Native American Jewelery
Very Brief History of American Indian Jewelry
say that thoughtful man began with adornment, with the first
bead on a necklace to be precise. According to archaeologists,
fetishes of stone and shell predate the Christian epoch; excavations
in southern Arizona have produced turquoise dating back to
200B.C.; in South America, as early as 900B.C. Turquoise has
and continues to be a standard of Indian Jewelry.
story says, the Ancients believed turquoise to be pieces of
the sky. Prehistoric Indians mined turquoise for adornment
purposes -primarily drilled beads and ornaments. It has been
found in ancient applique on shell and other rock suggesting
its use with wood to create jewelry. From Chaco Canyon
to east Mississippi, turquoise jewelry originating from New
Mexicos Cerillos mining area has been excavated; likewise
for turquoise mined from the Kingman, Morenci, and Conejos
areas. Like spiney oyster from the coasts of Baja California,
it is apparent that turquoise jewelry was a commodity for
Navajo Native American Jewelry
Navajo entered the Southwest in the (some say recent)
14th-16th century. The Navajo were a nomadic society. They
not only raided, but took, kept, and developed whatever suited
them. (Anderson) Beaded necklaces (a symbol of prestige),
decorated ketoh (bow guards), and concha/concho
ornamentation likely originated from their most frequent conquests,
the Spanish and the Pueblo. From the Spanish, the Navajo grew
to appreciate adornment.
Navajo wore adornments acquired from conquest and trade made
of German silver, brass, copper and to a lesser extent, silver.
Much from Mexican silversmiths, the Spanish and Native neighbors.
This jewelry was worn for beauty and pride- the wearing of
a crescent or cross did not necessarily symbolize a respect
for Christianity or the Moorish influence on Spain. What began
with simple rawhide and pedants, later gave way to stone,
shell, silver and other metal beads and intricate ornaments.
in the area seem to agree that Atsidi Sani (Old Smith)
was the first Navajo
silversmith. Learning skills as a blacksmith first, he
may have begun silversmithing as early as 1860. In 1864, approximately
8,000 Navajo were captured and marched into captivity
at Fort Sumner in eastern New Mexico. In 1868, they were returned
to the Four Corners area, the Dinehtah. It is argued wether
this was the year Atsidi Sani began silversmithing, or if
perhaps he had already been at work while in Fort Sumner.
way, it is fairly certain that there was no indigenous
or Pueblo silver industry. Early Navajo silversmiths melted
down silver coins, candlesticks and the likes for their work.
Mexican currency was the easiest to work (.90275 fine) and special
orders that brought sterling silver wares -teapots, candlesticks,
household antiques- (.925 fine) were the next most desirable
for use. U.S. coins were the least desirable to work with, (.900
fine) and by 1890 illegal to melt down. Early Navajo silver
work focused on concha (concho) belts, bracelets, bow guards,
tobacco flasks and necklaces. Rings, earrings, pins, hair ornaments,
buckles and bolos evolved from these. A full line of jewelry
spread throughout the Navajo reservation by the 1880s.
The oldest work was predominately of hammered and filed decorations;
turquoise appeared in Navajo jewelry by 1880. (Anderson)
after Atsidi Sani began silversmithing, he taught his sons and
the craft spread across the area. Zuni silver work appeared
around 1872. The Zuni, already skilled metal-workers and lapidaries,
supposedly paid one good horse for the silver teachings
of Atsidi Chon. Incorporating their earlier skills, Zuni silver
work took on the fine and channel inlay we now associate with
their jewelry. Lanyade, considered the first Zuni silversmith,
traveled to various pueblos selling his jewelry. While on Hopi
First Mesa at Sichomovi, he taught Sikyatala, the first Hopi
silversmith, the craft. Because of the way silversmithing skills
were shared, all of the jewelry from this time period is in
the Navajo style.
this time period, different techniques were learned and developed.
Soldering (the permanent attaching of two or more pieces of
metal) allowed for artistic design and the setting of stones
into the jewelry. Silver dies were adopted from the Spanish,
Mexican and later Indian leather work. With advancements in
technique, the different pueblos and artists began to diverge
and refine their unique styles. The Hopi change was more intentional,
when the Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff, Az. working
with Paul Saufkie and Fred Kabote began a program to develop
a unique Hopi style. With a bit of time, they developed the
overlay technique that pulled designs from pottery
shards found in 15th and 16th century ruins to inspire their
silver-layering work. These works showed primarily kachinas,
animal and clan motifs.
Today's Southwestern Native American
Indian jewelry includes silver, beads, gold and stones. Tribal
designs, Spanish designs, old style and contemporary design
all combine to transcend old styles. From homes on the reservations
to museums and art galleries, Indian jewelry is collected
and cherished as a connection between historic tradition and
compiled from from Lee Anderson, John Adair, Carl Rosnek and
Joseph Stacy, Margery Bedinger, and Larry Frank and the Encyclopedia
Britannica. Thank you to all who have continued the stories
and provided the information for this history. If you have
additional information to offer that you feel is an important
and missing piece of this story, please feel free to send
it our way.
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