What does “snake eye” refer to in Native American jewelry?

I love snake eye jewelry and when I use the term I have found that even long-time Native American jewelry enthusiasts don’t know what I mean.

Snake eye is a technique of setting very small spherical pieces of turquoise. It is somewhat related to petit point and needle point but different in shape and much smaller.

Although these techniques began with Zuni artists around 1930-1940, today they are associated with both Zuni and Navajo jewelers.

All 3 techniques use cabochons, which are small stones that have been rounded on top (not faceted) and polished. It is the shape that differs.

Here is where a picture is worth a thousand words. Some examples……..first of PETIT POINT – teardrop shaped – round on one end, pointed on the  other.

Petit Point stick barrette by Navajo Zeita Begay, contemporary

Petit Point set by Phillip and Virginia Byjoe – Navajo, Vintage

Petit Point Cuff by Johnny Mike Begay, Navajo, Vintage

NOW ON TO NEEDLEPOINT – long and narrow, pointed on both ends.

Needle Point Zuni Bracelet and Ring by EVA L WYACO, contemporary

Needle Point barrette by Nathaniel Nez – Navajo, contemporary

And finally to SNAKE EYE – the reason for this post in the first place. Spherical.  These can range from small to tiny. Here are several examples of snake eye jewelry in various sizes.

Large Snake Eye – Ring by Elanda Wyaco – Zuni, vintage

Medium Snake Eye – Bolo by Bernall Natewa, Zuni, vintage

Tiny Snake Eye – Link bracelet by Stephen Haloo, Zuni, contemporary

So now that you are an expert, what would you call the ones in the photos below?

Paula

 

Charles Loloma Badger Paw Pendant

When this piece arrived in an estate lot several years ago, I fell in love with it immediately – purely for its design and symbolism. I didn’t even look at the back – just thought it was an extraordinary piece.

Then I turned it over…..and………thought………..could it be?

I started googling and soon had a strong feeling this could be a piece by Hopi legend Charles Loloma.

So I wrote to the niece of Charles Loloma, Verma Nequatewa.

Sonwai is the artistic name used by Verma Nequatewa. Verma began working with her uncle, the late Charles Loloma, in the mid-1960’s and continued working with him until his studio closed in the early 1990’s. At that time, she opened her own studio and has been continuing his teachings through her own jewelry.

Here is the reply I received from Bob Rhodes in response to my photos and email to Verma : “The pendant has a tufa-cast back and inlay of turquoise, lapis lazuli, coral and ironwood. It is difficult to see the detail in the photo, so I may have missed something.
The piece represents what Charles called a “Badger Hand.” Charles was Badger clan and this is his concept of a combination of badger paw and human hand. It was most likely made at the Loloma Studio at Hotevilla, AZ in the late 1960’s or early 1970’s. At that time he often did not differentiate between turquoise from different mines. He had a wash basin that he put all sorts of turquoise in, then picked pieces out for different colors and shapes. He did only use natural, not treated, turquoise, so some of the stones will “mature” or change color as they are exposed to light, air and skin oils. What you have is a very representational piece of Loloma jewelry of that time period. ”

Well I got goose bumps and thanked them both so much for the thoughtful and detailed reply.

They appreciated the photos as they are collecting as many as they can of Charles Loloma’s pieces.

Charles Loloma (1921-1991) was an active Hopi artist from 1949-1991. He is one of the most innovative and influential Native American artists of his time. He used many techniques including tufa casting, lost wax casting, stone and wood inlay, and cobblestone.

Although he was also a painter and ceramicist, he is most well known for his jewelry.

This badger paw pendant is an example of the high stone-to-stone inlay he became so well-known for.

According to Loloma himself, “I am not versed in the exact date that I started working in jewelry, but my guess is it was in 1947 when I was a student at Alfred University. I was working in pottery and silver.”

In the mid 1950s Loloma moved to Scottsdale, Arizona and began making jewelry in earnest.

The name Loloma translates to “many beautiful colors” which is certainly evident in his work. He broke from the tradition of solely using turquoise and coral by adding unusual stones of bright color as well as fossilized ivory and imported woods such as iron wood.

Much has been written about Charles Loloma – see Southwestern Indian Jewelry, Crafting New Traditions by Dexter Cirillo.

Paula

Marcus Coochwykvia Hopi Silversmith

Eagle buckle by Marcus Coochwykvia

 

Marcus Coochwykvia

Marcus Coochwykvia has been working as a Silversmith since the 1970’s.  

Trained to make jewelry first by his brother-in-law Glen Lucas, then Roy Talahaftewa and through his association with Hopicrafts, Marcus appears in many books on Native American jewelry.

He lives in Mishongnovi and is a member of the Bear Clan.  Although some of Marcus’ pieces have a hallmark of a Bear Paw with Friendship Marks in the pad, some just have his initials MC.

My belt buckle has both marks.

Hallmark of Marcus Coochwykvia

 

 

Paula

Many Men Thank Mary Bill on Mother’s Day

Mary Bill, along with her husband Ken Bill, is known for crafting heavy Sterling bracelets with and without gold.

Customarily, she uses at least 10 gauge sheet silver (and often 8 gauge) making her bracelets thick, durable and with great appeal to men.

Often she finishes the ends with a widened fishtail for comfort.

Sometimes she uses a lighter gauge silver and then use a combination of stamping, oxidation, and lightly brushing to give a satin finish.

She also makes substantial link bracelets

She has used and uses a number of hallmarks usually with STERLING and often with NAVAJO

Here are some of them:
K & M BILL
Mary and Ken Bill
Mary (often along with KENNETH BILL)
Mary Bill

Thank you Mary Bill and Happy Mother’s Day !

Paula

Restringing a Squash Blossom Necklace

When this arrived in a recent estate lot, I went eeek ! and then promptly contacted our favorite repair shop. Although we can make minor repairs and alterations here at our store, we leave something like this to a professional that has experience with Native American jewelry.

A jumble of beads and a broken wire – I wonder if everything is here to make a necklace again??!!

The 14 mm handmade beads are stamped on both side and so are the blossoms – quite rare !

As usual Old Town did their magic – straightening any bent blossom petals, balancing all the beads beautifully, making a new hook and eye closure….resulting in a treasure of a necklace.

The repair shop we use…….
Contact Diane Radeke at
Old Town Trading Co. / Jewels of the West
4009 N. Brown Ave.
Scottsdale, AZ 85251
602-350-4009
info@oldtownjewels.com

See this related article

Shortening a Squash Blossom Necklace for Paula

Paula

Beautiful Beadwork by Navajo artist Alyce Johnson

Alyce Johnson makes some wonderful beaded bracelets.

Alyce’s stitch work is very fine – this ensures your bracelet will hold together for years.

The leather backing is comfortable and the interior of the bracelet is copper, which is sturdy to hold the shape yet flexible to make the bracelet adjustable

Available from large adult to baby, what more could you ask for !  Alyce is the wife of Navajo silversmith extraordinaire Peterson Johnson.

Paula

What is a Shadowbox?

Recently a customer ordered a shadowbox item from our store and when she received it, she was shocked saying “but it is hollow, it is not solid !!” We used the term shadowbox in the description and showed all kinds of views revealing the construction but perhaps if  a person has never seen a shadowbox, he or she might not know what they are looking at and what to expect.

Shadowbox Belt Buckle - Wilbur Musket, Navajo

Shadowbox Belt Buckle – Wilbur Musket, Navajo

A common jewelry technique used by Navajo and other Native American silversmiths to add interest and layering to a piece is a shadowbox.

The shadowbox technique consists of a cutout top layer that is usually domed and that is soldered to a solid bottom layer.

Vintage Shadowbox Ring

Vintage Shadowbox Ring

The cutout design on the top can vary from paw prints to kokopelli to blanket designs – limited only by the designer’s imagination.

Shadowbox Bolo Tie with Paw Prints

Shadowbox Bolo Tie with Paw Print Cutouts

The bottom layer might be left bright silver or oxidized to give a dark contrast to the cutout design.

Shadowbox Bracelet by Pauline Benally, Navajo

Shadowbox Bracelet by Pauline Benally, Navajo —-the underlayer has a darkened (oxidized) background for a contrasting accent.

Stones are often set into the shadowbox – some artists let the stones protrude somewhat out of the top of the shadowbox and others use stones that when set are flush with the cutout layer.

Shadowbox ring showing one flush (turquoise) and one protruding (coral) piece

Shadowbox ring showing one flush (turquoise) and one protruding (coral) piece

Paula

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