Southwest Native American Rings

A few years back a woman wrote me saying:

“I am looking for one of those turquoise indian rings.”

I thought, “Gee……..where do I start”……….?? So I asked her to describe the one she was looking for and she said “like a wedding band”. I immediately thought of the Zuni inlay rings that have been popular for many years and sold all over the southwest. I sent her this photo and she said – “Exactly”.

Phew, that was an easy one.

Shortly after that a man wrote asking for a ring like he saw in Thunderheart (the movie)

Now there I had a better idea of what he was looking for since I have watched that movie a dozen times and even got my husband a ring like the big turquoise oval one in the movie.

1 3/8″ turquoise ring by the late M. NARANJO, Tewa

However, there were at least 4 different types of rings in the movie, so I devoted a blog article to answer his question in detail – to see examples of the 4 rings in the movie, click the link below.

I want to get a ring like I saw in the movie Thunderheart

Over the years I have helped a number of people find the ring of their dreams. But I thought one way to further help would be to categorize, describe and show photos of some of the more commonly made types of Native American rings, thus creating a vocabulary of sorts to allow a dialogue to get started.

MATERIALS

In most cases, Native American rings are made from sterling silver – you can read about silver by clicking the link below to my blog post:

Jewelry Silver – Not All Silver is Created Equal

Some rings are solely made of sterling. But the vast majority also feature stones, shells and other materials.

Here is a list of commonly used materials in Native American rings: (I have written articles about some of the materials, so you can click on those that are hyperlinks to learn more). To read about other materials, look in the right hand column of the home page of this blog and you’ll see an outline of article topics – scroll to Materials – there are plenty more materials listed there.

Acoma Jet
Bear Claws and other claws
Coral
Gaspeite
Jasper
Lapis Lazuli
Mother of Pearl
Onyx
Opal (natural and imitation)
Malachite
Petrified Wood
Spiny Oyster (orange and purple)
Tiger Eye
Turquoise
White Buffalo Stone

TRIBAL STYLES

Generally southwest Native American rings are made by Navajo, Zuni or Hopi jewelers.

In VERY general terms, I’ll first describe the types of rings associated with each tribe but I’ll provide much more detail throughout this article.

Navajo rings are typically a sterling silver band, often heavy and/or elaborate. The band can be silver only or have stones that are set with various types of bezels.  For more information on bezels, read my article  Types of Bezels  If a Navajo ring is inlaid, the inlay pieces are usually separated by silver channels.

Zuni rings are usually either stone-on-stone inlays (no silver channels in between the pieces), snake rings, snake eyepetit point or needlepoint. 

Hopi rings are most often sterling silver overlays with contrasting (oxidized) and textured backgrounds.

NAVAJO RINGS

There are a number of ring styles that are associated with Navajo silversmiths. I’ll mention some of the most common and popular.

Storyteller

One traditional style of Navajo silver ring is a storyteller. Individual scenes depicting daily life are cut out of a sheet of silver and layed over an oxidized background.

Storyteller bracelets show Navajo life. The home (hogan) and the activities around the home such as cooking, weaving, tending livestock, driving a wagon to town. The scenery of the area such as buttes, trees and shrubs and sometimes clouds are also depicted.

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Silver

There is nothing better for everyday wear than a well-made silver Navajo ring. Below is a slide show depicting some popular silver Navajo ring styles including stamped, repousse, overlay and more. Click here to see more silver rings.

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Sandcast

Sand cast and tufa cast items are made using a mold into which molten silver is poured. Click to read more about Cast Jewelry, To see more cast rings, click here

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Single Stone Turquoise

Possibly the most iconic Navajo ring is the single turquoise stone. Put one on and you feel like a million dollars. Below is a wonderful array of single stone turquoise rings, both polished cabochons and nuggets. To see more turquoise rings, click here.

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Single Stone Other

When you need a Jet or Mother of Pearl or Lapis ring to go with your outfit, you will likely be able to find a beautiful Navajo single stone ring to fit the bill. To see more single stone rings, click here

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Cluster

Cluster refers to a group of stones usually set in a circular or oval pattern. While often associated with Zuni artists, there are a number of Navajo smiths that have made cluster rings over the years. To see the cluster rings we have for sale, click here 

Turquoise and Coral

A very popular color combination is coral and turquoise together. Turquoise is a happy stone by itself – add a dash of coral and you’ll just be giddy ! Very classic and classy. To see the turquoise and coral rings we have to offer, click here

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MOP and Other Shell

Mother of Pearl, Pink Shell, Abalone, Paua Shell and other shells add a bit of gleam and glitter to a ring. To see more examples, click here.  

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Claw

Claw rings are a popular design, especially with men, The claws can be real or faux claws and traditionally are bear but can also be from smaller animals like coyotes. To see more examples of bear claw rings, click here.

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Silver Channel Inlay

Navajo inlay usually features silver channels between pieces of stone. Click here to see more.

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Inlay

Although pictorial inlay is more commonly associated with Zuni artists, there are a number of Navajo that make beautiful and unique inlay rings. Click here to see vintage Navajo rings. 

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Corn Row, Cobblestone and Mosaic Inlay

Three types of inlay that are somewhat similar are Mosaic Inlay (click the link to go to a separate article), Corn Row and Cobblestone inlay. They are a more 3 dimensional type of inlay than the flat inlay of Zuni artists.

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Shadowbox

The shadowbox technique consists of a cutout top layer that is usually (but not always) domed and that is soldered to a solid bottom layer with or without a dark contrasting background. The shadowbox might be all silver or incorporate stones.

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Leaf and Feather

A very popular design style for Navajo rings, especially those made for the tourist trade, is the incorporation of a leaf or feather along with the other silver work or stones. The leaves and feather might be hand made or the could be ready-made cast pieces that the silversmith purchases from a trading post and adds onto the ring. Some wrap around rings are made of a single feather. To see many examples of leaf and feather rings, click here.

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Cigar Band

Cigar band style refers to a wide band with stamping. To read more about this style, click on my post- What is a Cigar Band Ring? 

Here is an example of a cigar band ring using White Buffalo Stone. It was made by Tony Garcia. 

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ZUNI RINGS

Zuni rings are usually one of 4 types: Inlay, Petit Point, Needlepoint and Snake Eye.

Inlay

Zuni inlay is usually stone-on-stone inlay, that is, the stone or shell pieces touch each other, there is no silver channel work in between. However, just as I say that, you will see below some examples of Zuni inlay that does incorporate silver channels. There are no hard and fast rules – just generalizations.

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Petit Point

Petit Point is comprised of long, narrow teardrop-shaped stones and possibly round dots.

Needlepoint 

Needlepoint is comprised of straight, long, narrow stones that are pointed on both ends. Here are examples of needlepoint rings:

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Snake Eye

Snake Eye rings are comprised of many tiny spherical cabochons of turquoise (usually). You can read more about Snake Eye in my article

Here is a 100 stone snake eye ring by April and Peter Halloo, Zuni

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Here are more examples of snake eye rings:

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Snake Rings

Some Zuni families, most notably that of Effie Calavaza, make snake motif rings.

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HOPI RINGS

Hopi rings are traditionally overlay with contrasting (oxidized) and texturized backgrounds. Sometimes the designs are easily recognizable animal and other natural elements, other times they are abstracts.

Here is an example of a Hopi overlay ring by Raymond Kyasyousie.

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More hopi ring examples:

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To read more about rings, here is an interesting book that I reviewed here on this blog:

Book Look: Southwestern Indian Rings by Paula A. Baxter

 

Paula

Authentic Native American Indian Fetish Necklaces

To begin talking about Native American fetish necklaces, first a little bit about fetishes.

A Native American fetish is a stone or shell carving and sometimes antler or wood, usually in the image of an animal.

Zuni Horse Fetish made of Acoma Jet

Indian fetishes can be carried or displayed. Those that are carried are often called pocket fetishes.

Lakota Pipestone Buffalo Fetish – makes a great pocket fetish because of its smooth surface and sturdy construction.

Those that are displayed are called table fetishes.

Zuni Deer Fetish carved from Antler

Zuni artists are the traditional fetish carvers but there are many talented Navajo carvers as well.

Pig by Stanton Hannaweeke – Zuni

Bobcat by Navajo Herbert Davis

To read more about fetishes, see my other blog posts:

Native American Fetish Carvings – What are they used for?

Animal Fetish Powers

Types of Native American Fetishes

Serpentine used in Native American Fetish Carvings

Native American Terms – Fetish, Totem, Amulet, Talisman

How Do I Display Zuni Native American Fetish Carvings?

Native American Fetishes – Zuni Carving Families

The Power of Native American Fetish Carvings – Story of the Midnight Bear

Native American Stone Fetish Carvings – Six Directions

How Zuni Navajo Native American Fetishes Are Made

 

FETISH NECKLACES

Vintage Fetish Necklace – origin unknown

Native American fetish necklaces are made with small fetishes that are drilled and strung like beads with fine shell, turquoise or jet heishi in between. Just like with pocket and table fetishes, fetish necklaces are made by both Navajo and Zuni artists.

AND BEWARE !! There are many NON- Native American fetish necklaces. They are usually made overseas and sold as Native American. BAD !!! Below is a slide show of 3 common imported, faux Native American necklaces. When we get items like this in an estate lot, we sell them in our Bargain Barn.

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Like any Native American item, buy directly from the maker or from a trusted seller.

Navajo horse fetish necklace

 

The animals can vary but often include birds, bears, horses, mountain lions, turtles, foxes, wolves and many others.

Zuni fetish necklace with many animals

The stones and shells usually used include turquoise, mother of pearl, pink shell, acoma jet, serpentine, pipestone and many others.

Navajo Fetish Necklace

Here are some more of my blog posts that relate to fetish necklaces:

What is a stacked necklace? More on Navajo and Zuni Fetish Necklaces

Are these Bird Fetish Necklaces Authentic Native American made?

44 Bird Fetish Necklace – is it Native American made?

Stacked Fetish Necklace – is it authentic Native American made?

Wanted – A Six Directions Fetish Necklace Set

Native American Fetish Necklace – Signed by Artist?

Native American Wearable Art – Stacked Fetish Necklace

Hector Goodluck Monument Valley Fetish Necklace

Native American Fetish Necklace – Mother or Grandmother Necklace

Bird Fetish Necklace from Goodwill

Paula

Sacred Red Pipestone from Minnesota

Lakota horse pipe carved by 4th generation Lakota pipemaker Alan Monroe from pipestone he quarried from Pipestone National Monument

 

From the website of Pipestone National Monument 

“When you pray with this pipe, you pray for and with everything.”  -Black Elk

 

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For countless generations, American Indians have quarried the red pipestone found at this site.

Red Pipestone is also referred to as Catlinite. Read more about Catlinite by clicking here.

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 These grounds are sacred to many people because the pipestone quarried here is carved into pipes used for prayer. Many believe that the pipe’s smoke carries one’s prayer to the Great Spirit. The traditions of quarrying and pipemaking continue here today.

More information from the Pipestone National Monument website

Located in rural southwestern Minnesota, the pipestone quarries are considered a sacred site by many American Indians. For the last 5,000 years or more, tribes across the central region of North America have traveled to this site to quarry. Today, they still travel long distances to this site to continue the tradition of pipestone quarrying and pipe making. Since 1946, the 56 active pipestone quarry pits have been managed by issuance of a quarry permit.

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Pipestone quarrying is often an underappreciated part of the tradition surrounding pipe making. The task of extracting pipestone from the earth is slow and laborious using hand tools not much more advanced than the tools and methods used in past millennia. The process can require many days of physical labor with only sledgehammers, pry bars, chisels, wedges, and steel bars allowed. Good physical condition is a prerequisite.

 

A cross-section view of a quarry showing the layers of earth and quartzite that needs to be removed before reaching the layer of pipestone. Note that the pipestone seam is angled downward. Over time, the quarriers must remove more and more quartzite, one of the hardest rocks in the world, to continue extracting the pipestone.

Depending upon the specific quarry and amount of material extracted, experience has shown that quarrying time can be estimated at two to six weeks to reach the subsurface layer of pipestone. This pipestone lens is sandwiched between layers of very hard Sioux Quartzite formation rock. Depending upon a quarry’s location along the quarry line, the upper levels of quartzite can be four to ten feet thick above the pipestone layer. Prairie plants and soil varying in depth from one to six feet cover the upper layer of quartzite.

Quarriers use shovels and wheelbarrows to dig up surface soils and glacial till. Then they dump it in rubble piles at the rear of the quarries. Subsequently, broken pieces of quartzite rock are also discarded.

The upper layer of quartzite is composed of multiple quartzite strata, with vertical fractures and cracks in the rock. Wedges or chisels are placed into these cracks can be driven down with sledge hammers to break apart loose individual quartzite blocks. Upon loosening a piece, it is worked free with a steel pry bar and allowed to drop to the floor of the quarry. Heavy sledge hammers are then used to break the bigger chunks of quartzite into smaller, more manageable pieces that can be lifted and thrown out of the back of the quarry. The process of breaking out the quartzite is repeated many times until the pipestone layer is exposed.

See the slide show below which shows the blessing and quarrying of the pipestone that is used to make the items in our store

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The smaller pieces are also used in building a rock retaining wall along the front of the rubble pile. The rock wall serves as a barrier so that as additional quartzite and soil are thrown or stacked at the rear of the quarry, the rubble pile is prevented from collapsing back into the quarry. Building a sturdy retaining wall to keep rock and fill out of the pit is an essential part of managing a quarry and a very important protective safeguard for quarriers.

Sacred Catlinite Ceremonial Necklace

Once the pipestone is exposed, care must be taken in removing the stone as it is very fragile and when handling large slabs it can break. The pipestone layer may vary from 10 to 18 inches thick and it too is composed of multiple layers from 1 ½ to 3 inches thick. Individual layers are carefully removed one slab at a time by driving wedges into the natural horizontal seams. The natural vertical cracks in the quartzite carry down through the pipestone, which allows the quarrier to remove the pipestone layers in irregularly-shaped slabs or tabular blocks.

Raven Effigy Pipe

The quarry pits are located in the bottom of a bowl-shaped drainage. In the spring and early summer months groundwater from rain and snow melt collects in this low lying area, filling the quarries with water. Most quarriers prefer to work during the summer to late fall months to avoid the groundwater problems. Monument staff will assist quarriers by pumping water out of the quarries, but only two days ahead of when quarrying is planned. Often, when it is high, groundwater will flow back into the quarries as fast as it is pumped out. Since continued pumping will not reduce the water level, it will not be attempted during these periods when groundwater is high.

Buffalo Effigy Pipe

Paula

Lakota Four Winds Pipes

Four Winds

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The Four Winds are evoked in many Lakota ceremonies. The Four Winds are all wakan. Wakan is a Lakota word which represents mysterious powerful beings or spirits.

4W6-T-pipe

The first wind is the WEST, Yata. This is where Wakinyan (the Thunderbird) lives. It is where all animals are created and the West Wind is present when man and animals die. The West Wind is strong and mighty but good natured. It is where the sun goes to rest. The eagle is the akicita (marshall) of the West Wind.

The second wind is the NORTH, Woziya. The tonweyapi of the North are the white owl, raven and wolf. Tonweyapi are aides – they can be marshalls, soldiers, spies or counselors. The North Wind is strong and usually cruel but occasionally jolly. The things he touches grow cold and die. The North Wind decides if the dead people are worthy to pass or wander forever cold, hungry and naked.

The third wind is the EAST, Yanpa. The nighthawk is the tonweyapi of the East. The East Wind sleeps a lot. It is called on to help the sun and the dawn appear. And it gives a place for the moon to regrow. The sun and the moon know and see everything on earth and they tell it to Yanpa. Lodges face east to please Yanpa. The East Wind is evoked by the sick asking for a rest.

The fourth wind is the SOUTH, Okaga. The tonweyapi of the south are waterfowl and the meadowlark. The South wind makes beautiful things, flowers and seeds. It is the giver of life. It is kind and brings good weather. The south is a place where spirits can go after death.

The winds are sometimes at odds with each other over women or other things. Iktomi (spider wakan) purposely stirs up trouble among the Four Winds so he can have fun watching them fight.

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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

 

What do I have to do to break in my new catlinite pipe?

Hi Paula,

Really stupid question, but is there any pre-treatment, heating or whatever to do to the pipe bowl prior to smoking it? Just a little nervous of cracking the bowl with the heat from the tobacco and the kinnikinnick burning in there.

Kind regards

Phil

CEP65-horse-1Hi Phil,

Nothing is needed for breaking in the pipe. Catlinite (pipestone) is the perfect material to make pipes out of. It can be smoked quite a bit but still be just a bit warm on the outside. That’s because pipestone is a clay and it porous so it cools quick and has give. So it won’t break. It is natural pipe material and that is why it has been used for many many years by Lakota and other pipe makers.

Paula

How Should I Decorate my Lakota Pipe and Stem?

Hi there all at Horsekeeping,

I have received my pipe bowl and pipe stem around two weeks ago now (thank you very much!) and have done nothing with the stem as yet. My animal totem is the Grizzly Brown bear, and wonder what decoration I should use. I feel that I should leave the pipe bowl untouched and treat the wood and decorate the stem only. I have thought about using some bead work on leather with the sacred hoop colours and using eagle feathers and (if attainable) bear fur. If I was to do this I think it may be difficult to attach if I treated the stem with say bees wax. Any suggestions?

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Kind regards

Phil

Hi Phil,
We feel you should look to your heart or your spiritual adviser or tribal leader for help in choosing how to adorn your pipe.
Beeswax would make it difficult to make things stick to the wood but often leather or pelts are laced onto the stem when the leather or hide is wet, so it shrinks tight onto the stem.

Paula