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

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