Styles of Native Tribes
Zuni is a Native American tribe located in Northwestern New Mexico. There are 19 pueblos that are only found in New Mexico, Zuni being one of them. Zuni stands out with their intricate jewelry work that incorporates a broad range of styles such as needlepoint, petty-point, and inlay. They are known as some of the finest stone cutters in the southwest making complex designs that they inlay into silver. Being that they are very traditional, they tend to stay with the same type of color combinations and styles. The stones primarily used are: turquoise, coral, mother of pearl, yellow snail shell, pink muscle shell, and jet. They either do a complex variation of the stones in their inlay work, and/or intricate petty-point and needlepoint which has become unique and distinguishable among other tribes and pueblos.
- Needlepoint – tiny needle shaped stones, most commonly done in turquoise and coral. Each stone is cut, polished and buffed and then set into the silver. What makes this type of jewelry, so renown is the craftsmanship, done with such precision and detail, making it so that each stone is alike in shape and color. Like petty-point, it is a style that is only unique to the Zuni tribe.
- Petty-point – In the early 1920’s, Zuni artists created this unique style of stone cutting where instead of needlepoint, the stones were rounded, oval and even square. Being that it is unique to the Zuni tribe, it is not found anywhere else in the world. Each stone is carefully cut, polished and then buffed, where bracelets can have up to 50 stones that are elaborately set.
- Inlay – There are two different types of inlay that the Zuni artists exhibit in their work such as channel inlay (stones that are inlaid into a silver setting that is separated by silver) and mosaic inlay (stones that create a picture and are stone-on-stone).
Channel Inlay – In 1920, Zuni artists began to do channel inlay work which they began to incorporate different colored stones along with the traditional use of turquoise. The stones are hand cut and polished and done so that they are flat and fitted between the silver creating a “channel” look along-side and in-between stones. Once the stones are set, the artists gently tap the stones into place and then seal them with a special stone glue called epoxy. The stones are cut in different shapes, but more commonly square and asymmetrical shapes, as seen in vintage pieces. Some of the more traditional Zuni pieces are of figures such as the Zuni Rainbow Man and the Knife Wing God.
Mosaic Inlay – Incorporating different colored stones, Zuni artist do inlay work that is stone on stone. There is little use of the silver to separate the stones, therefore making the work more complex because the artist needs to be precise when cutting the stones so that they fit together cleanly with no gaps. Zuni have mastered this style, with jewelry that is both done in a traditional and non-traditional manner. The styles include geometric shapes as well as traditional Zuni Gods and figures. Two of the most common figures seen in this style of inlay is called the Zuni Sun Face and the Thunderbird. The stones mainly used are coral, yellow snail shell and/or pink muscle shell, jet, mother of pearl and turquoise.
The Navajo tribe is one of the largest in the Southwest and are known as the four corners tribe. In New Mexico there is a Navajo reservation located in Gallup which is known to be a “jewelry hub” in Northern New Mexico. Navajo artists are unique in the sense that they make both traditional and non-traditional work. They incorporate a variety of styles into their jewelry ranging from various inlay styles, cabochons (large rounded stones), bead work, and fetish necklaces. Navajo work with a variety of stones to create colorful, modern inlay styles, as well as more traditional settings with unique color variations.
- Inlay – Navajo artists do a various inlay styles such as, silver channel inlay that can be both traditional and colorful, chip inlay, and raised-stone inlay. Many of the more modern pieces include stones such as Gaspeite , Lapis, Opal, pink and red coral, and different colors of spiny oyster.
- Channel Inlay – Unlike the Zuni where they do mainly turquoise or their traditional stone variations, Navajo artist have graduated from the simplicity of turquoise to incorporate bright colors done in a unique multi-color setting. A lot of the modern Navajo inlay jewelry is known for their use of brightly colored stones, many of which are inlaid between a silver channel setting to create elaborate styles.
- Chip Inlay – Chip inlay is done with crushed stones mainly coral and turquoise that is then combined with an epoxy resin. Once the resin is set and then hardened, the artist then polish it down so that it lays flat in the silver setting. Chip inlay is seen in various vintage Navajo pieces, ranging from chip inlay rings, pendants and cuffs, as well as bolo ties for men.
- Cabachons – This style of jewelry is the most common style of Navajo jewelry. The artists will either buy stones that have already been cut or they cut, polish, and buff them their selves, and then proceed to design a silver setting so that the stone is the center piece. This is done with stones such as Lapis, Coral, Turquoise, Malachite, Black Onyx, Gaspeite, and White Buffalo. Sometimes done in combination with multiple stones, artist make custom designs for pendants, bracelets, rings, and earrings with some of the most notable combinations being Turquoise and Coral . This style stands out especially in ornate squash blossoms and cluster cuffs that incorporate many stones with intricate silver work as the applique.
- Navajo Pearls ( also known as Navajo beads) – Navajo beads or pearls are done in a fashion that is timeless, because they can be worn like pearls (by themselves) or together with other sets, as well as ordained with pendants. Once the artist creates each half of the bead they sauter them together and then the seam where the two halves meet is smoothed and buffed out to create a bead. Some artists do the saucer bead style, while many other artists stick to the rounded bead style. The beads can be graduated, meaning that they increase in size starting from each sides of the clasps. They are done in both a high-polish setting as well a what they call a “patina” which is a process that makes the jewelry look tarnished. The sizes of the Navajo pearls range from 16” all the way up to 36” in length. The Navajo pearls are also used to make squash blossom necklaces and being that they are traditional, Navajo artists have not only preserved these styles, but also created variations of the pearls that have unique engravings in the silver.
- Navajo Fetish Necklaces – Some of the more traditional style of necklaces is the Navajo fetish necklace. They carve animals out of stones such as turquoise, coral, spiny oyster shell (red, purple, and orange), as well as jet, and other different types of clam shells. In between the fetishes are shells such as olive shell, turtle shell and melon shell that are thinly cut in a style called Heshi.
Santo Domingo (Kewa) is part of the 19 pueblos is Northern New Mexico located approximately 25 miles south of Santa Fe. For centuries they have been hand-crafting Heshi, slab jewelry, and inlaid shell mosaics, which is what they are prized for.
- Heshi (“shell”) – flat, smooth beads that are cut in different variations of thickness. Some necklaces are comprised of multiple strands of Heshi that range from 2mm to 6mm in size. The stones that Santo Domino artists use are Turquoise, Coral, and Jet. The different shells used are turtle shell, yellow snail shell, melon shell, olive shell and different colors of spiny oyster shell.
- Slab Jewelry – Santo Domingo artists will take slabs of stones such as Turquoise, Jet, Coral, and shells like Spiny Oyster, Mother of Pearl and Abalone inlaying the work in traditional, geometric shapes.
- Shell Mosaics – Crafted by inlaying traditional stone and shell combinations such as Turquoise, Spiny Oyster, Jet and Clam shell onto larger clam shells, artist have created some of the most intricate designs that exhibit beautiful imagery.