What does “snake eye” refer to in Native American jewelry?

I love snake eye jewelry and when I use the term I have found that even long-time Native American jewelry enthusiasts don’t know what I mean.

Snake eye is a technique of setting very small spherical pieces of turquoise. It is somewhat related to petit point and needle point but different in shape and much smaller.

Although these techniques began with Zuni artists around 1930-1940, today they are associated with both Zuni and Navajo jewelers.

All 3 techniques use cabochons, which are small stones that have been rounded on top (not faceted) and polished. It is the shape that differs.

Here is where a picture is worth a thousand words. Some examples……..first of PETIT POINT – teardrop shaped – round on one end, pointed on the  other.

Petit Point stick barrette by Navajo Zeita Begay, contemporary

Petit Point set by Phillip and Virginia Byjoe – Navajo, Vintage

Petit Point Cuff by Johnny Mike Begay, Navajo, Vintage

NOW ON TO NEEDLEPOINT – long and narrow, pointed on both ends.

Needle Point Zuni Bracelet and Ring by EVA L WYACO, contemporary

Needle Point barrette by Nathaniel Nez – Navajo, contemporary

And finally to SNAKE EYE – the reason for this post in the first place. Spherical.  These can range from small to tiny. Here are several examples of snake eye jewelry in various sizes.

Large Snake Eye – Ring by Elanda Wyaco – Zuni, vintage

Medium Snake Eye – Bolo by Bernall Natewa, Zuni, vintage

Tiny Snake Eye – Link bracelet by Stephen Haloo, Zuni, contemporary

So now that you are an expert, what would you call the ones in the photos below?

Paula

 

Many Men Thank Mary Bill on Mother’s Day

Mary Bill, along with her husband Ken Bill, is known for crafting heavy Sterling bracelets with and without gold.

Customarily, she uses at least 10 gauge sheet silver (and often 8 gauge) making her bracelets thick, durable and with great appeal to men.

Often she finishes the ends with a widened fishtail for comfort.

Sometimes she uses a lighter gauge silver and then use a combination of stamping, oxidation, and lightly brushing to give a satin finish.

She also makes substantial link bracelets

She has used and uses a number of hallmarks usually with STERLING and often with NAVAJO

Here are some of them:
K & M BILL
Mary and Ken Bill
Mary (often along with KENNETH BILL)
Mary Bill

Thank you Mary Bill and Happy Mother’s Day !

Paula

Wesley Craig AKA Wes Craig, Navajo Jeweler

Navajo artist Wesley Craig, born 1959 in Gallup, New Mexico, has been actively making jewelry since 1974. Son of Robert Etsitty Craig Jr. and Marie Craig, he was taught his craft by his mother Marie.

His hallmark is usually Wes Craig in script inside a feather but he also has used WC. Often he adds IHMSS – Indian Hand Made Sterling Silver.

Sometimes the Running Bear shop mark (RB inside a bear) is also included which would indicate he made the item at Running Bear Trading Co in Gallup, New Mexico.

His brother, Hyson Craig, is also a notable Navajo jeweler.

Paula

Where did Navajo silversmiths learn their craft?

“The Navajo were the first Southwest American Indians to work silver……A man named Astidi Sani (Old Smith) is credited by historians as being the fist Navajo silversmith. His Spanish name was Herrero Delgadito (Little Ironworker). Reportedly he acquired a basic knowledge of ironworking in 1853 from a Mexican blacksmith/silversmith.”

From Indian Jewelry, Fact & Fantasy by Marsha Land

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Early Navajo metalwork was limited to iron and was for utilitarian purposes (knife blades, bits), not adornment.

Mexican Silversmiths (plateros), on the other hand, were typically adorned with silver as a display of their wealth and, for some, their metal-working skills – silver concha belts, buckles, buttons on shirts and down the sides of pants, hat bands, silver embellished saddles and headstalls and much more.

This side view of a pair of vintage Mexican charro pants (circa 1890) give you an idea of the lavish silver embellishments. 473425273_fullsizeAn example of an ornate vintage Mexican silver saddle.

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John Lawrence Hubbell opened his first trading post at Ganado, Arizona in 1873.  When the well-dressed nomadic plateros came to the Ganado area, the Navajo took notice. Soon they began to trade horses and livestock to the plateros in exchange for learning metal-working skills.

Early Sterling Silver Cuff Bracelet

Early Sterling Silver Cuff Bracelet

Hubbell saw the potential in of Navajo silverwork for his trading post so he brought in two Mexican silversmiths (Thick Lips and Benedito) to teach their skills to the Navajo he had working for him.

From Navajo Silver, a brief history of Navajo Silversmithing

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The dictionary mentioned in the following quote was published in 1910.

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Early Sterling Silver Sandcast Concha Belt

Early Sterling Silver Sandcast Concha Belt

For a much more detailed account of Atsidi Sani AKA Herrero, as well as how Navajo smiths learned silver casting methods from plateros and much more………. read John Adair’s book:

scan0226Metal-working skills were passed from the Spaniards to the Mexicans and then to the Navajo. Interestingly, early Navajo silversmiths chose to use leather stamping tools for their designs, thus distinguishing Navajo pieces from Mexican silver work early on.

toolOf course, that was just the beginning and soon Navajo silversmiths, and other Native American craftsmen, began to develop unique designs and styles which continue to evolve today.

Carinated Cuff Bracelet

Carinated Cuff Bracelet

Watch for more on this topic in a future post.

Paula

Robert and Bernice Leekya – Nugget Jewelry since 1953

Zuni husband and wife Robert and Bernice Leekya are known for their bold turquoise (usually Kingman) nugget jewelry. They have been making it since 1953.

Here I will showcase some examples of their work……….

Zuni Cluster bracelet by Robert and Bernice Leekya

NBT483-634-turq-cluster-leekya-3NBT483-634-turq-cluster-leekya-4 Zuni Cluster bracelet by Robert and Bernice Leekya

Born in 1934, Robert was taught by his father, a master Zuni jeweler Leekya Deyuse.  Here are some examples of Leekya Deyuse’s work – he is often just referred to as Leekya. Born in 1889, he remained active in his craft until his passing in 1966.

Leekya Deyuse 1 Leekya Deyuse 2Bernice Leekya, born in the 1930s, was formerly a maker of cluster work.

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NR472-712-petit-turq-leekya-1NR472-712-petit-turq-leekya-2 Cluster Ring by Robert and Bernice Leekya

After her marriage to Robert, she worked with him on the nugget jewelry also. WL-398-turq-leekya-4

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NR509-11-nugget-turq-leekya-1

WM-189-turq-leekya-5

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S421-turq-buckle-bolo-watch-4A-2 Leekya bolo tie detailsS421-turq-buckle-bolo-watch-4B

BU132-WB-turq-leekya-1 CB50-kingman-leekya-13

Robert shares the RLB stamp with his wife Bernice Leekya. The larger L extends below the B.

Paula

Why is copper used for belt loops, pin backs and more in Native American jewelry?

Copper was the first metal discovered by man and has been used for thousands of years by craftsmen around the world for tools, artifacts and jewelry.

Copper was considered sacred by some Native American cultures and it continued to be used extensively even after the introduction of silver, steel, and metal alloys.

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Vintage copper bracelet with Native American symbols

Copper was abundant in the Southwest, with Arizona having one of the largest copper deposits in the world. In some areas native copper could be found just laying on the ground without the need to smelt it from ore.

Raw Copper

Raw Copper

Copper’s was and is much less expensive than silver.  Unlike steel and most other metals, copper can be easily shaped without heating.

Soldering or “sweating” is joining two pieces of metal together, using a medium called solder (pronounced “sodder”).  The metals that are being joined might be the same such as copper to copper or sterling silver to sterling silver. That type of soldering is relatively simple for an experienced metal smith.

It is when soldering two different metals together that things can get tricky in terms of the amount of heat necessary and the type of solder required.

Examples of dissimilar metal-to-metal soldering common in Native American jewelry is copper to sterling silver and steel to sterling silver.

Copper Soldered to Sterling Silver

Copper Soldered to Sterling Silver

Copper requires much less heat to solder to sterling silver than it would take to solder steel to sterling silver. Also with copper, there isn’t a specialized solder needed.

That’s why copper is the metal of choice for belt loops on concho belts and is also seen as pin backs, for example, on vintage Native American pins and pin pendants. 

Copper pin soldered to vintage sterling silver pin

Copper pin soldered to vintage sterling silver pin

Sterling silver concho belt with copper belt loops.

Sterling silver concho belt with copper belt loops.

Paula