What exactly is Zuni Jewelry?

by Erick Begay


At N8tiveArts we will mention in a product description that a piece is "Zuni handmade" and what we are referring to is that the artist of the piece is from the Zuni tribe.

Who are the Zuni?

The Zuni tribe is small indigenous tribe of New Mexico, who have farmed and raised livestock, along the Zuni River for thousands of years. Today there are about 10,000 tribal members with a large percentage of them who are talented artists (potters, carvers, painters and jewelers) who depend on the sale of their art for their livelihood.

Their reservation is located about 150 miles west of Albuquerque, and 30 miles south of Gallup and covers about 450,000 acres of scenic high desert of New Mexico. 

The ancestors of the Zuni established settlements along the Zuni River and built villages that consisted of multi-storied housing. In the 1500's, the cities were rumored to have untold riches: that people used dishes of gold and silver, and decorated their homes with turquoise, emeralds and other precious gems. These villages were known as the "Seven Cities of Gold" and are what lured Spanish explorer Coronado to lead an expedition in 1540.

History of Zuni Jewelry

The "artwork" of the Zuni has existed in ancient times, as they have carved animal fetishes out of stone for ceremonial purposes.  These small carved animals are believed to have inherent powers or qualities that aid the owner of the piece. Mark Bahti states in his book, Spirit in the Stone: A Handbook of Southwest Indian Animal Carvings and Beliefs "Each fetish has its specific purpose, ranging from protection against witchcraft to controlling the weather, luck in gambling, use in war ceremonials, and curing illnesses."

In the 1830's, The Zuni learned to work copper and brass  and around 1870-1880's they had learned silversmithing technique from the Navajos. Much of the early Zuni jewelry around this time resemble the early Navajo style of hand-engraved all silver designs hammered out of silver coins.

Turquoise was introduce in Zuni jewelry design around 1890. The style didn't change much for the next several decades,as most of the jewelry was made for the Zuni people. It was in the early 1900's a trading post owner, C.G. wallace opened a trading post in the Zuni village. C.G. Wallace employed many Zuni artist and was instrumental in producing Zuni jewelry for sale for the tourist trade.

During this era (1920-1950), and with the introduction of better material and modern tools, Zuni jewelry flourished in and many distinct styles of Zuni jewelry emerged: pettypoint, needle point, mosaic inlay, channel Inlay and fetish necklaces. These distinct styles of jewelry are seen today in Zuni jewelry. Zuni Jewelry is best known for intricate stone work, mosaic inlay and stone animal carvings.

Sleeping Beauty Silver Cluster Bracelet by Robert & Bernice Leekya - VN60WBeautiful Multi Stone Zuni Inlay Earrings Leander Orthole NJ50DSilver Multistone ThunderBird Inlay Buckle by Bobby Shack - CD31N

As Theda Bassman outlined in her book, Treasures of the Zuni, it is estimated that there are about 10,000 Zuni tribal members and about 50%-75% of Zuni family income comes from the sale of arts and crafts and "there is probably no village in North America with a higher concentration of skilled craftspeople that the Pueblo of Zuni" and "their greatest natural resource of the Zuni is the artistic creativity of its people".

At N8tiveArts, we deal directly with many of the artist whose work we carry in our store. Each piece will be individually handmade out of genuine stones and shell. set in sterling silver or 14k gold. Here are a few items the we carry from Zuni Artist: Zuni Jewelry


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