What is a Shadowbox?

Recently a customer ordered a shadowbox item from our store and when she received it, she was shocked saying “but it is hollow, it is not solid !!” We used the term shadowbox in the description and showed all kinds of views revealing the construction but perhaps if  a person has never seen a shadowbox, he or she might not know what they are looking at and what to expect.

Shadowbox Belt Buckle - Wilbur Musket, Navajo

Shadowbox Belt Buckle – Wilbur Musket, Navajo

A common jewelry technique used by Navajo and other Native American silversmiths to add interest and layering to a piece is a shadowbox.

The shadowbox technique consists of a cutout top layer that is usually domed and that is soldered to a solid bottom layer.

Vintage Shadowbox Ring

Vintage Shadowbox Ring

The cutout design on the top can vary from paw prints to kokopelli to blanket designs – limited only by the designer’s imagination.

Shadowbox Bolo Tie with Paw Prints

Shadowbox Bolo Tie with Paw Print Cutouts

The bottom layer might be left bright silver or oxidized to give a dark contrast to the cutout design.

Shadowbox Bracelet by Pauline Benally, Navajo

Shadowbox Bracelet by Pauline Benally, Navajo —-the underlayer has a darkened (oxidized) background for a contrasting accent.

Stones are often set into the shadowbox – some artists let the stones protrude somewhat out of the top of the shadowbox and others use stones that when set are flush with the cutout layer.

Shadowbox ring showing one flush (turquoise) and one protruding (coral) piece

Shadowbox ring showing one flush (turquoise) and one protruding (coral) piece

Paula

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Navajo Silversmith Roland Dixson

Navajo silversmith and artist Roland Dixson produces traditional sterling silver pieces with excellent stampwork.

Roland Dixson Naja Pendant

Roland Dixson Naja Pendant

Characteristics of his style include scalloped edges with deeply domed centers.

Roland Dixson belt buckle with scalloped edges

Roland Dixson belt buckle with scalloped edges

The stamping is deep, intricate and not repetitive from piece to piece. He also incorporates repousse as evidenced in the photo showing the back of the buckle.

Roland Dixson buckle back showing evidence of repousse

Roland Dixson buckle back showing evidence of repousse

Repousse is a technique whereby metal is hammered into relief from the reverse side.

From the pieces that have come through our store, it appears that Roland Dixson uses only natural, untreated turquoise. Here is his hallmark.

Roland Dixson hallmark

Roland Dixson hallmark

I don’t know much about this artist so if anyone has any biographical information, I’d love to hear it.

Paula

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What does INGOT mean in relation to Native American jewelry?

Early Native American jewelry (pre-1930’s) was hand forged from hand made ingots. An ingot is a simply a bar or block of metal. The blocks can be any shape but are traditionally rectangles.

ingots

The metals most commonly used in Native American jewelry are sterling silver or coin silver. You can read about coin silver in a previous post. It should be noted that some vintage ingots are “blends”, that is mostly Mexican coins with a few US coins thrown in OR vice versa. Also beginning the 1930’s the blend could be sterling silver with a few US coins thrown in or any variation thereof. That’s why the exact silver content will vary widely in vintage jewelry.

Silver-Ingots-Coins-02

The beauty of silver is that it can be flattened, stretched, shaped and twisted using hand tools.

hand toolsTo make an ingot, the chosen metal is melted, then poured into block forms.

pouring metal cropped

Once cooled to the perfect working temperature the blocks can be hammered into sheets, wires or other shapes needed for the piece. Silver, sterling silver and coin silver are all malleable, that is they are soft enough to be worked with hand tools – the silver is often reheated in a fire pit or forge several times before the piece is finished.

Jewelry that was hand forged and hand hammered is now rare, collectible and expensive because modern jewelry is no longer hand-hammered from ingots. Rather it is made from machine-rolled sterling silver sheet and wire and pre-made elements like leaves, flowers and buttons.

One way to tell that jewelry has been hand hammered from an ingot is the evidence of folding and layering that is seen on the back side such as here on this early bracelet.

BP256-BC-row-turq-634-4 BP256-BC-row-turq-634-5

Paula

Lawrence Saufkie carried on the Hopi Tradition of Overlay

Lawrence Saufkie (1935-2011), Hopi Pueblo, Bear Clan, was the son of Paul Saufkie Sr. and Ruby Saufkie and brother of Andrew Saufkie, Paul Saufkie, Jr., Vaughn Saufkie; husband of Griselda Saufkie; father of Wilmer Saufkie Lomayaoma; uncle of Bob Sekakuku.

Lawrence_SaufkieLawrence learned silverwork, particularly overlay, from his father Paul Saufkie Sr. His father and Fred Kaboutie began perfecting this style in the 1930s and when Hopi soldiers returned from World War II, they began teaching them the method.

What is Overlay?

With silver overlay, there are two layers of silver. The top layer is a scene, figures, or symbols meticulously cut out and then place on a solid silver layer.

The bottom layer is the background behind the cutouts and is traditionally darkened (oxidized) for contrast. In addition the same areas are usually etched with hashmarks.

The two layers are “sweated” together – that is, the silver is heated so that the two layers meld.

The result is a 3-D picture with great depth and interest.

BU129-BG-bearpaw-saufkie-2

Throughout his life, Lawrence was a great ambassador of Hopi jewelry and a teacher to many.

His hallmark is a bear and SAUFKIE like this

Hallmark of Lawrence Saufkie, Hopi

Hallmark of Lawrence Saufkie, Hopi

Lawrence Saufkie was a Hopi silversmith for more than 60 years. In 1998, he was recognized by the American Museum of Natural History for his contributions to this art form and was the recipient of the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts Lifetime Achievement Award.

Lawrence Saufkie was designated an Arizona Living Treasure in 2002. He has been featured in numerous magazines and books and his work has been collected by museums such as the Heard Museum, the Museum of Northern Arizona, the Peabody Museum, and Harvard University.

BU129-BG-bearpaw-saufkie-1Paula

Tommy Singer’s brother William also used the Chip Inlay technique

William Singer, the brother of Charlie, Jackie and the late Tommy Singer, has used various hallmarks since 1972: SD (both side by side and offset as below), SDX, SDXX, SDV, S/D, all variations of the Singer-Dodge family shop hallmark.

BU130-BG-inlay-buffalo-singer-3Here is an example of William Singer’s chip inlay – a buffalo belt buckle.

BU130-BG-inlay-buffalo-singer-1

Tommy Singer has been credited with first using chip inlay in 1970. His brother began using the technique in 1972.

What is Chip Inlay?

Chip inlay is a method where cavities in jewelry are filled with a mixture of crushed stone, typically turquoise and coral, and epoxy resin. The piece is then polished smooth after the resin has hardened

Paula

V/L Hallmark on Zuni Longhorn Kachina Inlay Belt Buckle

I’ve replied to hundreds of your queries on hallmarks and now its my turn !! HELP !!

I wonder if any of you have seen this V/L hallmark before. See the photos for the hallmark and the buckle itself.

BU128-BG-inlay-kachina-VL-1BU128-BG-inlay-kachina-VL-4

The buckle is from a collection we purchased from a gentleman who bought buckles over the last 10-40 years and kept them in a display case so they are NOS (New Old Stock).  The prong on this buckle was shaky so we had the prong replaced – that is the only new part on it.

It is a Zuni inlay of Longhorn Kachina also known by and associated with other kachina names including Saiyatash, Sai-astasana, Zuni Rain Priest of the North, and Hututu. Some say that Longhorn Kachina is usually accompanied by his “Deputy” Hututu. They look quite similar.

Longhorn Kachina has a single long horn sticking off to the right side of his mask and is always seen with his distinctive black and white (striped or checkered) neck ruff.

He has a long left eye which is said to bring a long life to good people. In addition, he is called a hunter/warrior and the Rain Priest of the North who has the ability to control the weather.

I’ve researched the hallmark in all of my references and online and so far this is what I came up – it is NOT the same as either of these other VL hallmarks.   Any ideas?

Vera Luna Virgil LeekyaBU128-BG-inlay-kachina-VL-3Paula

Since artists do change their hallmarks over the years and since one reader showed me a piece by Vera Luna that seems to be a match to this buckle, I will surmise, this buckle was made by Vera Luna. Here is the bolo. Except for the fact that the kachina on the buckle has one extra black feather, these are twins !

vera luna full piece

Zuni artist Charlotte Dishta makes beautiful blanket pattern inlay

Charlotte Dishta has been making jewelry since the 1980s and is known for her mosaic rug pattern inlays.

Here is a beautiful example of a rug pattern on a vintage NOS (New Old Stock) belt buckle.

She uses the traditional four color materials of Acoma Jet, Turquoise, Mother of Pearl and Coral.

BU126-BG-inlay-dishta-1 BU126-BG-inlay-dishta-5Paula