Dragonfly and the Isleta Cross

About the Isleta Cross

Also called the Pueblo Cross, the Isleta Cross is a very old Pueblo design associated with the Isleta Pueblo. The double-bar cross design is said to have originated with the Moors and Spaniards.

To the Pueblo Indians the double-bar cross was very similar to the dragonfly symbol of their culture, so many Puebloans incorporated the Isleta cross in their jewelry. By the early twentieth century, Pueblo artisans made elegant necklaces with a large central cross as a pendant and smaller crosses along the sides interspersed with beads.

Many crosses of Spanish and Mexican origin as well as Isleta crosses have a heart or a partial heart at the bottom. This is sometime referred to as the “bleeding heart”. In the Catholic Church, the Sacred Heart (the pierced and bleeding heart) alludes to the manner of Jesus’ death and represents Christ’s goodness and charity through his wounds and ultimate sacrifice. However it has been said that the reason the Puebloans put a heart on the bottom of their crosses was for other reasons. They felt it represented the big generous heart of the dragonfly who loved the people. Also, the Pueblo women were said to like the crosses with the hearts on the bottom better, so it could have simply been a case of fashion preference.

The Isleta Pueblo is located in central New Mexico, on the east bank of the Rio Grande south of Albuquerque. It is on the same site as when it was discovered in 1540. It was the seat of the Franciscan mission of San Antonio de Isleta from approximately 1621 until the Pueblo revolt of 1680. The Spaniards captured the pueblo in 1681. In the late 1700’s, when Isleta was repopulated with native peoples, it became the mission of San Agustín de Isleta. Tiwa, a Tanoan language, is the tongue of the Isleta Pueblo.

Read more about Pueblo here What does Pueblo mean?

About the Dragonfly

The dragonfly is associated with many Native American tribes but most notably those of the southwest beginning with early HOHOKAM and MIMBRES depictions on pottery. Early Puebloans and many contemporary southwest artists have continued the tradition.

from Heart of the Dragonfly by Allison Bird

Mimbres reproduction Dragonfly AD 1250 Site Mimbres Valley New Mexico

 

Dragonfly represents rain and its life-giving force, a source of renewal for the land, plants, animals and thus allows human life.

from Landscape of the Spirits: Hohokam Rock Art at South Mountain Park By Todd W. Bostwick, Peter Krocek

1000 year old dragonfly-petroglyph photo by bryan-pfeiffer – click photo to learn more……………

 

From Rock Art Symbols by Alex Patterson

The dragonfly inspires spiritually and creatively and helps us on the path of discovery and enlightenment.

It spiritually embodies the stripping away all negativity that holds us back, helping us to achieve our dreams and goals.

Dragonfly is the keeper of dreams, the energy within that sees all of our true potential and ability. Dragonfly reminds us that anything is possible.

If you have ever seen a dragonfly’s wings glisten in the sunlight you can see why they have inspired jewelers. And how their intricately colored bodies would lead to works of stone inlay.

It is no wonder that contemporary Zuni, Hopi, Navajo and other southwest silversmiths create many beautiful dragonfly pieces.

Paula

 

Native American Buttons and Button Covers

Buttons on Native American dresses, shirts. leggings and moccasins were originally of bone, shell, stone and other natural materials.

In the mid 1800’s, a few Navajo began to learn the art of silversmithing from Mexican plateros.

To learn more on that, read my article   Where did Navajo silversmiths learn their craft?

Early silver beads and buttons were made from coins. Later when silver and sterling silver were more available, buttons were made from ingots and sheet silver.

Read about early Navajo silversmiths.

Early buttons from about 1870 were round, flat and with two holes like conventional buttons. Plain domed silver buttons were made soon thereafter.

 

Buttons were originally for fastening garments but soon became more ornamental and even were used as a trade item. Navajo Indian agent John H. Bowman observed in 1886 “When they wish to buy anything and have no wool to exchange, they simply cut off the needed number of buttons. These vary in value from 2 1/2 cents to $1 – and are never refused as legal tender in this vicinity.”

With access to more diverse tools in the late 1800s and early 1900s, hand-made buttons were domed, filed, etched, fluted, stamped and a loop would be forge-soldered onto the back.

Stones were added about 1900.

See the end of this article for several book excerpts that show button-making techniques.

When button production became mechanized (die cut and machine stamped) hand-made buttons which were labor intensive couldn’t compete price-wise so fewer were made. That’s why hand-made Navajo buttons are fairly scarce.

 

A mixture of vintage buttons and contemporary button covers - can you tell which are which?

A mixture of vintage buttons and contemporary button covers – can you tell which are which?

Enter button covers………………

A variety of sterling silver button covers

The 1970s Native American jewelry boom (see my article The 1970s Native American Jewelry Boom) and the popularity of southwestern and western style dress beginning in the 1980s brought us the tourist version of the Native American button – the button cover –  a clever system that could be slipped over and clasped to any button to dress up a shirt or dress. Instant Urban Cowboy !

Manufactured (not Native American made) southwestern style sterling silver button covers.

Buffalo Nickel Button Covers

The hinged fasteners are machine made of plated steel or stainless steel.

Commercially stamped sterling silver button covers

The design portion or button cover top is usually made of sterling silver. They can be Native American hand-made or commercially machine made.

Contemporary Native American made button covers

Yellowhorse hallmark on above group of button covers

Since most buttons and button covers do not have hallmarks, it requires experience and a good eye to recognize design styles and see details under magnification to determine whether the button tops are hand made or machine made.

Likely these are Native American made concha style sterling silver button covers.

It is possible that the sterling silver shadowbox bear paws with turquoise cabochon were made in a Native American shop.

Navajo-made onyx button covers with dangles – you might ask why one has the oval dangle stones set horizontally and the other vertically……….this is not a set but two individual button covers designed to be worn on the top button of a shirt or blouse. So perhaps his and hers?

 

BOOK EXCERPTS SHOWING HOW BUTTONS ARE MADE

 

Indian Silversmithing by E. Ben Hunt

Indian Silversmithing by E. Ben Hunt

 

Indian Jewelry Making by Oscar T. Branson

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

scan0225

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.

18473103_2

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

scan0224

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

scan0223

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

When was the STERLING stamp first used on Native American jewelry?

An exact date is not available for when the stamp STERLING was first used on Native American jewelry.

According to some sources, the STERLING stamp appeared after 1932.

Most Native American made items from the 1930s and before would not have a STERLING stamp nor any artist hallmark for that matter. But there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to hallmarks – there are always exceptions.

Some items made in the 1940s to 1950s might have the STERLING stamp, most notably, those made by Bell Traders during that time period.

C-ring-harveyera-4

But in general, Native American artists began using the STERLING stamp in the 1950s and 1960s. Since then, the STERLING or Sterling or 925 stamps are quite common as are artists’ hallmarks.

STERLING stamp

Sterling stamp

Sterling stamp

.925 or 925 indicate that the item is 92.5% silver which is the requirement for something to be called sterling silver.

.925 stamp

.925 stamp

In the vast majority of cases, if a piece of Native American jewelry is stamped with one of the above marks, the item is made from Sterling Silver.

If an item is not stamped with one of the above, this does not necessarily mean the item is not made from sterling silver. Most vintage sterling silver Native American items do not have the STERLING mark.

The only definitive way to know is to perform an acid test.

Paula

What does INGOT mean in relation to Native American jewelry?

Early Native American jewelry (pre-1930’s) was usually hand forged from hand-made, hand-poured ingots. An ingot is a simply a bar or block of metal. The blocks can be any shape but are traditionally rectangles.

ingots

The metals most commonly used in Native American jewelry are sterling silver or coin silver. You can read about coin silver in a previous post. It should be noted that some vintage ingots are “blends”, that is mostly Mexican coins with a few US coins thrown in OR vice versa. Also beginning the 1930’s the blend could be sterling silver with a few US coins thrown in or any variation thereof. That’s why the exact silver content will vary widely in vintage jewelry.

Silver-Ingots-Coins-02

The beauty of silver is that it can be flattened, stretched, shaped and twisted using hand tools.

hand toolsTo make an ingot, the chosen metal is melted, then poured into block forms.

pouring metal cropped

Once cooled to the perfect working temperature the blocks can be hammered into sheets, wires or other shapes needed for the piece. Silver, sterling silver and coin silver are all malleable, that is they are soft enough to be worked with hand tools – the silver is often reheated in a fire pit or forge several times before the piece is finished.

Silver is hammered while it is still hot because it’s much softer than when it’s cold. It stretches and spreads faster when hot. It needs to be reheated after only a few hammer blows because if hammered too long it will crack.  It takes a lot of experience to hammer an ingot without it cracking. If it is not hammered on all sides before reheating for the next round, it will crack……..which means back to square one, remelting and making another ingot !!

Jewelry that was hand forged and hand hammered is now rare, collectible and expensive because most modern jewelry is no longer hand-hammered from ingots except by master smiths preserving the tradition. A large amount of contemporary Native American jewelry is made from machine-rolled sterling silver sheet and wire and pre-made elements like leaves, flowers and buttons.

One way to tell that jewelry has been hand hammered is the impression of tool marks.

BP262-BC-ingot-turq-638-4

The early bracelet below was made from an ingot – the surface wrinkling is a telltale sign. Although the wrinkling shows that this bracelet was made from an ingot, had the smith sanded or filed through the wrinkles and made the surface smooth, it would no longer show any signs of being made from an ingot, but it still would be ingot jewelry.

BP256-BC-row-turq-634-4 BP256-BC-row-turq-634-5

Thanks to Mike Schmaltz for his help with this information.

Paula

What does “Vintage” mean in relation to Native American Jewelry?

Hi Paula,

I’m a regular shopper in your Pawn Shop and wonder what vintage means?

Sue

Hi Sue,

Webster defines the word vintage as a general term that is associated with a particular year such as a wine being of vintage 2009, for example. So in reality, it does not, in a global sense, designate any particular age, just “of an age”.

Here at Horsekeeping LLC, we have developed our own definition of vintage to describe items in our pawn shop. Here is that definition along with some other terms related to age.

Vintage – 30 years old or older, so something made in the 1980s or earlier. (However, with clothing, vintage means items made 20 years before the present day.)

NOS – New Old Stock. Made at least 20 years ago but never used.

Pre-Owned – An item of any age but that has been used.

First Phase – From 1860-1900. Read more about First Phase and Transition Period in  First Phase in Native American Jewelry

Patina – A dark or colored film of oxidation that forms naturally on metal by exposure to air and other elements. It is often valued for its aesthetically pleasing appearance. All items in our Pawn Shop, even NOS, have some patina. We leave it that way as some people like the natural patina. Otherwise sterling silver can be buffed back to a brilliant shine.

Here is another related article on the subject

Is this a rare style of Squash Blossom Necklace? Is it vintage?

Visit our pawn shop to learn more.  Paula

pawn shopBST465-625-cobblestone-spencer-1

To view our full list of article or to ask a jewelry question, follow the instructions here
http://www.horsekeeping.com/native-american-jewelry-artifacts.htm

If you are selling your jewelry, read this
http://www.horsekeeping.com/jewelry/pawn-buying.htm

Paula

First Phase vs First Phase Style

The phrase “Native American Jewelry” is often misused to describe “Native American style jewelry”.

For serious collectors, the phrase Native American Jewelry means an item made by a Native American artist.

Native American Made Cluster Bracelet by Robert and Bernice Leekya, Zuni

Native American Made Cluster Bracelet by Robert and Bernice Leekya, Zuni

For someone trying to sell a pewter cast buffalo pendant, they might call it a Native American pendant, but it is NOT !! It might be Native American style but that’s as close as it gets.

Cast Pewter Buffalo Pendant - NOT Native American Made, but could be though of as Native American STYLE

Cast Pewter Buffalo Pendant – NOT Native American Made, but could be though of as Native American STYLE

Similarly, some sellers call certain items, most notably concha belts, “First Phase” when in reality they are reproductions of First Phase items.  Read about First Phase here in my article

First Phase in Southwestern Native American Jewelry

Reproductions, whether or not they are made by a Native American artist, should not be called First Phase.  Instead, they should be called First Phase Style or First Phase Revival or Copy of First Phase or something similar. Then it should be clearly stated in the detailed description that the item is NOT from the First Phase which is generally considered to be from 1860-1900.

Is it real or is it Memorex??

Is it real or is it Memorex??

Paula