March 14, 2012

"It's a Kiva Bag"

Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, Lloyd Kiva New (Cherokee) worked with Charles Loloma (Hopi) to create couture handbags that they sold out of their boutiques in Scottsdale. These purses were so popular that in 1949 the phrase “It’s a Kiva bag,” was coined and printed in local and national newspapers.

Their work was part of an historically important mid-century modern Native American art movement.

New is now respected for his central role in promoting Native American arts education (and co-founding the Institute of American Indian Arts), and Loloma is now known as one of the most important jewelry artists to emerge out of the United States in the 20th Century.

But before that would all emerge, the two of them collaborated on the creation of these leather purses - New designed and made the handbags (see image below) while Loloma accented them with unique metal detailing.

New sold these handbags for comparatively high prices. In a 1957 article, the reporter stated, "He made ladies’ bags that sold for $150 and $200. No two exactly alike." According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, these prices translate to $1,200 and $1,600 in 2012.

I found a ton of images of New/Loloma purses on online auction sites. Here's just a glimpse of the various purses that this duo created over 50 years ago:

Black leather purse by Lloyd Kiva New, cast brass buckle designed by Charles Loloma at the White Hogan.

Cream leather purse by New, accented with a brass bird motif by Loloma.

The Heard Museum exhibited a similar handbag as this one in their exhibit "Mid-Century Modern: Native American Art in Scottsdale." Like other purses, this handbag has a label sewn on the inside, stating who the purse was designed for. In this case, "Styled expressly for Harriet C. Eden New Castle, Indiana by Lloyd New."

White leather handbag made by New with a brass Sun ornament cast by Loloma.

Brown leather purse (left) and black leather purse (right), both made with cow hide by New, and brass embellishments by Loloma, ca. 1950s

Black leather handbag by New with silver ornaments cast by Loloma (the original owner is pictured to the right carrying her Kiva purse).


  1. Wow, I did not know this about Charles Loloma! Thanks for posting. 

  2. Jessica: thought you'd like to know that the brown leather purse shown with the loloma sun just arrived at the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art as part of our ever-growing James T. Bialac Native American Art Collection... if you're near Norman, stop by and i'll show it to you.

  3. Wow that is great Heather! I will definitely let you know if I'm in the area!

  4. I actually bought one from a yard sale here in central TX and unknowingly sold it on eBay granted I paid 10 bucks for it and sold it for nearly 300 I'd rather it went to a museum can anyone say kicking myself in the butt