Mountain and Mesa Designs

This page from American Indian Design and Decoration by Le Roy H. Appleton shows some interesting design interpretations. Many of them relate to pottery, baskets, rugs and figures/statues. But we do see some carryover into Native American jewelry.

We often see the clouds, rain and lightning stamped on jewelry and inlaid into jewelry and fetishes.

The abstract step like designs are often called blanket patterns or mesas but here the steps are used as part of birds and exit trail of life.

Do you have any of these symbols on your jewelry?

design 001Following are :

BIRDS – Note they have similar types of heads but one bird’s body is comprised of steps.

CORN – A general design that could be used in weaving and beading.

EXIT TRAIL OF LIFE – Note that there is a break in the line above the design. This is the exit. Pottery and other handmade items are thought to be beings so it is with great respect that an exit is always left by the artist for the being. The line around a pot, for example, is never continuous.

CLOUD SERPENTS – Could these be Ancient Aliens?

birds

corn

exit

cloud serpents

cover 001

Native American Terms – Fetish, Totem, Amulet, Talisman

Paula,
I wondered why in your web store you describe some Indian animal carvings and jewelry pieces as fetishes and others amulets or totems. Are they all the same thing? – Stuart

Stuart,
The terms fetish, amulet, totem and talisman are often used interchangeably to describe an object that provides good fortune and protects from evil. The exact meaning of any of these terms depend on the culture and location in which it is used. Briefly, here is how I see them:

Talisman

Alaskan Thunderbird Talisman by David Audette from Sitka, Alaska

A talisman is an object that is considered to possess supernatural or magical powers and is used especially to avert evils, disease, or death. A talisman is typically engraved or cut with figures or characters, constellations, planets, or other heavenly signs. It is often worn as an amulet or charm. From the Greek word “telein”, which means “to initiate into the mysteries”. The word talisman is often used synonymous with amulet.

Amulet

Turquoise and Sterling Silver Lucky Horseshoe Amulet by Navajo artist Wilbur Muskett Jr.

An amulet is a protecting charm – any object worn to bring good luck and to ward off evil, illness, and harm from supernatural powers and from other people. Amulets are typically carvings, stones (especially with naturally occurring holes), plants (such as sage, 4-leaf clover, shamrock), coins, and jewelry (crosses, horseshoes, gemstones).

Totem

Horse Totem on Horse Spirit Medicine Bag by Apache artist Cynthia Whitehawk

A totem is an object that symbolizes a person’s or a tribe’s animal guide. This could be a totem pole, an emblem or a small figurine or carving. Native American tradition holds that different animal guides come in and out of a person’s life depending on the direction that person is headed and the challenges he faces. A totem animal is the one animal that acts as the main guardian spirit and is with a person for life, both in the physical and spiritual world. Traditionally, it is the totem animal, such as an eagle, wolf, bear, horse or dragonfly, that finds the person, not the other way around.

Fetish

Bear Fetish by Zuni artist Emery Eriacho

A fetish is a sacred object used in religious ceremonies, for spiritual awakening and to communicate with and direct supernatural powers. A fetish can provide protection, promote healing and ensure success in ventures such as hunting or farming. A Native American fetish is most often a carving, usually of an animal, that has some sort of power, and is sometimes decorated with stones, shells, and feathers. A carving without power is merely a carving. A person’s own beliefs determine the difference between a fetish and a carving.

So, whether an object is a talisman, totem, amulet or fetish is up to you. Just as the beauty of an object is in the eye of the beholder, so the power of an object is in the belief of the seer or wearer.

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How Do I Display Zuni Native American Fetish Carvings?

 

Zuni Fetish Carvings - Corn Maiden and Butterfly Maiden Collection

 

 

Hi Paula,

What is the best way to store or display fetishes? I want to enjoy them but also want to protect them and keep them from getting damaged or dusty.

Beth

Hi Beth,

I can give you some ideas but fetish use and care is a matter of opinion and choice.

The traditional way of housing a Zuni fetish carving is in a clay pot or a bowl with a corn meal offering inside to sustain the fetish. Some fetishes are fed ground turquoise also. This means of fetish storage is based on Zuni legends that tell of fetish powers helping to sustain hunters in the mountains. A fetish pot always has a peep hole in the side so that the fetishes can see out which helps them remain content. A happy fetish makes for a happy person.

Fetish Pot with Peep Hole and Guardians

If a fetish is not delicate or does not have portions that could be rubbed off, a fetish can be stored in pocket – in this way, the fetish can be handled frequently something like a meditation stone. I’ve seen people jingle keys or coins in their pocket as a way of relieving stress perhaps or of connecting, calming or centering……so a small stone fetish certainly would make a quiet and most excellent pocket pal.

A small pipestone turtle that would make a perfect pocket fetish

Special fetishes are added to medicine bags. Usually if a person is drawn to a particular animal, that animal is that person’s totem and might be added to the bag, either attached to the bag or carried inside it.

Hummingbird Spirit Medicine Bag

For collectors, which it sounds like you might be, you might display au natural and lightly dust from time to time such as the maidens in the first photo in this article….

OR

use display cases, either for single fetishes or groups.


Most fetishes are quite sturdy, made of durable stones and are made to be used for years. I hope you enjoy your fetishes whether it is looking at them or carrying them or just having them in your home or office.

Six Directions Fetishes on a Home Water Fountain

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Native American Dolls – Apache, Lakota, Navajo, No Face

Native American Dolls

Just like with dolls from any culture and time, Native American dolls serve a number of purposes and represent various values and legends. Not all dolls are made for children although some dolls are made specifically for children.

Children’s dolls were not designed to be keepsakes but to be something for the child to actively play with. Often the dolls were made out of corn husks or other organic materials such as wood. The doll would often fall apart by the time the child outgrew the doll. Even so, the dolls were adorned painstakingly with bits of cloth, fur, beads and other adornments. Dolls were used to teach children of the appropriate dress and cultural practices so girls were given cradleboards and sewing supplies with their dolls while boys were given warrior gear, bows and arrows and the like.

Other dolls such as spirit dolls and kachinas were made for a specific person, ceremony, power, totem, entity or prayer.

Spirit Dolls

Spirit dolls are ancient talismans against all negativity and evil. They embody spirits that have gone before, representing their strengths, positive energies, and beauty.

Apache artist, Cynthia Whitehawk creates various Spirit Dolls. Raven Medicine – Ravens carry great responsibility to Spirit and are the messengers of magic and healing from the universe where all knowledge waits for us. Raven also symbolizes changes in consciousness, of levels of awareness and perception. Necklace beads of sky blue turquoise, coral and sterling silver with hand painted bone raven feather pendant. She wears a genuine tiny beaded medicine bag – inside are rare Sacred Arizona Sweet Sage, Sacred Golden Tobacco, and tiny polished clear Quartz gemstones. These contents keep her energy clear, positive and powerful.

Raven Dream Keeper is keeper of the eternal flame of life, Medicine Healing Spirit, Spirit of the Bird Clans. There are several Bird Clans depending on tribal affiliation. The Cherokee Bird Clan are messengers between earth and heaven – between humans and the Creator. The Cherokee Bird Clan has 3 subdivisions: The Raven, Turtle Dove, and Eagle. The Raven, a large Crow, is governed by Crow Medicine. The Crow is the power of the unknown at work – ceremonial magic and healing. Raven Dream Keeper wears a necklace of tiny shell birds for her connectedness to the Bird Clan.

Raven Spirit Doll by Apache artist Cynthia Whitehawk

Grandmother Medicine – Grandmother Shaman guides with the ancient wisdom and practical knowledge, ever the kindest of souls, ever the most helpful, a quieting and soothing presence. Her medicine bag is adorned with coral and turquoise. It contains a rich mixture of smudging herbs and resin, sage and golden tobacco with tiny clear quartz stones.The carved tiny shell birds represent the ancient following of the Bird Clan. The gourd represents the vessels made from gourd, gourds which carried water and food for life. She wears a beaded talisman/amulet which is a carved turquoise bear, silver beads and penn shell heishi.

Crystal Keeper Medicine Woman  – Her necklaces are quartz and silver beads and large natural quartz points. She wears a tiny medicine bag beaded with quartz and silver beads. The bag contains Sacred Sweet Sage, Sacred Golden Tobacco, and tiny polished clear Quartz gemstones. These contents keep her energy clear, positive and powerful.

Grandmother Shaman: Gourd Dance Clan  – Her necklace is of sky blue and coral red old glass beads, silver and a tiny gourd, which represents the rattle made from a gourd in the Gourd Dance Clan.

The Gourd Dance was given to the Kiowa in the 1700s by a red wolf when the Kiowa inhabited the Black Hills and Devils Tower area of South Dakota and Wyoming. The dance was a gift to the Kiowa people and the songs and dances were performed by a specific society until the 1930s – with a good wolf howl at the end of each song in tribute to the red wolf. Thankfullly, before the tradition was lost, some Kiowa elders revived the Gourd Dance in the mid 1950s and officially formed the Gourd Dance Clan.

The No Face Doll

The No Face doll has its origin in the corn-growing Northeastern tribes as the dolls were traditionally made of cornhusks, with darkened corn silk for the hair.

As legend has it, Corn Spirit, sustainer of life, asked the Creator for more ways to help her people. The Creator formed dolls from her husks, giving the dolls a beautiful face. When the children of the Iroquois pass the dolls from village to village and from child to child, her beauty was proclaimed so often that the corn husk doll became very vain. The Creator disapproved of such behavior and so told the doll that if she was going to continue being part of the culture, she would need to develop humility.

The doll agreed but couldn’t help but admire her own reflection in a creek.  The all-seeing Creator, sent a giant screech owl down from the sky to snatch the doll’s reflection from the water. She could no longer see her face or bask in her superior beauty.

Lakota No Face Doll by Diane Tells His Name

So when a Northeast Native American mother gives a doll to her child, it is usually a doll with no face and the mother tells the child the legend of the Corn-Husk doll. Native Americans want their children to value the unique gifts that the Creator has given to each of them, but not to view themselves as superior to another, or to overemphasize physical appearance at the expense of  spiritual and community values.

Read more about Corn and Corn Maidens on our blog.

Lakota No Face Dolls

Similar to the Northeaster tribes, the Plains tribes often use No Face dolls to instill humility in their children.

Since the Great Plains tribe members’ own clothing was often elaborately covered with intricate beadwork, so were the dolls. Lakota Dolls are beautifully adorned and depending on the activity they represent, they can be outfitted with various equipment and items such as baskets, cradleboards or knives and hunting tools.

Beauty of Autumn No Face Lakota Doll by Diane Tells His Name

Lakota Dolls are traditionally made from buckskin. The bodies are stuffed with cattail fluff or buffalo hair.

The hair is usually horse hair or buffalo hair.

Why do Native American dolls have long hair? As legend has it, when you die, if you don’t hear your name called, you can’t cross over to the other side. So, just in case you don’t hear your name when it is called, if you have long hair, someone on the other side can grab your long hair and pull you over.

Navajo Dolls

Meant to resemble Navajo Men and Women in ordinary dress, Navajo dolls are meant to be played with or collected.

Navajo Dolls by Loretta Wood, Navajo aritst

Navajo women are usually outfitted in a cloth dress or skirt and top and embellished with jewelry made of turquoise, silver and shell.

The dress is traditionally made of velvet, cotton or muslin embellished with rick rack trim and cinched with a woven or embroidered sash.

Necklaces are often sewn right onto the dress. Earrings are often beaded loop earrings

Large Vintage Navajo Doll

Men appear in traditional muslin pants, bright colored shirt (often velvet) and a cinched sash like belt.

Hair for the dolls is often made of  mohair, wool or yarn.

The hands are often made of leather. The face is fabric and the facial features are painted on.

Navajo dolls might just be standing or they could be involved in an activity from everyday life such as weaving, cooking, or sewing.

What fun it was to put together this doll article for my first real post back at it !!

Hector Goodluck Monument Valley Fetish Necklace

Hi Paula,

I absolutely have fallen in love with your Monument Valley fetish necklace
($180.) I have never seen anything like it, and I traveled everywhere
throughout those areas 3 times and I loved the red rocks in Arches National
Park, Bryce,and Zion. Your beads are very spiritual to me and they tell me
many stories from my past experiences. My question is, would it be possible for me to buy just the beads of the necklace so I can string it myself? Thank you so much, Jan

Monument Valley Necklace by Hector Goodluck, Navajo

Hi Jan,

I know what you mean about those necklaces – they are unique and engaging. I believe Hector Goodluck is the only one who carves those images and makes a
Monument Valley necklace. I knew he made them but it took us about a year to be able to get them from him ! I just feel like I am “wearing the area” when I have mine on.
We only sell the artist’s work as is, but it would be easy to restring them to your liking. They come with earrings for $180, so there you have some additional beads for your custom project.


Paula

Fetishes & carvings include features of Navajo life in Monument Valley such as:
  • hogan
  • corn
  • mustang horse
  • mountain sheep
  • burro
  • jackrabbit
  • prairie dog,
  • sheep
  • horse
  • lizard
  • Window Rock
  • Mitten Butte
  • Camel Butte
  • Rain God Mesa.


Hi Paula,

Thanks for getting back to me. I will put the necklace at the top of my wish
list for Christmas presents. It has such depth and each fetish has its own
story to tell. So amazing! Jan


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Native American Symbols – Corn Maiden

The Corn Maiden is represented in jewelry and table fetishes as a woman with a body shaped like an ear of corn. She may or may not be wearing a headdress.

Tablita Corn Maiden by Delbert Cachini, Zuni

Corn is to Pueblo people what the buffalo has always been to the Plains Indians, the very symbol of LIFE. In Zuni mythology, the Corn Maidens brought this gift, and many of the carvings of women, especially those with a criss-cross pattern on the body, are carved to pay homage to the Corn Maidens.

Picasso Marble Corn Maiden with Tabletta by Carl Etsate, Zuni

What is a tabletta (also called a Tablita)? It is a portion of the headdress of the Hopi Butterfly Maiden (subject of an upcoming post) and often shown on the corn Maiden.  A tabletta is a ceremonial board headdress with stair step edges and a decorated front and back. It is worn by Native American dancers who depict the Corn Maiden, using a harness to hold it onto the head, so that the widest portion is seen from the front or the back.

The Corn Maiden represents the divine gift of the growing and harvesting of corn to Native American peoples. Often stylized, Corn Maidens are very captivating and reach out to you.

Corn Maiden carved from Deer Antler by Jared Amesoli, Zuni

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Native American Hopi Overlay Symbols – Thanksgiving

Many Hopi symbols relate to nature. They depict plants, animals, feathers, land and rock formations, and weather…….including whirlwinds and especially clouds and rain which are so precious to the southwest cultures.

In addition, many Hopi designs are abstract. The beautiful Hopi necklace below shows a mixture of discernible symbols and abstract designs. What do you see? I’ll suggest what I see below.

Hopi Overlay Necklace

In the center of the above necklace is a large sunface which is a symbol of warmth and growth. When a sunface looks mask-like such as the one in this necklace, it is a sunface kachina – see the sunface kachina (shown below).

The head and headress of a Hopi Sunface Kachina

The next recognizable symbols on the two discs above the sunface are a corn plant in the middle, a hogan on the top, and a turkey across from one side to the other with his head on one side and his spread out fan tail on the other.

Turkey, also called Earth Eagle, is an important food source to the Pueblos and is mentioned in several Tewa Pueblo stories. Its feathers have many ritual uses. There is a Turkey Clan in one of the Hopi Phratries.

From Ancestral Art: In addition to hunting wild game, the Hopi raised domesticated turkeys. Given the number of turkey remains discovered, they must have been a food staple.

Turkey remains were found at Kokopnyama, an old Hopi ruin. Read more about the excavations here.

There are eleven bird kachinas for the chicken, duck, eagle, hummingbird, kit, mockingbird, owl, red-tailed hawk, roadrunner, snipe, and turkey. The turkey kachina uses turkey feathers to form a fan-shaped crest representing the spread tail of the male turkey.

In the six medallions above the turkey medallions, I think all or most are either landscape formations, stylized weather or abstract art. What do you think?

I’ve done some research on this piece found one like it on page 19 of “Indian Jewelry on the Market” Peter N. Schiffer, 1996 that says “A magnificent Hopi necklace with nine medallions. Klines Gallery $1200

Page 19 from Indian Jewelry on the Market by Peter N. Schiffer 1996


The sterling silver medallions are beautiful and tell a unique story and are strung on a double set of sterling silver beads. Let me know what you see in this piece.

I can’t wait for Thanksgiving because I LOVE TURKEY (…and dressing) !!


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Navajo Sandcast Squash Blossom Necklace

Hi Paula,

This is one piece of Native American jewelry my parents purchased from a dealer friend in Tampa back in the early 70s. I’ve been searching for days online and can’t find one just like this. I did find out that the marking on the back N.TSO indicates it was made by Nellie Tso, but can’t find out anything about her.

I think it was made for a woman, but could be unisex. It’s 25″ in length (including the traditional clasp). The naja is 2-1/2″ wide and 2-10/16″ long. The blossoms, which I think may be sunflowers and are the unusual part of the necklace, are 1-1/2″ long and are attached to double bead strands. The weight is about 320g.

If you have seen one like this or know anything about the artist. Thanks for any help. Marta C.

Vintage Sandcast Squash Blossom Necklace

Hi Marta,

That is a unique and heavy sandcast……… squash blossom necklace ! I like it – it has a very pretty and unique design. It is hard for me to tell definitely from the photo but it seems to me that those are meant to be squash blossom flowers – if you have ever had a garden, you know what I mean – they are round and look like that.

Here is an example from our pawn shop of that type of squash blossom flower. But note, the example I am providing below is not sandcast like your necklace is – but the flowers are very similar, aren’t they?

Vintage Navajo Squash Blossom Flower on Necklace

Again, a guess from the photo – perhaps the pieces that project from the flowers are intended to be corn plants with corn leaves on each side. It looks like there is some texturing like kernels of corn. Is that so?

Corn, squash and beans are the traditional mainstays of the southwestern diet, culture and symbolism are are used in many ways in art and ceremony.

Corn, Beans and Squash : Pueblo Diet

Nellie Tso, a Navajo, was a silversmith for the Atkinson Trading Company around 1980. She specialized in sand cast watchbands. The hallmark you describe is one of four ways she has used to sign her work.

I hope this has been helpful. Enjoy your beautiful necklace !

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Native American Symbols – Corn

My eyes some times play tricks on me. When I first read the post about Man in the Maze, I thought it said, “Man in the Maize,” and read with interest, looking for the connection with corn. It is a beautiful symbol, and I never knew before what it meant.

Is corn also used as a symbol in jewelry or art by native Americans?

Kathleen

Hello Kathleen,

There is much written about corn as a part of Native American life. This is a very brief overview.

Corn is the symbol of sustenance, the staff of life and is an important symbol of many tribes. Corn is considered a gift from the Great Spirit so its role is both as a food and a ceremonial object.

Hand carved Corn Pendant and Earrings by Lonny Cloud

Hand carved Corn Pendant and Earrings by Lonny Cloud

Very notably, corn is connected to the Hopi for their skill in being able to raise corn in desert sand.

Corn Maiden Kachina

Corn Maiden Kachina

Corn Pollen is a blessing given for protection, understanding and forgiveness. It is used along with prayers, in house blessings, and to bless people by placing pollen on top of the head.

Cornmeal, usually made from perfect ears of white corn, is considered sacred and is used to bless and nurture sacred objects such as fetishes.

Native American Fetish Carvings

Native American Fetish Carvings

The corn maiden gives of her own body to feed her family and provides seeds which ensure a continued source of food.

Corn Maiden Fetish Carving from Picasso Marble

Corn Maiden Fetish Carving from Picasso Marble