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

 

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

Jacla, Jackla, Jocla………No matter how you spell it, what is it?

A traditional Pueblo jewelry adornment, a jacla is two loops of heishi that were originally earrings and sometimes fastened to the bottom of a stone necklace as a pendant-like attachment.

Jacla is Navajo for “ear string”. The Navajo spelling is the most commonly used version of the word. Jocla is also common but jackla is a phonetic mis-spelling. Although jaclas are attributed to the Rio Grande Pueblo Indians, they were traded with other tribes so have become associated with the Navajo as well. They are seen in vintage photos being worn by members of all southwest tribes, both men and women.

In the oldest style necklaces, the jacla is a pair of loop earrings tied onto the necklace.

N200-jacla-turq-nugget-2The two loops would be removed from the necklace and used as earrings.   This is how the jacla originated. This necklace is likely from 1910-1920.

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I can picture a pre-European-contact Rio Grande Puebloan taking his or her jewelry off and storing it that way. And sometimes when not wanting to wear earrings, just leaving the jacla on the necklace as a pendant.

The jacla might match the necklace it is attached to or be of contrasting heishi. Most jaclas have tabular pieces in the bottom center that are called “corn”. They are most often made from white or orange (spiny oyster) shell or coral. According to Mark Bahti, author of Collecting Southwestern Native American jewelery, jaclas with spiny oyster shell corn are rarely seen and highly prized by many Indians.

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The tips of the jacla loops are traditionally finished off with coral, a contrasting shell or trade beads, often red.

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In the early 20th century, jaclas started to be incorporated into part of the necklace, so this necklace would have likely been made after 1920, likely in the 50s.

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Contemporary artists use the jacla design in many ways such as this block turquoise jacla necklace with spiny oyster corn.

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And here’s one in very fine heishi from Santo Domingo artist Paul Tenorio

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Loop earrings are basically a miniature version of a jacla – they are made with and without corn.

NE388-heishi-turq-castillo-1NE281-turq-heishi-ortiz-1Paula

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