelry of Johnson and Bird has been exhibited in numberless domestic and international shows and is featured in the permanent collections of such institutions as the Museum of Arts and Design, Smithsonian Institution, British Museum, and the National Museum in Scotland.