Mike Schmaltz Brings a Dragonfly to Life

Native American pieces that are completely handmade are becoming harder to find.  By NA handmade, I mean made in the USA by a registered Native American using no manufactured elements. Its like cooking from scratch – using whole foods and no canned ingredients.

Jewelry by Algonquin artist Mike Schmaltz is not only handmade but beautiful and unique.

Michael (Poole) Schmaltz started making jewelry full time in 1973. He learned jewelry through making many mistakes and learning what not to do. He picked up some valuable tips by watching a few master Zuni silversmiths who were more than willing to share. He learned the art of hot forging ingots into sheet and wire from the blow by blow description of Tom Burnsides hammering silver that is described in the book The Navajo and Pueblo Silversmiths by John Adair.

Let’s step inside Mike’s shop and watch him create a coin silver dragonfly pendant from concept to finish.

Photo 1 – The design and dimensions are roughed out on graph paper.

Photo 2 The coin silver ingot is heated to a dull red, then taken to the anvil . When it turns black, it is pounded with a heavy hammer all over all surfaces, then reheated and pounded again. These steps are repeated until the required shape, thickness, and size is reached. It takes a lot of experience to know when to reheat so as to not get a cracked ingot.

To read more about coin silver click here.

What does Coin Silver mean in relation to Native American jewelry ?

 

Photo 3 The sheet is flattened by pounding with a polished faced hammer. Once the sheet is large enough for the project, the design is drawn on the metal.

Photo 4 The stamping is done and the outline of the dragonfly is cut out.

 

Photo 5 The smooth bezels are made to best suit the piece of jewelry. They are set in position and soldered in place. The stones will be cut to fit the bezels.

Photo 6 The edge of the body is refined and silver raindrop accents are added down both sides.

Mike makes all of his wire from ingot, hand drawing the wire through a draw plate.

Photo 7 The wire legs and Shepherd’s Hook are soldered in place.

Photo 8 The back complete with hallmarks

Photo 9 – The front complete and almost ready for stones.

Photo 10 – The dragonfly is antiqued with liver of sulphur which is then removed from the high spots with steel wool.

Photo 11 Now it is time to choose the stones. A few test ovals were drawn on this beautiful Chinese turquoise but it was determined that in small pieces this stone would be too dark.

Photo 12 – The Morenci stones have more bright color and variation so were chosen for this piece.

Photo 13 – The eyes are made by grinding spots out of the turquoise head and cutting jet to fit.

Photo 14 – Each stone is cut to fit a bezel and set one at a time with a little sawdust cushion underneath the stone to help prevent future cracking of the stone.

Photo 15 – And the finished dragonfly pendant. Ready to be hung from a strand of beads.

Mike’s jewelry speaks for itself – it is genuinely beautiful.

Thank you Mike for your photos and comments for this article.

Paula

White Turquoise Demystified

There is a lot of confusion related to white stones used in Native American jewelry. I’ve gathered some facts and resources that you might find useful as you buy and sell items with white stones. Here is what I am going to cover in this article:

** There is no such thing as “White Turquoise”.
** There is a beautiful stone called “White Buffalo Stone”.
** Various other white stones are erroneously called “White Turquoise”. These include howlite and magnesite. Besides being passed off as white turquoise, they are often dyed and sold as turquoise and other gemstones.

** There is no such thing as “White Turquoise”.

By definition turquoise contains copper (it is a copper aluminium phosphate), which is what gives the characteristic blue color. Presence of more iron (and some say aluminum) will shift the color toward green.

Good quality turquoise is hard. Gemstone quality turquoise will grade 7 on the Mohs scale. (The hardest naturally occurring stone, the diamond, rates a 10 on the Mohs scale.)

Kingman Turquoise

Within a mining operation and even sometimes within the same vein, both greens and blues will be found. Also pale veins will occur with the stone appearing almost white, powder blue or pale green.

Light veins in turquoise mines are sometimes too soft (below 5 on the Mohs scale) to polish and use as gemstones. The softer porous stones are referred to as “chalky”.

The Number 8 bracelet below is about as close to “white turquoise” as you are going to get………….and still be turquoise.

A very pale turquoise stone.

However, there is a beautiful hard stone called “White Buffalo”.

White Buffalo

WHITE BUFFALO (called “albino turquoise” by some and erroneously “white turquoise” by others) is only found in one location in the world.  Tonopah Nevada.  The mine is owned by Dean, Lynn and Danny Otteson who have been mining high quality turquoise in Nevada and Colorado for over 60 years.

The trade name “White Buffalo” is used to identify the stone from the Tonopah, Nevada mine owned by the Otteson family.

The white stone is surrounded by black and brown flint-like chert (an opaque variety of quartz) which creates beautiful patterns, and sometimes in rare pieces, a spider-web matrix. The stone appears in veins, is as hard as turquoise (Mohs hardness scale of 5.5 to 7.5) and cuts and polishes like turquoise. In the Native American jewelry business, this stone is generally referred to as “White Buffalo”.

White Buffalo

White Buffalo is white with black and brown inclusions. See the slide show below for examples.

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Although White Buffalo is as hard as turquoise and polishes to a high shine, it has no copper and no blue color, so is technically not turquoise.  Nonetheless, it is a beautiful gemstone.

 

** Various other white stones are erroneously called “White Turquoise”. These include howlite and magnesite.

HOWLITE is a porous borate mineral that often appears in irregular nodules resembling cauliflower. It is snow white to milky stone often with brown or black veins. It is sometimes passed off as White Turquoise or White Buffalo. It is also dyed to imitate blue or green turquoise. It is quite soft with a Mohs hardness of 3.5 in contrast to turquoise which usually ranges from 5-7.

See examples of rough howlite, polished stones, dyed stones and more in the slide show below.

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MAGNESITE is a calcite group mineral that contains the chemical formula “magnesium carbonate” (MgCO3). It usually forms in three-dimensional rhombohedral shaped crystals and cleavage fragments when magnesium-rich rocks come into contact with carbon dioxide-rich water.

When mined, Magnesite usually appears as chalky white, but can also be found in gray, brown, yellow, orange, pale pink and colorless varieties too. In terms of luster, it is often dull, with a matte surface in its original state. A little harder than howlite, it rates 3.5 to 4.5 on the Mohs scale, still below that of most turquoise.

Magnesite is mined from many sources across the United States, Europe, Africa, Brazil and China.

Magnesite is often dyed to a light blue color and because of its dark veining, it then very closely resembles Turquoise. In some cases, Magnesite is passed off as Turquoise by unaware or unscrupulous dealers and sellers.

See the slide show below for examples of rough magnesite, polished stones and dyed magnesite.

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Closing with my White Buffalo jewelry. Paula

Here are some other articles on our website and on this blog with related information.

Turquoise and Mines

What Makes Turquoise Change Color?

Does iron make turquoise more green and copper make it more blue…..or Vice Versa???

White Buffalo Stone

What is Seafoam Turquoise?

The term Seafoam Turquoise does not refer to a mine or location where certain turquoise is found.

Rather it refers to two visual characteristics that turquoise nuggets might have. The turquoise could come from any number of mines.

Seafoam refers to both color and shape.

Here is a slide show with examples of the color seafoam, used to describe interior paint, linens and clothing among other things. Although the colors vary, you can see the sea in all of them!

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Below is what the shape of seafoam can look like, but it varies considerably. It is meant to look like the configuration of bubbling foam at the seaside, so bumpy turquoise in the seafoam color.

For beads, the nuggets are not cut, but left in their natural shape.

If to be mounted such as on the vintage necklace below, the back of the seafoam nugget is flattened but the top is left bumpy.

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Paula

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

 

What Mine is this Turquoise From? Bisbee

What mine is this turquoise from?

If I had a nickel for every time I have been asked that question or have seen someone ask it on a group or forum, well, if I saved up all those nickels, I might be able to buy one of these gorgeous pieces !!

But seriously, people want to know. And the answer is……… Sometimes it is fairly straightforward and sometimes the difference between stones from various mines is a bit more fuzzy.

I have seen trays of stones from one particular mine, for example Bisbee below, that range widely in color, matrix, density and hardness – from blue to green and everything in between, with honey to black matrix and from somewhat crumbly to super hard.

With that said, there are certain mines that tend to produce stones that have a certain LOOK to them and can be identified with a fair degree of certainty.

Here is a vintage Bisbee bracelet – gorgeous stones. Note how one has turned a little green over the years – this is one sign of a natural turquoise stone as it ages………or it could have been a little greener stone to start with.

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Bisbee turquoise was a by-product of copper mining near Bisbee, Arizona. It is known mainly for its brilliant blue color and smoky webbing. Bisbee turquoise was found at all levels of the copper mine from 100 to 2000 feet and the quality and coloration varies widely from layer to layer. Often the stones have a matrix of brown, gray or black, but clear stones of blues and greens have also come from the Bisbee mine. There was never that much turquoise mined in Bisbee to begin with and now the mine is closed. What remains today is in the hands of old miners and long-time collectors. Because of its hardness, quality and scarcity Bisbee turquoise is one of the most valued turquoise in the world today.

 

Here are some other articles on our website and on this blog with turquoise mine information.

Turquoise and Mines

What Makes Turquoise Change Color?

Does iron make turquoise more green and copper make it more blue…..or Vice Versa???

Is there a green turquoise that has no blue in it at all?

What is Spiderweb Turquoise?

What is Birdseye Turquoise?

Number Eight #8

White Buffalo Stone

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

Wesley Craig AKA Wes Craig, Navajo Jeweler

Navajo artist Wesley Craig, born 1959 in Gallup, New Mexico, has been actively making jewelry since 1974. Son of Robert Etsitty Craig Jr. and Marie Craig, he was taught his craft by his mother Marie.

His hallmark is usually Wes Craig in script inside a feather but he also has used WC. Often he adds IHMSS – Indian Hand Made Sterling Silver.

Sometimes the Running Bear shop mark (RB inside a bear) is also included which would indicate he made the item at Running Bear Trading Co in Gallup, New Mexico.

His brother, Hyson Craig, is also a notable Navajo jeweler.

Paula