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fetish jewellery

Zuni earrings

Zuni Jewellery

Jewellery has been worn in the Southwest since prehistoric times. Although styles have changed through the centuries and South-western native American metalsmithing of iron, brass and silver has been learned only within the past 250 years, many of the modern styles of Indian jewellery retain elements from the earlier traditions that preceded them.

Exactly when jewellery making became a regular activity in the South-western cultures remains a mystery. Drilled shell, bone, stone and turquoise beads, for example, have been created in the Southwest for thousands of years. More elaborate pieces-small carved figures of animals and birds, as well as shell bracelets and turquoise mosaic work-also have been made through many centuries.

In the past two millennia, three major pre-historic cultures-the Hohokam, Mogollon and Anasazi-created much early jewellery. Each of these cultures was ancestral to some contemporary tribes living in the Southwest.

The Hohokam preceded the Pima and Papago of southern Arizona, the Anasazi were the forerunners of modern-day Pueblo tribes of Arizona and New Mexico, and some Mogollon and Anasazi may have been ancestors of the contemporary Zuni.

The Zuni, or A'shiwi (which means "the flesh"), make their home today in western New Mexico. They are the modern day descendants of several different cultural groups including remnants of the ancient Mogollan and Anasazi peoples. The Zuni speak a Penutian language all their own, called Zunian, and their population presently numbers about 6,000. Although the Zuni farm and raise livestock, jewelry making contributes substantially to their income. Some Zuni pottery is still made for commercial sale, but weaving and basket making are almost forgotten arts among the Zuni today.

The emphasis on turquoise small stone work, which today is most strongly associated with the modern Zuni jewelry making tradition, began to emerge in jewellery made in the 1920's. The distinctive lapidary work developed partly from a revival of prehistoric jewellery making styles discovered during excavation of Hawikuh. Its popularity also has helped to foster the technique.

Clusterwork, which groups together many individual stones in a setting of individual silver settings, first appeared in about 1920. This technique was followed by pettitpoint cluster lapidary which uses round,oval or teardrop shaped stones.

In about 1940 the needlepoint style appeared, incorporating long, narrow stones that are very fine and pointed at both ends. The carving of small fetish-like animals, birds and other forms in turquoise, shell, coral, jet, mother of pearl, and other materials to be used in jewellery also began in the 1920's and was inspired by similar ancient examples found at Hawikuh.

The master fetish carver Leekya Desyee was among the workmen who discovered the prehistoric stone carvings. Other carvers who adopted this style as early as the 1930's include Lee Edaakie, Dishta and David and Mary Tsikewa. Mosaic inlay and overlay was also found on some artefacts excavated at Hawikuh, and in 1935 Zuni silversmith Teddy Weake revived the method in his work.

An outgrowth of this style called channel inlay, which sets the stones into individual sunken silver frames so that they are flush with the level of the silver, was being made by 1940. Until the 1950's, many of the silver frames for channel work were being fashioned by Navajo silversmiths and traded to the Zuni. Domed channel inlay, which encrusts the silver frames with carefully rounded turquoise insets, is a more recent variety of channel work. It has been popular despite being quite fragile because the highly-domed turquoise is not protected by the silver setting.

All of the techniques utilizing small worked stones are drawn from traditional roots in the early Zuni culture. The market economy of the 20th and 21st centuries have nurtured the revival and development of the beautiful lapidary work along traditional avenues. The same commercial environment also has helped to shape contemporary jewellery making and to open new directions, based on changing preferences of buyers as well as on changing approaches of the Zuni artisans themselves.

Today, the Zuni Craftsman Cooperative plays an important role in helping to market these beautiful creations in stone and silver and in guiding individual craftsmen in traditional and new directions.


The following excerpt from a Zuni myth sums it up beautifully;
"As the Ant people were preparing to take their bundles of dry earth and grass seeds to the upper world, First Woman told them to take bits of the hard blue stone of the sky so there would also be some hard rock in the new world. So when the Ant People went through the sky tunnel, they bit off pieces of the blue rock and carried them to the surface of the muddy island. And so it is that we can still find beautiful blue turquoise."

Shop for Native American

Zuni turquoise brooch

Zuni turquoise brooch

turquoise Zuni earring

Zuni earring



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