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

 

Zuni artist Charlotte Dishta makes beautiful blanket pattern inlay

Charlotte Dishta has been making jewelry since the 1980s and is known for her mosaic rug pattern inlays.

Here is a beautiful example of a rug pattern on a vintage NOS (New Old Stock) belt buckle.

She uses the traditional four color materials of Acoma Jet, Turquoise, Mother of Pearl and Coral.

BU126-BG-inlay-dishta-1 BU126-BG-inlay-dishta-5Paula

Benjamin Becenti Inlay Storyteller Concho Belt shows Navajo life

Born about 1950, Benjamin Becenti is the son of Robert Becenti, Sr and the
brother of Robert Becenti Jr. He is from Crownpoint, New Mexico. He has been
active in inlay work since the 1970s.

He is well known for his wonderful inlay storyteller belts. Each panel shows a different scene from Navajo life.

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CB58-CCC-storyteller-becenti-7 CB58-CCC-storyteller-becenti-8 CB58-CCC-storyteller-becenti-9 CB58-CCC-storyteller-becenti-10 CB58-CCC-storyteller-becenti-11 CB58-CCC-storyteller-becenti-12 CB58-CCC-storyteller-becenti-13 CB58-CCC-storyteller-becenti-14 CB58-CCC-storyteller-becenti-15 CB58-CCC-storyteller-becenti-16

He uses turquoise, mother of pearl, acoma jet, red coral and orange spiny oyster for his inlay work.

This belt is NOS, New Old Stock,  vintage but never used.

CB58-CCC-storyteller-becenti-2Paula

Squash Blossom Jewelry Questions

Hi Paula,
I am hoping you can help me out. I have two squash blossom necklaces. One is from my mother (late) and is a cool mother of pearl that I remember she told me that she purchased in the 70’s. The other, in blue turquoise, I acquired at a resale shop about ten years ago. I have decided to finally pull them out and start wearing them and would love to know more about them. I can’t find a stamp on either one of them. I don’t see an artist and I don’t see a silver marking either. I have taken a few pictures and would love to hear your opinion. Also, is it fashionable to polish or not polish these necklaces. Also, does it affect the value if I chose to have them lengthened or shortened? Thank so much in advance.
Colleen
Squash blossom 001Squash blossom 005Hello Colleen,
Without a hallmark, about the only thing I can say about your two lovely squash blossom necklaces is that they are vintage Navajo.
As to their silver content, that is something you can test with an acid test kit or have them tested at a pawn shop.
As far as polishing, that is a matter of personal taste. You could leave as is, clean or polish with a cloth, or completely restore as you see fit. Here is more information about cleaning jewelry.
In terms of adjusting the length, yes it would likely affect the value. For a collector, leaving a squash blossom necklace the traditional length would be best. But for “using’, depending on who did the alteration and how they did it, a shortening might increase its “value” because then it would be wearable art!
Watch for my next post which will show a squash blossom necklace that I had shortened so that I could wear it more as a “choker” than a long necklace.
Paula
To view our full list of article or to ask a jewelry question, follow the instructions here
http://www.horsekeeping.com/native-american-jewelry-artifacts.htmIf you are selling your jewelry, read this
http://www.horsekeeping.com/jewelry/pawn-buying.htmVisit our pawn shop for your research and shopping
http://www.horsekeeping.com/jewelry/pawn/pawnshop-vin.htm

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More on Navajo and Zuni Fetish Necklaces

There is a term associated with fetish necklaces – stacked.

That refers to fetishes strung one right on the top of one another rather than separated by a length of heishi. If heishi is used, it can be pen shell, olive shell, white clam shell, turquoise, jet or other.

Here are some examples of the various heishi that is used in between fetishes.

Pen shell heishi with turquoise heishi accent
Jet heishi
Pink shell heishi
Turquoise heishi

Here is an example of a “semi-stacked” fetish necklace, that is, one that has just a small amount of heishi in between each fetish.

Semi-stacked fetish necklace

Here are some examples of true stacked fetish necklaces, those that are fetish on fetish.

Stacked Fetish Necklace
Stacked fetish necklace
Close-up of stacked fetish necklace

Every artist has his or her own vision of what a fetish necklace should look like:

  • the size of the fetishes

  • the style of the fetishes

  • the stones and shells used for the fetishes

  • the stones and shells used for the heishi

  • the space between the fetishes

  • the type of closure (more on that in tomorrow’s post).

Mother of Pearl Squash Blossom Necklace with Arrow P Hallmark

Hi Paula,

I have a squash blossom necklace. It has a hallmark on the back and i can’t find out who the hallmark belongs to maybe you could help. It is a P with an curved arrow the point is to the right over top of the P. thanks krystal

Hi Krystal,

You have a nice vintage Navajo Mother of Pearl squash blossom necklace.

I am not familiar with that hallmark. Perhaps another reader is.

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Navajo Tommy Singer Bamboo Coral and Treasure Necklaces

Hi Paula,

I am interested in some of Tommy Singer’s work which is displayed on your website.

Items NHS828, NH878, NH827, and the multi-strand bamboo coral.

Tommy Singer 3 Strand Gemstone Necklace
Tommy Singer Turquoise Gemstone Necklace
Tommy Singer Purple Spiny Oyster Gemstone Necklace
Tommy Singer 7 Strand Bamboo Coral Gemstone Necklace

I am wondering what percentage of the beads he uses are actually handmade/handformed by him or his family. My wife and I are building a collection, trying to stick to sole-authorship pieces.

Any information you can give me on these pieces, or any others you might have by Tommy and others would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks and best regards,

Charlie

Hi Charlie,

Thanks for your inquiry.

The 12K gold filled barrel beads that are decorated, gold, black silver are made by Tommy Singer. Also the solid sterling silver barrel beads are made by him. They are on most of his necklaces. They are his signature treasure necklace beads.

The purple and orange spiny oyster and turquoise heishi style disc beads are made by him. Also the other gemstone beads that are disc style.

The long narrow bamboo coral – I am not sure but I think not made by him.

The little sterling silver decorative spacers – I think not made by him.

The sterling silver cone ends are not made by him.

So a high percentage of what goes into his necklace is hand made by Tommy Singer or his family.

Doris and James Coriz make all the component of their necklaces, for example

Spirit Necklace made by Doris and James Coriz, Santo Domingo
Olive Shell Fish Necklace by James and Doris Coriz, Santo Domingo
Close up of fish

These artists also make ALL of the heishi right on the “string” so to speak.

10 Strand Heishi Necklace by Janice Tenorio, Santo Domingo
Close up of Tenorio heishi

Enjoy browsing and let me know if I can help further.

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