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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Is it bail or bale on Native American pendants?

This is a pet peeve of mine, so I’ve devoting a whole blog post to this one tiny little word.

You feed a BALE of hay to a horse.

 

bale

You feed a BALE to horses.

You use a BAIL to carry a pail of water to horses.

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A PAIL with a BAIL

A BAIL without a PAIL

A BAIL without a PAIL

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A BAIL is a swinging handle on a pail or bucket.

 

 

 

 

 

So does your pendant hang from a swinging bale or bail? I don’t know about you, but I don’t want 60# of scratchy brome hanging around my neck, so its definitely not BALE.

The correct word for a Native American pendant hanger is a BAIL.

A Bail on a Pendant

A Bail on a Pendant

But to make things confusing, bail has some other definitions so here’s one way you can remember those. Watch for the rhyming words.

BAIL is also is what you do when you use a PAIL to remove water from a sinking boat

BAIL is also the cash payment you give to get someone temporarily out of JAIL.

To review…………..

'Bail is denied. Bale of hay also denied.'

 

 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

 

Vintage Native American Brooches and Pins Make a Comeback

A brooch is usually a large decorative piece of jewelry pinned to a sweater or dress to complete and outfit and make a bold statement.

A pin is a smaller, simpler item that can be used in a variety of more subtle ways.

Depending on the design, colors, materials and subject matter, a brooch or pin can define an ensemble and the person wearing it !

For a while, it seemed like brooches got a bad rap – maybe due to the gaudy and clunky costume jewelry brooch that often comes to mind.

But recently both brooches and pins have made a strong comeback in the fashion world. So it is a perfect time to get out your vintage and new Native American pins and use them in all kinds of ways. Here are some ideas from classic to unique and a pin that I think would work for each specific use:

At the center of a neckline

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On a collar

NPN753-AB-bee-yazzie-A

Anywhere on a jacket or coat

NPN781-knifewing-woody-1

On a scarf to adorn and/or hold it in place

PN440-WB-stamped-repousse-multi-AP-1

To keep a blouse or shirt buttoned

PN441-petit-turq-350w

 

On a clutch purse

PN436-WB-sandcast-turq-1

On the strap of a purse or backpack

NPN768-AB-kokopelli-perry-A-1

Anywhere on denim, pockets, lapels, anything goes

NPC702-AB-PP-spiny-brown-A

On the strap of a tank top

NPP452-lizard-turq-ration-1

To draw attention to or away from an area

NPN714-cluster-wilson-1

With a hair scrunchie or headband

P190-OS-PP-turq-hannaweekea-1

On a hat

P326-AB-WB-circle-multi-A

On shoes or boots

PN438-WB-sandcast-bow-turq-1

On a turtleneck

PN411-coral-abalone-1

As a pendant – for this you can use the pin itself to hang onto a necklace or between the beads of a necklace.

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Or you can you can use a pin to pendant converter to help.

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What are some other ways to use a pin or brooch?

Paula

What is Birdseye Turquoise?

Birdseye Turquoise is a term that describes turquoise that is somewhat similar to spiderweb turquoise in that it is made of an aggregate of many small nuggets but instead of a dark matrix like spiderweb, Birdseye Turquoise is light blue turquoise with a darker blue turquoise matrix.

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Natural Kingman Birdseye Turquoise Pendant by Navajo silversmith Cecil Atencio

 

The result when the stones are polished or cross cut and polished is that there are many small areas of lighter blue stone encircled by darker blue matrix like a bird’s eye, thus birdseye turquoise. Sometimes it is referred to as “water web” turquoise.

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Natural Kingman Birdseye Turquoise bracelet by Navajo artist, Albert Jake

 

Although the term refers to turquoise from any mine that looks like this, there are only a handful of mines that produce birdseye turquoise – namely Turquoise Mountain, Kingman, and Morenci. Turquoise Mountain (closed in the late 1980s) is loacated near the Kingman mine in northwestern Arizona.

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Natural Kingman Birdseye Turquoise Bracelet by Navajo artist Bennie Ration

Paula

What is Spiderweb Turquoise?

Spiderweb Turquoise is a term used to describe turquoise that looks like a spiderweb. It is not associated with any one mine, but many mines, some of the most notable being Kingman, Number 8, Lander Blue, Lone Mountain, Candelaria and others.

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Natural Kingman Spiderweb Turquoise pendant by Navajo silversmith Phillip Sanchez

 

As described below from the book “Turquoise The Gem of the Centuries” by Oscar R. Branson, spiderweb turquoise can be thought of as small pieces of turquoise cemented together with the mother rock (matrix). It is when these pieces are polished or cross cut that the spider web design emerges.

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When other materials appear within turquoise, those materials which often look like veins, are referred to as matrix or part of the “mother rock”. Matrix can range in color from honey gold (rhyolite, a volcanic rock) or brown (iron oxide) to jet black (iron pyrite aka iron sulfide) and many other color variations.

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The matrix can be in large random blotches or it can appear as uniform lines around evenly spaced cubicles, almost pattern-like, which brings to mind a net or a spiderweb, thus the name.

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Natural Kingman Spiderweb Turquoise pendant by Navajo artist Bennie Ration

 

In some parts of the world, turquoise stones with matrix are considered imperfect and clear turquoise stones are most desired but in the US, spiderweb turquoise has much more appeal and value.

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Spiderweb Turquoise bracelet by Navajo artist Peterson Johnson

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Spiderweb Turquoise bracelet by Navajo artist Peterson Johnson

Paula