Serpentine used in Native American Fetish Carvings

When we buy Zuni and Navajo fetish carvings and aren’t positive about the stone used, we ask and are often told “serpentine”. You might think that is a catch-all category but when you really look into it, you’ll find that serpentine comes in a wide variety of colors. It is one of the oldest stones used for carving, as early as prehistoric times.

Serpentine can range from green to pink and everything in between including tan, brown, red, black, yellow, gray and more.

A very popular and traditional stone “fish rock” is actually serpentine. It is a light stone usually with small splotches and veining.  Here are some examples of fish rock serpentine.

FH261-fishrock-shack-2

FC306-badger-fishrock-yazzie-3

Ricolite is another serpentine that is dark green with grey or light green bands.F240-frog-serpentine-lementino-1

F238-frog-serpentine-poncho-1

Here are some other examples of serpentine.

FT245-buffalo-serpentine-bird-laiwakete-1

FC276-lion-serpentine-davis-1

FC287-coyote-serpentine-siutza-1

F282-lizard-kallestewa-1

Serpentine is widespread in California where it is the state rock. Here is a photo of serpentine along a beach.

bigserpentine800To read more about serpentine and see more examples, click here.

Here is an interesting glossary Gemstone Terminology

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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).

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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Native American Chiclet (Chicklet) Necklaces

Santo Domingo Chiclet Necklace

In 1899, US gum manufacturers formed a conglomerate, The American Chicle Company.

In 1906 Frank Fleer (does his name ring a bell, bubble gum lovers?) began making a hard-shelled, candy-coated white peppermint gum called Chiclets.

Chicle is the English version of the word tzikiti (“sticky stuff”), the Nahuatl word for the resin that makes chewing gum. Oddly enough though, Chiclets are made from a different gum base!

By 1920, Chiclets were available in bright colors: yellow, green, orange, red, white, and pink. The small shiny rectangles each had a different flavor – mostly fruits; the white was still peppermint.

Chiclets Gum

Native Americans, most specifically Santo Domingo artists, began calling their colorful, multi-stone necklaces “Chiclet Necklaces” and it is easy to see why.

Santo Domingo Chiclet Necklace

Some Santo Domingo artists add small treasures among the chiclets and call the necklaces Treasure Necklaces.

Santo Domingo Treasure Necklace with Fetish Bear

Santo Domingo Treasure Necklace with Pipestone Hummingbird Fetish


Native American Fetish Necklace – Signed by Artist?

Hi Paula,

I was interested in purchasing a fetish necklace made by Corrine Ramirez and wanted to know if this was signed by her, or had any kind of certificate by the artist?  Thank you!

Melissa

Fetish Necklace by Corrine Ramirez, Navajo

Hi Melissa,

I don’t know of any fetish necklace makers that sign their necklaces – they do so by “style” – that is, the pieces are recognizably by a certain artist.

We purchase directly from Corrine. That’s the best certification.

As far as a Certificate of Authenticity (COA), the only legal certificate is one signed by the artist. In other words, if a store owner gives you one that says “This is authentic Native American made by so-and-so” it is not valid. It is worthless.

With that said, only about 1% of the artists that we deal with issue signed certificates for each piece. We indicate on the item page if there is a COA.

Only one Navajo artist gives us certificates with her pieces. And we represent the work of hundreds of artists from many tribes.

However, aside from fetish necklaces, the majority of Native American pieces today are signed with some sort of hallmark.

So I’ve made a short answer long, just to give you more background.

Hope this helps.

Paula

It does Paula. Thank you for getting back with me.  I wasn’t sure if a necklace could actually be signed, but thought I’d check.

I want to be certain before I make such a big purchase.  Thanks again! Melissa

Serpentine – A Very Popular Stone for Native American Fetish Carvings

Serpentine
serpentine horse carvingThe state rock of California, serpentine is a gemrock with wide diversity in color and character, from green to yellow, with browns, black and whites. It can be bi-colored, streaked, mottled, banded or spotted and it has a slippery, snake-like surface (hence the name). It is composed of several minerals including minor amounts of chrysotile a somewhat benign form of asbestos.

In the rock industry the scientific term “marble” is also applied to serpentine rocks that can be polished to a high shine. But , technically, “marble” and “serpentine” are two different rocks. Scientific terms (in this case “marble”) can have a different meaning in industry. Dark green serpentine “marble” is frequently referred to as verde antique.

It is said to help one find inner peace, calmness, and a long life; instills in the bearer a respect for the elderly and wards off snake bites.

Although this bear looks like he was carved from wood, he is a serpentine bear!

Serpentine Bear Fetish by Zuni Carver Travis Panteah

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