News at N8tiveArts / Zuni Jewelry
by Erick Begay
Some of the most beautiful and exciting Native American jewelry is made by combining many stones into one piece. Depending on how the stones are cut, this style of combining stones can be called Cluster-Work, Needle Point, Petit Point and Snake Eyes. These four styles emerged in the early 1920's-1940's and are primarily made by the Zuni Tribe, although some Navajos will make similar designs. These styles have a feminine quality to them, as the stones are set in small and elegant settings.
These designs are very tedious as each bezel (the silver holding the stone) is individually shaped and solder. Then the stones are cut, glued to matchsticks, then shaped and polished with a series of grinding wheel. Most artist typically will use Sleeping Beauty Turquoise or Mediterranean Red Coral, but other non-traditional stones (e.g. lapis, opal) have been used.
Many artist excel at combining stones of any shape into large clusters to form a design/pattern. The term "cluster work" is a general term that is used to describe this style. Many times "cluster work" is used synonymously with Petit Point. Generally with "cluster work" combinations of small round, square, rectangle and teardrop stones are used to create an infinite amount of designs.
Petit Point jewelry refers to cluster-work that is made up of stones that are pear-shaped: oval on one end and pointed on the opposite. This type of work is typically made in round and oval designs, but other shapes are possible. This style is made by Navajo and Zuni artists. Here are few artist that excel in petit point designs:
- Larry Moses Begay (signed LMB)
- Francis M. Begay (signed: F.M. Begay)
- Robert and Bernice Leekya (RBL)
- Justin Wilson (JW) , Violet Harvey Nez (VHN)
- Nathaniel and Rosemary Nez (N&R Nez)
- Alice Quam (A.Q)
- Robert Eustace (inscribed Robert Eustace).
- Ed Cooeyate
- Edith Tsabetsaye
- Irma & Octavius Seowtewa
- Claudine Peketewa
- Iva Booqua
This style of jewelry is among my favorite. The snake eye designs are when small round stones are set in a pattern, mostly precise rows of stones. When made properly, this style of design often has 100+ small stone in one piece. Probably the most notable artist family of this work is the Haloo family :
- April Haloo
- Steven Haloo
- Peter Haloo
- Vivian Haloo
Keep in mind that all of these style, as precise as they look, are 100% handmade and can never be made this precise with machines or cast with commercial casting equipment. These designs are staples of Zuni and Navajo jewelry, and genuine Native Handmade jewelry is not only beautiful, it is historical and cultural.
References (available on Amazon.com):
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.
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
References (available on Amazon.com):