Book Look: Southwestern Indian Rings by Paula A. Baxter

Like Paula Baxter states in her Dedication, I never feel “fully dressed without wearing at least one Navajo or Pueblo ring.”

In my case, sometimes I just have to wear more !  Being a Native American ring aficionado, I found this book an interesting reference.

In over 350 color photographs (taken by her husband Barry Katzen), Paula shows historic and contemporary rings made by Navajo, Hopi, Zuni, Santo Domingo artists and more.  The photos here in my article are not from Paula Baxter’s book – they are photos of my personal rings and some from the store where I work.

Unmarked vintage turquoise – likely Navajo

 

 

 

 

Coral by Rose Castillo Draper, Navajo

 

 

Larry Pooyouma, Hopi

Sidney Sekakuku Jr. – Hopi

Richard and Geneva Terrazas, Zuni

Morris and Sadie Laahte, Zuni

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Contents of the Book

The Design and Appeal of Southwestern Indian Rings

Materials and Methods of Ring Construction

Historical Rings: Pre-Contact to 1930

Vintage Rings, 1930-1979: The Age of Experimentation

Master Innovator

Artistic Adornment: 1980 to Present

It is in the Master Innovator section that she shows and discusses work by Dan Simplicio, Fred Peshlakai, Lee Yazzie, Charles Loloma, Jesse Monongya, Kenneth Begay and others.

Contemporary artists include Sonwai and Arland Ben to mention just a few.

Besides displaying rings in the customary silver and turquoise, there are a number of rings showing other materials including variscite, pink coral, sugilite, petrified wood, ironwood, fossilized ivory, opal, jade, azurite, fire agate as well as many other agates, jasper, tortoise shell and more.

Jasper

White Buffalo Stone by Freddy Charley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mother of Pearl by Rose Castillo Draper, Navajo

Lapis by Navajo Bennie Ration

 

Natural Royston Turquoise by Navajo Walter Vandever

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paula

 

 

 

 

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.

 

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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

What does INGOT mean in relation to Native American jewelry?

Early Native American jewelry (pre-1930’s) was usually hand forged from hand-made, hand-poured ingots. An ingot is a simply a bar or block of metal. The blocks can be any shape but are traditionally rectangles.

ingots

The metals most commonly used in Native American jewelry are sterling silver or coin silver. You can read about coin silver in a previous post. It should be noted that some vintage ingots are “blends”, that is mostly Mexican coins with a few US coins thrown in OR vice versa. Also beginning the 1930’s the blend could be sterling silver with a few US coins thrown in or any variation thereof. That’s why the exact silver content will vary widely in vintage jewelry.

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The beauty of silver is that it can be flattened, stretched, shaped and twisted using hand tools.

hand toolsTo make an ingot, the chosen metal is melted, then poured into block forms.

pouring metal cropped

Once cooled to the perfect working temperature the blocks can be hammered into sheets, wires or other shapes needed for the piece. Silver, sterling silver and coin silver are all malleable, that is they are soft enough to be worked with hand tools – the silver is often reheated in a fire pit or forge several times before the piece is finished.

Silver is hammered while it is still hot because it’s much softer than when it’s cold. It stretches and spreads faster when hot. It needs to be reheated after only a few hammer blows because if hammered too long it will crack.  It takes a lot of experience to hammer an ingot without it cracking. If it is not hammered on all sides before reheating for the next round, it will crack……..which means back to square one, remelting and making another ingot !!

Jewelry that was hand forged and hand hammered is now rare, collectible and expensive because most modern jewelry is no longer hand-hammered from ingots except by master smiths preserving the tradition. A large amount of contemporary Native American jewelry is made from machine-rolled sterling silver sheet and wire and pre-made elements like leaves, flowers and buttons.

One way to tell that jewelry has been hand hammered is the impression of tool marks.

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The early bracelet below was made from an ingot – the surface wrinkling is a telltale sign. Although the wrinkling shows that this bracelet was made from an ingot, had the smith sanded or filed through the wrinkles and made the surface smooth, it would no longer show any signs of being made from an ingot, but it still would be ingot jewelry.

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Thanks to Mike Schmaltz for his help with this information.

Paula

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

Silver is 99.9% pure elemental silver.
Sterling Silver is 92.5% silver and 7.5% other metals, usually copper.

The stamp .925 indicates that at item is 925 parts silver out of 1000 parts, the remaining 75 parts are usually copper but can be other metals.

Read more about silver here Not All Silver is Created Equal

What is Coin Silver?

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In the US, the coin silver standard was established in the 1820s to be 90% silver and 10% copper and all dimes, quarters, half dollars and dollars until the end of 1964 were made of those metals.

12-19-11-silver-dimes

Coin Silver, when used in association with vintage Native American jewelry, is a term used to refer to the alloy that resulted when pre-1965 US silver coins were melted down to reuse in jewelry making. Coin silver made from US coins has less silver than sterling silver (90% compared to 92.5% in sterling silver) but that doesn’t necessarily make coin silver jewelry less desirable. In fact, because coin silver jewelry is usually older and hand hammered, it might be more valuable than if it were made of sterling silver.

Vintage Mexican coins often had a silver content above that of US coins, therefore was softer and easier to hand hammer and preferred by some old-time silversmiths. Some Mexican coin silver jewelry will test as high as sterling silver.

Early Native American craftsmen made jewelry directly from the coins, heating the coins in a fire pit or forge and hammering them into shape. Items like this often have some faint residual impressions from the coin design remaining.

They also made ingots by melting coins and pouring the liquid metal into molds to form ingots (blocks or bars). They then would hand forge, or hammer, an ingot into the shape of a bracelet or other item. It should be noted that some vintage ingots are “blends”, that is mostly Mexican coins with a few US coins thrown in OR mostly sterling silver with a few US coins thrown in or any variation thereof. That’s why the exact silver content will vary widely in the vintage jewelry.

This 1930’s bracelet was hand forged and tests at least as high as sterling silver, so is one of those “blends”.

 

Paula