Walk past Taylor’s American Indian Shop and you might think it’s full of touristy trinkets and costume jewelry.
Nope. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Inside is a fascinating little world of collectibles and jewelry made by American Indians, a silversmith in a denim apron who loves his job and a family history rife with intriguing details.
The shop will turn 46 next month. It spent decades on Blackstone Avenue, near Gettysburg Avenue back when that was considered north Fresno. (“It was the place to be,” says shop owner Bryan Taylor.) It also had another location in Clovis in the 1980s.
In May the shop moved to 7466 N. Fresno St., near Alluvial Avenue, a few doors down from Sal’s Mexican Restaurant.
Cases of jewelry line the store. Silver rings and chunky necklaces feature turquoise, Mediterranean red coral that once grew in the sea and lab-grown opal that’s so sturdy it may as well be bulletproof, says Taylor.
Rugs, moccasins, baskets and other items fill up the rest of the store.
“We’re a traditional Native American store,” Taylor says. “We try to stay Native-made as much as we can.”
Some of the items are made by people from local tribes such as Mono and Yokuts and some come from artisans in New Mexico and other states.
Taylor, a silversmith, fixes jewelry in a small back room. His uniform is an apron and a visor with magnifying lenses for soldering silver jewelry.
My dad, he was a pioneer.
Bryan Taylor, about his father, Leon Taylor
His parents, Leon and Irmadeen Taylor started the store in 1970. Taylor, now 56, has worked there since he was 15.
His family’s business is a bit like the antiques business. It was born out of his dad’s collection of baskets made by American Indian women.
Collecting the handmade tightly woven baskets made from grasses and other plant life was quite the craze starting around 1890 and into the early 1900s. Wealthy people collected the baskets American Indian women made with patterns that mimic the back of a rattlesnake or images of butterflies, for example. A museum in Berkeley has 8,000 of them.
Taylor’s dad started collecting the baskets in 1950. He once had such an extensive collection that Native Peoples magazine did a story about him.
The Taylors don’t have any American Indian ancestry. Leon was a cake decorator at what is now Eddie’s Bakery and his wife a teacher at Wolters Elementary School.
After a few decades they turned the hobby into a profession by opening the store. Leon died in 2010 and Irma died July 2. Their only child, Bryan Taylor, has been at the helm of the store for years.
He still gets excited talking about it.
“I’ve done this shop for 41 years and I still love it,” he says. “It’s the people.”
The shop gets plenty of American Indian customers and other shoppers. Turquoise is in vogue now, and bringing in younger people, “which is really cool,” he says.
Since the move, customers eating dinner at Sal’s are also checking out the store.
“I can’t believe how many people eat at Sal’s,” Taylor says.
The American Indian Shop has evolved over the years, with jewelry now a top seller.
Taylor travels to shows to sell his wares, does appraisals of American Indian items and fixes native jewelry.
His father didn’t have silversmithing skills, so he made sure his son did. He sent Bryan at age 17 to live with an American Indian family in New Mexico to learn how to make jewelry and work with silver. Later, his dad had people come to the store to teach Bryan how to do repairs.
Decades later, he’s still doing it.
“I love the customers,” he says. “I love having the store.”