Dragonfly and the Isleta Cross

About the Isleta Cross

Also called the Pueblo Cross, the Isleta Cross is a very old Pueblo design associated with the Isleta Pueblo. The double-bar cross design is said to have originated with the Moors and Spaniards.

To the Pueblo Indians the double-bar cross was very similar to the dragonfly symbol of their culture, so many Puebloans incorporated the Isleta cross in their jewelry. By the early twentieth century, Pueblo artisans made elegant necklaces with a large central cross as a pendant and smaller crosses along the sides interspersed with beads.

Many crosses of Spanish and Mexican origin as well as Isleta crosses have a heart or a partial heart at the bottom. This is sometime referred to as the “bleeding heart”. In the Catholic Church, the Sacred Heart (the pierced and bleeding heart) alludes to the manner of Jesus’ death and represents Christ’s goodness and charity through his wounds and ultimate sacrifice. However it has been said that the reason the Puebloans put a heart on the bottom of their crosses was for other reasons. They felt it represented the big generous heart of the dragonfly who loved the people. Also, the Pueblo women were said to like the crosses with the hearts on the bottom better, so it could have simply been a case of fashion preference.

The Isleta Pueblo is located in central New Mexico, on the east bank of the Rio Grande south of Albuquerque. It is on the same site as when it was discovered in 1540. It was the seat of the Franciscan mission of San Antonio de Isleta from approximately 1621 until the Pueblo revolt of 1680. The Spaniards captured the pueblo in 1681. In the late 1700’s, when Isleta was repopulated with native peoples, it became the mission of San Agustín de Isleta. Tiwa, a Tanoan language, is the tongue of the Isleta Pueblo.

Read more about Pueblo here What does Pueblo mean?

About the Dragonfly

The dragonfly is associated with many Native American tribes but most notably those of the southwest beginning with early HOHOKAM and MIMBRES depictions on pottery. Early Puebloans and many contemporary southwest artists have continued the tradition.

from Heart of the Dragonfly by Allison Bird

Mimbres reproduction Dragonfly AD 1250 Site Mimbres Valley New Mexico

 

Dragonfly represents rain and its life-giving force, a source of renewal for the land, plants, animals and thus allows human life.

from Landscape of the Spirits: Hohokam Rock Art at South Mountain Park By Todd W. Bostwick, Peter Krocek

1000 year old dragonfly-petroglyph photo by bryan-pfeiffer – click photo to learn more……………

 

From Rock Art Symbols by Alex Patterson

The dragonfly inspires spiritually and creatively and helps us on the path of discovery and enlightenment.

It spiritually embodies the stripping away all negativity that holds us back, helping us to achieve our dreams and goals.

Dragonfly is the keeper of dreams, the energy within that sees all of our true potential and ability. Dragonfly reminds us that anything is possible.

If you have ever seen a dragonfly’s wings glisten in the sunlight you can see why they have inspired jewelers. And how their intricately colored bodies would lead to works of stone inlay.

It is no wonder that contemporary Zuni, Hopi, Navajo and other southwest silversmiths create many beautiful dragonfly pieces.

Paula

 

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

 

Native American Buttons and Button Covers

Buttons on Native American dresses, shirts. leggings and moccasins were originally of bone, shell, stone and other natural materials.

In the mid 1800’s, a few Navajo began to learn the art of silversmithing from Mexican plateros.

To learn more on that, read my article   Where did Navajo silversmiths learn their craft?

Early silver beads and buttons were made from coins. Later when silver and sterling silver were more available, buttons were made from ingots and sheet silver.

Read about early Navajo silversmiths.

Early buttons from about 1870 were round, flat and with two holes like conventional buttons. Plain domed silver buttons were made soon thereafter.

 

Buttons were originally for fastening garments but soon became more ornamental and even were used as a trade item. Navajo Indian agent John H. Bowman observed in 1886 “When they wish to buy anything and have no wool to exchange, they simply cut off the needed number of buttons. These vary in value from 2 1/2 cents to $1 – and are never refused as legal tender in this vicinity.”

With access to more diverse tools in the late 1800s and early 1900s, hand-made buttons were domed, filed, etched, fluted, stamped and a loop would be forge-soldered onto the back.

Stones were added about 1900.

See the end of this article for several book excerpts that show button-making techniques.

When button production became mechanized (die cut and machine stamped) hand-made buttons which were labor intensive couldn’t compete price-wise so fewer were made. That’s why hand-made Navajo buttons are fairly scarce.

 

A mixture of vintage buttons and contemporary button covers - can you tell which are which?

A mixture of vintage buttons and contemporary button covers – can you tell which are which?

Enter button covers………………

A variety of sterling silver button covers

The 1970s Native American jewelry boom (see my article The 1970s Native American Jewelry Boom) and the popularity of southwestern and western style dress beginning in the 1980s brought us the tourist version of the Native American button – the button cover –  a clever system that could be slipped over and clasped to any button to dress up a shirt or dress. Instant Urban Cowboy !

Manufactured (not Native American made) southwestern style sterling silver button covers.

Buffalo Nickel Button Covers

The hinged fasteners are machine made of plated steel or stainless steel.

Commercially stamped sterling silver button covers

The design portion or button cover top is usually made of sterling silver. They can be Native American hand-made or commercially machine made.

Contemporary Native American made button covers

Yellowhorse hallmark on above group of button covers

Since most buttons and button covers do not have hallmarks, it requires experience and a good eye to recognize design styles and see details under magnification to determine whether the button tops are hand made or machine made.

Likely these are Native American made concha style sterling silver button covers.

It is possible that the sterling silver shadowbox bear paws with turquoise cabochon were made in a Native American shop.

Navajo-made onyx button covers with dangles – you might ask why one has the oval dangle stones set horizontally and the other vertically……….this is not a set but two individual button covers designed to be worn on the top button of a shirt or blouse. So perhaps his and hers?

 

BOOK EXCERPTS SHOWING HOW BUTTONS ARE MADE

 

Indian Silversmithing by E. Ben Hunt

Indian Silversmithing by E. Ben Hunt

 

Indian Jewelry Making by Oscar T. Branson

Paula

 

Unknown Hallmark on Vintage Claw Pendant

This vintage (perhaps 1960-1980?) claw pendant has all the characteristics of being Navajo made.

It does have a hallmark but I have been unable to connect it to a specific artist.

It is similar to many leaf and feather hallmarks, but none quite like this.

If anyone does know this hallmark, please let me know ! thanks, 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

Beautiful Beadwork by Navajo artist Alyce Johnson

Alyce Johnson makes some wonderful beaded bracelets.

Alyce’s stitch work is very fine – this ensures your bracelet will hold together for years.

The leather backing is comfortable and the interior of the bracelet is copper, which is sturdy to hold the shape yet flexible to make the bracelet adjustable

Available from large adult to baby, what more could you ask for !  Alyce is the wife of Navajo silversmith extraordinaire Peterson Johnson.

Paula