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

 

Native American Wearable Art – Stacked Fetish Necklace

Paula,

My daughter-in-law wanted a stacked fetish necklace for Christmas and I felt funny when she asked me for it because, I’m a little embarrassed to say, but I thought it was something obscene. Now I know a little more about it but wonder if you would explain further.

Name Withheld on Request.

Hello there,

No need to be embarrassed – first of all the word fetish could conjure up some uneasy feelings.

From an online dictionary:

Fetish:

1. An object that is believed to have magical or spiritual powers, especially such an object associated with animistic or shamanistic religious practices.
2. An object of unreasonably excessive attention or reverence: made a fetish of punctuality.
3. Something, such as a material object or a nonsexual part of the body, that arouses sexual desire and may become necessary for sexual gratification.
4. An abnormally obsessive preoccupation or attachment; a fixation.
So Native American hand-carved totems or fetishes are definition #1.
The definition that probably made you go “Why in the heck is my daughter-in-law asking for a fetish necklace for Christmas” is #3.
Now add the word stacked in there.

1.         stacked – arranged in a stack
2.         stacked – (of a woman’s body) having a large bosom and pleasing curves

Native American necklace #1.

Odd request for Christmas #2.

So, a Stacked Fetish Necklace is one where the hand carved stone animals are placed closer together than normal, in essence stacked on top of each other. Here is an example of a regular fetish necklace and a stacked fetish necklace by the same artist, Navajo Neil Thomas.

19-Animal Fetish Necklace by Navajo Neil Thomas

43-Animal STACKED fetish necklace by Navajo Neil Thomas

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Native American Symbol – Peyote (Water) Bird Colors

What do the coral and turquoise inlay represent in the peyote (or water) bird?  I have heard they refer to fire & ice, but I would like a better explanation if you happen to know.  [Or if you know of a place to refer me to]  I want to put a peyote bird on my fire place mantle in cut stone and emulate it, but would like to know why first..??  Why the two colors?  Thank you for your time, your website has been most helpful!

Lisa

Hi Lisa,

To expand or clarify on my previous postings on this subject, the peyote bird is associated with the Plains Indians and the Native American Church and the water bird is associated with the Hohokam culture. And yet many people consider these symbols to be very similar or the same.

The Hohokam were the early inhabitants of south central Arizona.

Evidence of their life there dates between 100 B. C. and A. D. 1500. Today’s Pima Indians and Tohono O’odham (formerly Papago) are said to be Hohokam descendants. The first known turquoise jewelry of the southwest was found in this location.

Archeological Remains of the Hohokam Culture in the Southwest United States

The peyote bird, AKA snake bird and water turkey, is associated with the Native American Church and the ritual use of peyote there by the church members. The expansion of the Native American Church to many regions has also brought about the widespread of the use of the peyote bird as a symbol by many Native American artists regardless of their tribal affiliation or geographical location.

Native American Church Symbol - Peyote Bird

The shape of portions of the peyote bird correspond to portions of the Native American Church ceremonies:

the head shaped like the rattle used in the ceremonies

the wings outspread like the ceremonial altar

the fan-like lower body like the tipi where the services are held.

Hand carved and hand painted Peyote Bird Necklace by Lonny Cloud

Chip inlay is one of the most popular ways to depict the peyote bird. Chip inlay utilizes small pieces of stone chips left over from use in other projects. Therefore, since the most common stones used in Southwestern Native American jewelry are turquoise and coral, those are the traditional colors used in almost all chip inlay.

Navajo Sterling Silver and Chip Inlay Peyote Bird Pin Pendant

I am not familiar with any symbolism of the colors specifically but just that turquoise and coral were available, made a good contrast to each other (like fire and ice), so have been used that way for a long time.

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