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

 

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.

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More Heishi Fit Notes – Choosing the Correct Length

When buying heishi necklaces, first you need to know how the artist or seller measures their heishi necklaces.

Many heishi makers sell their heishi by length of material used, so 19″ of turquoise heishi might be sold as 19″ …………but with a hook and eye and the bit of slack incorporated in the necklace to make it hang right, the actual necklace wearing length might be closer to 19 3/4″.

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For chokers especially, each of us has a particular length we like to wear that suits our physique and clothing necklines. That’s when measurement become particularly important.

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Here at horsekeeping, we measure from the tip of the hook to the eye on the other end. That represents the actual end-to-end wearing length.

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This results in most thin to medium heishi fitting well……..

NH834-coral-turq-adj-1strand-ortiz-2but when you are purchasing very thick heishi, necklaces that are 3/8″ thick or more, you should compensate and purchase a necklace that is 1/4″ to 3/4″ longer than your usual length. That’s because the thicker heishi sits away from your neck so some of the end-to-end length is taken up to make the circle around your neck.

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The same principle applies to Navajo Pearls. If you wear an 18″ 4mm silver bead necklace, when buying a 14 mm necklace, you might need almost a 19″ long if you want it to sit in the same place on your neckline.

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We provide measurements. The best way to get a good fit is to measure a similar necklace you already have that fits you well and compare it to the measurements indicated for the item.

Here’s to beautiful, well-fitting heishi !

Paula

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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Hooks on Native American Necklaces

Dear Paula,
I foolishly went to bed last night with my new coral necklace hooked around my neck.
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I woke up in the morning and it was gone.
I could have lost it at the shops as I was in and out of bed trying to get to sleep and then we went to the shops late last night, I have searched all the crevices of my room and all places and it is just gone.
That hook they use at the back, I should have bent it shut if I wanted to leave it on, that’s what I do with my other hooks or I should have just taken it off before I go to bed.
What a shame! I scrimped and saved for that necklace and I so loved it, it was one-of a kind vintage!
Please get back to me any advice you do have about those hooks they use, and please help me for next time!
Thanks, Ruby
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PS  My adopted Dad just found it! I am so pleased!  It was in between the doorway of my room and the hall way.
I have bent the hook shut, and can take it off over my head when I shower.
Any advice would still be appreciated.
Thanks
Love Ruby
Hi Ruby, Phew !! That’s good news. Yes, bend the hook shut like you did – that’s what most people do who want to take a necklace on and off over their heads. Traditionally the hooks are left open at first because some people have arthritis or other difficulty with their hands and need a big open hook in order to get it fastened.
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Usually when a necklace is hanging straight down it won’t come unfastened. I can see where it would come off if you wore it to bed. But like you found, it is easy to squish the hook closed for more security.
Paula
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Pen Shell Heishi and Inlay in Native American Jewelry

When I was a kid, we vacationed on Sanibel Island in Florida and I was an avid sea shell collector. One of the most common sea shells I remember was a huge brown fan shaped bi-valve called a Pen Shell (also called Penn Shell but never Pin Shell).

After a storm, the beaches would be covered with them.

They were usually about 8-10 inches long and a glisteny iridescent brown, especially shiny on the inside.

Pen Shells are are part of the family Pinnidae which are large saltwater clams.

Pen Shells are used in inlay and as heishi.

Close up of Pen Shell heishi
Pen Shell heishi used on a fetish necklace
Turquoise nugget necklace with Pen Shell heishi spacers

Pen Shell is sometimes used in inlays and especially since tortoise shell was banned in 1973.

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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