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

 

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

 

More Hallmark References for Native American Jewelry Aficianados !

American Indian Jewelry
Volumes I, II and III
by Gregory Schaaf
Assisted by Angie Yan Schaaf
Publisher: Center for Indigenous Arts & Cultures

Hard cover with dust jacket
Comes shrink wrapped
9″ x 11″
Printed in color on heavy glossy stock

These are HUGE wonderfully produced books – hard bound with dust jackets, heavy paper, full cover, beautiful photography. 5 pounds

You can purchase them in our store. Click any photo.

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From the publisher on volume 1:

This volume profiles over 1,200 Indian jewelers from all tribes over the past two centuries. The text is illustrated with over 2,000 photographs. This book was created with the cooperation of Indian artists. Through artist surveys, archival research and personal interviews, information was collected in 25 categories: including the artist’s tribe, clan, active years, type of jewelry, lifespan, family relationships, education, teachers, students, awards, exhibitions, collections, forms, techniques, materials, favorite designs, and publications. Websites and email addresses were listed when possible. Many completed a personal statement, “I enjoy creating artwork, because…” Some wrote or narrated autobiographical statements.

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From the publisher on volumes 2 and 3:

This is a standard reference for American Indian jewelry, a source for factual information, neatly organized and lavishly illustrated in full color. This is not a revision of our bestseller, American Indian Jewelry I, but a completely new manuscript, organized in two volumes, A-L and M-Z. Look up any one of over 5,000 American Indian Jewelers in seconds.

Each profile identifies the artist by tribe, clan, active years, styles, lifespan, residences, education, teachers, students, awards, exhibitions, demonstrations, collections, photographs, and publications. Many profiles feature original quotations from the artists, as well as comments from scholars, collectors and veterans in the field. Personal portrait pictures and close-ups of their jewelry help to bring their biographies to life.

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From the publisher:

American Indian Jewelry II: A-L provides two new features:

The Hallmark Directory offers high resolution, digital close-ups. Many Native American jewelers stamp their work with personal, pictographic symbols or initials. This feature helps identify jewelers.

The Natural Turquoise Directory helps one identify turquoise in Native American jewelry. This is important because the best – Gem-Quality, High-Grade – natural turquoise is valuable. Keys to identification help identify over 25 by specific mines, chosen in a worldwide vote by veteran turquoise collectors.

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From the publisher:

American Indian Jewelry III provides three important features:
1. a color spread illustrating Classic and Classic Revival jewelry;
2. a continuation of the “Hallmark Directory” in high-resolution;
3. and new categories for social networks and email addresses.

Furthermore, extensive genealogical research was conducted. The National Archives released the 1940 U.S. Census and the 1930s Indian Census records. Each artist’s family also was more thoroughly researched with the aid of computerized genealogical services.

Paula

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

Roderick Tenorio not Roderick Torino

Hello Paula,

Hope you can answer a question for me. I was in Santa Fee (years ago) and during the open market I purchased a sterling silver cuff bracelet from I thought the artist Roderick Torino.

It is stamped sterling with RMT and a symbol like a loop with 2 lines across it.

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Is this his jewelry? What is the difference between the half-moon R and the one I have?

Does this mean he didn’t make it?

Renee

Hi Renee,

First of all, it is Roderick Tenorio, a Kewa (Santo Domingo Pueblo) artist who shares the hallmark with his wife Marilyn.

The hallmark you show is their hallmark.

When a piece also has the half moon and the R, it is an additional mark to indicate it is from the shop “Relios” which is now Carolyn Pollack Sterling Silver jewelry.

That group of hallmarks were on the bracelet in our pawn shop which is probably how you found us and why you wrote us.

Bracelet-tenorio-3Paula

Southwest Art Defined

I was contacted a while back about permission to use one of the photos from our website in a book. I gave that permission and then forgot about it.

So I was surprised when we received a thank you note and complimentary copy of  a lovely new book “Southwest Art Defined: An Illustrated Guide” by Margaret Moore Booker and published by Rio Nuevo Publishers.

It is a beautiful 11″ x 9 1/4″ hardbound book with dust jacket. Here is what the publisher says

Southwest Art Defined, by Santa Fe author Margaret Moore Booker, is now available! This beautiful hardcover book brings the traditional arts of the Southwest are brought together in one volume for the first time. Almost 500 comprehensive descriptions of Native American and Hispano art are accompanied by 370 full-color photographs of art from museums, galleries, and private collections. Lose yourself in the stunning pottery, textiles, jewelry, carvings, and architecture of the Southwest.

southwest art defined cover

Is the Turquoise in the Heishi Necklaces Real?

Hi Paula,

I received my package today. Thank you for such a careful and professional packing, fast delivery and beautiful necklace. I do have a question. Is the tourquoise stablized and dyed or stablized but real? Is it chalk tourquoise? I am sure I will wear it to death because it is what I wanted and the price is excellent. I am just curious. Please let me know. Thanks. Shelly

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Hi Shelly.

Most of your questions are answered here in an article where I try to describe all the forms of turquoise – All About Turquoise.

Most heishi turquoise is stabilized because if it wasn’t, it would be brittle and could crack. Also, when natural turquoise comes in contact with skin oils of the neck area, it would become discolored. So stabilization helps prevent that too. Some turquoise heishi is enhanced which further strengthens it and could make its color more vivid. You’ll read about these terms in that article.

When you say chalk turquoise, are you referring to “block turquoise”?  Block turquoise is a manufactured composite product, with little if any real turquoise in it. No, the turquoise heishi necklaces are not block turquoise. Most are stabilized real turquoise, some are also enhanced.

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