Navajo Dolls in Traditional Dress

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Navajo Dolls represent Navajo Men and Women in traditional dress.

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Navajo dolls are meant to be played with or collected.

 

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Traditional dress for a Navajo woman would start with moccasins, either ankle or knee high.  Alternatively, a Navajo woman might wear short moccasins and wear leggins or leg wraps.

 

 

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 The full, tiered skirt might be cotton or velvet. It is a full length pleated shirt that might have rick rack trim between the sections.

If the skirt is velvet, there is usually a matching top that is cinched around the waist with either a sash or a concha belt. It would be completed with jewelry made of silver, turquoise and shells and perhaps a shawl.

 

ND407-couple-blue-lg-6Necklaces are usually squash blossom style so with the dolls, a facsimile is often sewn right onto the dress. Doll earrings are often beaded loop earrings.

 

Men usually wear traditional muslin pants, a bright colored shirt (often velvet) and a cinched sash like belt or concha belt.  Men also wear necklaces and bracelets.

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Often Navajo men wore a Bandolier Bag (medicine bag) slung diagonally across from shoulder to hip. The bag was usually made of leather and decorated with conchas.

Vintage Navajo Bandolier Bag

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

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The hands are sometimes made of leather.

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The face is fabric and the facial features are usually 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.

Paula

The Hand Symbol in Native American Art

Horse Fetish by Carol Martinez, Zuni

Horse Fetish by Carol Martinez, Zuni

The Hand

In Native American art, the hand usually represents the presence of man. From the earliest hand imprints on cave walls, the hand depicts a man’s work, achievements and his personal history.

When a hand had a swirl in the middle of it, that is said to be the “eye in hand” and represents a mystic, or all-seeing, hand, the presence of the Great Spirit in man.

Mystic Hand Pendant

Mystic Hand Pendant

A Native American’s horse was highly honored and often covered in symbols for various purposes. This would vary from tribe to tribe but hand prints were often used in various positions on a horse to mean different things.

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The most prized handprint was when preparing for battle, if it was a kill-or-be-killed mission, an upside-down hand would be placed on the warrior’s horse.

If a horse knocked down an enemy, right and left hand prints were put on the horse’s chest.

The Pat Hand Print was the left hand pressed onto the horse’s right hindquarters. It was put on a horse who had returned from a dangerous mission with his master unharmed.

Horse Fetish by Carol Martinez, Zuni

Horse Fetish by Carol Martinez, Zuni

Paula

Large Mosaic Shell Pendant – Let’s Look

Here is another one of those mystery pieces that came in a 100+ piece estate lot. Most of the items in this gentleman’s collection (he collected for over 60 years) have strong provenance and/or hallmarks.

So I am going to give this a good examination. First I will post photos of the item I am examining, then I’ll follow with the reference material I dug up on these large mosaic shell pendants.

The specs:

The entire necklace weights 252 grams

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The necklace is 24 inches long and made of very nice turquoise nuggets that are strung on a metal wire. I am of the opinion that this is a married piece, that is, the more contemporary necklace was added or substituted later. Perhaps if this shell pendant originally came with a traditional heishi necklace and the pendant was attached to it with fiber or thread (as was done and you will see below in the reference section), the necklace or attachment might have broken and this was what the owner did to make it work.

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The shell pendant is is 5 1/2″ wide and 5″ tall. The shell is relatively flat.

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It is attached to the necklace by sterling silver wire. This might be a more recent evolution of the necklace ( see my comment above about married piece.) You can see where there were several attempts to drill a hole on the left to find one where the pendant balanced correctly.  Remember this when we later look at one of the research pieces.

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The inside of the shell is mostly white with faint hints of peach. It is of the shape and size of a large spiny oyster shell.

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Here are some closeups of the inlay. Note the black material between the turquoise pieces. The white mosaic pieces appear to be Mother of Pearl but I am not sure if the black is Acoma Jet, old phonograph records or other substitute material. The reddish brown tiles are pipestone, a material that was noted to be used in the Santo Domingo pueblo (Baxter Encyclopedia page 156).

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NOW I AM SHIFTING GEARS TO THE RESEARCH MATERIAL………..HERE’S WHAT I FOUND

Shell pendants are some of the earliest jewelry found in archaeological sites in Arizona. The Hohokam, Salado, and Sinagua peoples obtained the shells by trade or travel. The shells are native to the Gulf of Mexico or the Pacific Coast.

Prehistoric people used lac or pine pitch to adhere the mosaic to the shell.

lac  – a resinous substance secreted as a protective covering by the lac insect, used to make varnish, shellac, sealing wax, dyes, etc.

Pine resin is a clear sticky substance secreted by damaged limbs or roots of pine trees. The resin can be used as is or made into a more useful pine pitch or pine tar which is black.

This tradition of mosaic inlay on shells is associated with Santo Domingo (Kewa) Pueblo of New Mexico.

From the Encyclopedia of Native American Jewelry (Paula Baxter) “Between 1920 and 1950, not all Santo Domingo jewelry making was of good quality and pieces from this period betray inventive uses of substitute materials – especially when the traditional materials were not available (such as using pieces of phonograph records or automotive battery cases in place of jet or onyx).”

The contemporary revival of the art form is mainly due to Angie Reano Owen. Santo Domingo artists Mary Coriz Lovato and Jolene Bird also makes mosaic inlay on large shells.

Today the main difference is that black epoxy glue is now used instead of pine pitch.

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from North American Indian Jewelry and Adornment – Dubin

 

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North American Indian Jewelry and Adornment – Dubin

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A Contemporary Santo Domingo Necklace shown in Southwest Art Defined page 141 Caption should say “Angie Reano Owen”

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Southwest Silver Jewelry – Baxter

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Note that this pendant is suspended from the heishi necklace by a fiber tie. There are several holes drilled in the shell to allow this. This necklace is said to be from the 1920s.

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Fine Indian Jewelry of the Southwest: The Millicent Rogers Museum Collection

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Fine Indian Jewelry of the Southwest: The Millicent Rogers Museum Collection

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EVALUATION SUMMARY:

This is a married piece.

The necklace is more contemporary and was added later, attaching the pendant to the necklace with sterling silver wire.

The shell pendant shows the following positive signs for it being a vintage Native American made piece:

It is based on the proper size and shape shell.

The adhesive between the turquoise is black which is traditional, whether pitch or glue.

Pipestone and Mother of Pearl are associated with Santo Domingo work. It is possible the color of the base spiny oyster shell was faded or off color, so the artist decided to add the pipestone mosaic to brighten up the piece.

The black material is unidentified at this point – it could be jet or an old record or car battery.

What do you think? Please leave comments and additional reference information below.

Paula

 

Examining a Tab Necklace – Is it Kewa, Santo Domingo or Other?

This post is designed to describe the process I go through when I am trying to authenticate whether an item is Native American made or not.

Here is a very pretty necklace that may or may not be Native American made. In this particular case, I’m going to say guilty until proven innocent, in other words, not Native American made unless I can find some solid proof that it is.

Paula's Tab Necklace

Paula’s Tab Necklace

But coming to a verdict is harder than one might think because there are far fewer definitive references for Santo Domingo, Kewa and Pueblo stone necklaces than there are for silver and stone jewelry.

Add to that, the fact that very few stone necklaces have hallmarks of any kind. And finally, tab necklaces are much more uncommon than other Native American jewelry. In fact, this is the first of its kind to arrive here.

First of all, what it it? It is a Tab Necklace – the three inlaid pendants suspended from the heishi choker put it in the Tab Necklace category.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABecause it measures 17 inches, I would categorize it as a choker as opposed to a necklace which is typically 24-32 inches long.

What is it made of?

The very finely turned and graduated heishi is made from brown shell which varies from a deep amber, dark honey to a very dark brown. It reminds me of tortoise shell in its variegation. The only piece I have for reference that I KNOW is tortoise shell is my beloved Chester Mahooty bracelet shown here.

Chester Mahooty inlay bracelet. The two outermost wings are tortoise shell.

Chester Mahooty inlay bracelet. The two outermost wings are tortoise shell.

The heishi is very smooth and expertly produced. Heishi is made by stringing shell or stone, then grinding, sanding and polishing it into smooth edged circles. Each of the heishi discs in this choker are only 1mm thick. The graduation is very well done.

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This choker is strung on string and finished off with sterling silver cones and a hook and eye fastener. The fastener seems hand made. There is sunburst stamping on the cones.

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Now to the tabs. The base is made of a very dark wood. It is possibly iron wood or cocobolo wood which some Navajo artists use in conjunction with their inlay work.

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Cocobolo wood used in conjunction with inlay knife handles by Navajo Doris Yazzie.

Cocobolo

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The inlay on the tabs of my necklace is made with some very interesting turquoise with matrix and a white material that has the hardness of stone. There are no visible pores in the white material and, because of its density, it has been polished to a very smooth surface. It could be ivory, alabaster, stone composite ??

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The channels between the turquoise and cream pieces are baffling since they have a distinct gold cast to them. They could be brass, jeweler’s gold or some variation.

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Each tab has a thinner channel of metal at the bottom position. On the middle tab, that thin channel almost looks like is has leaked something which could be a metal residue or a metallic colored resin or adhesive.

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As far as age, this necklace was probably made at least 15 years ago and it could be much older.

What do authentic Native American Tab Necklaces look like?

I’m including information on early tab necklaces for historical interest, not to suggest the choker I am researching is one.

from Skystone and Silver, Stacey, Santo Domingo Mosaic Necklace

from Skystone and Silver, Stacey, Santo Domingo Mosaic Necklace

Depression era tab necklaces (made beginning in the 1930’s up to the 1960’s) were constructed from various discarded materials such as 78 rpm records, car battery cases, red plastic dinnerware and Dairy Queen spoons.

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Jewelry by Southwest American Indian: Evolving Designs, Schiffer p 122

The backing for the inlay on vintage tab necklaces was usually black – from records or car batteries.

The heishi used was usually quite thick and made from white clam shell.

Fine Indian Jewelry of the Southwest; The Millicent Rogers Museum Collection p149. ca 1940

Fine Indian Jewelry of the Southwest; The Millicent Rogers Museum Collection p149. ca 1940

Most of the examples I have been able to find are necklace length, approximately 26-30″.

Generations, the Helen Cox Kersting Collection, Santo Domingo Tab Necklaces 1940-1059

Generations, the Helen Cox Kersting Collection, Santo Domingo Tab Necklaces 1940-1059

The ends were finished off with either a squaw wrap or with cones and hook and eye closures.

What does all of this mean about MY necklace?

I love it. It is beautiful.

Who made it? I don’t know.

Is it Native American made? Possibly but not likely……………here are the Pros and Cons:

Pros – String, cones and clasp, very fine heishi work, nice turquoise.

Cons – Wood backing for the inlay, undetermined material in the channels of the inlay.

If you have comments please leave them at the bottom of this post.

Be sure to read all of the comments as they come in because that is part of the process of learning about these pieces.

Bottom line. Although this is most probably an imported choker from the 1970’s, it is very well made, pretty and looks great on. So even though not a Native American made necklace, it still is a nice vintage item. It is what it is.

Paula

 

To Polish or Not to Polish, That is the Question……….

We sell many used and vintage pieces that have from light to heavy patina and tarnish on them. We leave the choice of whether to polish or not to the customer.

Patina is the overall uniform darkening that occurs from aging. Patina adds a richness to vintage pieces. How much patina you like is personal preference, there is no right or wrong.

Tarnish, on the other hand, is a thin dirty film that appears on silver as it oxidizes. Tarnish, in my opinion, should be remove regularly using a mild method, such as with a buffing cloth.  Each of these pieces took about one minute to fully polish with a cloth.

Here is one of my favorite contemporary Hopi Man in a Maze bracelets (by Cyrus Josytewa) before buffing. Basically a dirty bracelet !

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BEFORE

30 seconds later - half done

30 seconds later – half done

DONE One minute of polishing

DONE One minute of polishing

Tarnish on polishing cloth

Tarnish on polishing cloth

Hubby’s favorite buckle (Stanley Gene, Navajo) has some nice patina and also has tarnish. I’m on the fence with this piece – I actually think I prefer the overall patina but he volunteered it for an example. A buckle makes contact with a lot of surfaces so even after the tarnish is removed, the buckles still has its character scratches.

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Here are some more articles related to jewelry care:

Are you supposed to polish Navajo Pearls?

Cleaning Vintage Native American Jewelry

A reminder about jewelry polishing cloths

Paula

Where did Navajo silversmiths learn their craft?

“The Navajo were the first Southwest American Indians to work silver……A man named Astidi Sani (Old Smith) is credited by historians as being the fist Navajo silversmith. His Spanish name was Herrero Delgadito (Little Ironworker). Reportedly he acquired a basic knowledge of ironworking in 1853 from a Mexican blacksmith/silversmith.”

From Indian Jewelry, Fact & Fantasy by Marsha Land

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Early Navajo metalwork was limited to iron and was for utilitarian purposes (knife blades, bits), not adornment.

Mexican Silversmiths (plateros), on the other hand, were typically adorned with silver as a display of their wealth and, for some, their metal-working skills – silver concha belts, buckles, buttons on shirts and down the sides of pants, hat bands, silver embellished saddles and headstalls and much more.

This side view of a pair of vintage Mexican charro pants (circa 1890) give you an idea of the lavish silver embellishments. 473425273_fullsizeAn example of an ornate vintage Mexican silver saddle.

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John Lawrence Hubbell opened his first trading post at Ganado, Arizona in 1873.  When the well-dressed nomadic plateros came to the Ganado area, the Navajo took notice. Soon they began to trade horses and livestock to the plateros in exchange for learning metal-working skills.

Early Sterling Silver Cuff Bracelet

Early Sterling Silver Cuff Bracelet

Hubbell saw the potential in of Navajo silverwork for his trading post so he brought in two Mexican silversmiths (Thick Lips and Benedito) to teach their skills to the Navajo he had working for him.

From Navajo Silver, a brief history of Navajo Silversmithing

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The dictionary mentioned in the following quote was published in 1910.

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Early Sterling Silver Sandcast Concha Belt

Early Sterling Silver Sandcast Concha Belt

For a much more detailed account of Atsidi Sani AKA Herrero, as well as how Navajo smiths learned silver casting methods from plateros and much more………. read John Adair’s book:

scan0226Metal-working skills were passed from the Spaniards to the Mexicans and then to the Navajo. Interestingly, early Navajo silversmiths chose to use leather stamping tools for their designs, thus distinguishing Navajo pieces from Mexican silver work early on.

toolOf course, that was just the beginning and soon Navajo silversmiths, and other Native American craftsmen, began to develop unique designs and styles which continue to evolve today.

Carinated Cuff Bracelet

Carinated Cuff Bracelet

Watch for more on this topic in a future post.

Paula

Vintage Native American Brooches and Pins Make a Comeback

A brooch is usually a large decorative piece of jewelry pinned to a sweater or dress to complete and outfit and make a bold statement.

A pin is a smaller, simpler item that can be used in a variety of more subtle ways.

Depending on the design, colors, materials and subject matter, a brooch or pin can define an ensemble and the person wearing it !

For a while, it seemed like brooches got a bad rap – maybe due to the gaudy and clunky costume jewelry brooch that often comes to mind.

But recently both brooches and pins have made a strong comeback in the fashion world. So it is a perfect time to get out your vintage and new Native American pins and use them in all kinds of ways. Here are some ideas from classic to unique and a pin that I think would work for each specific use:

At the center of a neckline

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On a collar

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Anywhere on a jacket or coat

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On a scarf to adorn and/or hold it in place

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To keep a blouse or shirt buttoned

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On a clutch purse

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On the strap of a purse or backpack

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Anywhere on denim, pockets, lapels, anything goes

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On the strap of a tank top

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To draw attention to or away from an area

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With a hair scrunchie or headband

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On a hat

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On shoes or boots

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On a turtleneck

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As a pendant – for this you can use the pin itself to hang onto a necklace or between the beads of a necklace.

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Or you can you can use a pin to pendant converter to help.

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What are some other ways to use a pin or brooch?

Paula