Native American Pin Vest

In days gone by, small to medium pins were commonly worn on blazer lapels, sweaters, coats, jackets, scarves. clutch purses and hats…………pins were a fashion staple.

See the slide show below for samples of classic Navajo pins.

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A brooch is a large decorative piece of jewelry pinned to a sweater or dress to complete and outfit and make a bold statement. Large grandmother pins can be thought of as a brooch.


Native American artists have made many styles of pins over the years and continue to do so today.  They range in size from tie tacks and hat pins all the way up to large petit point pins and employ all types of animals, symbols and designs.

See the slide show below for samples of Zuni, Hopi and Navajo symbols.

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Although I have written about ways to use pins in previous blog posts, truth be told, I rarely use pins unless it is as a pendant, using a pin-to-pendant converter.

See these articles:

Pins Make a Comeback

Native American Pins 

Native American Pins Beautify Handbags

Like many Native American jewelry aficionados, I have accumulated quite a few pins and rather than just look at them in a drawer or box, I decided to use a denim vest to display some of them.

See the slide show below for examples of animal pins.

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Butterfly pins are popular by both Zuni and Navajo artists.

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Cluster and grandmother pins are made by both Zuni and Navajo artists.

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Yei translation into Dutch for my daughter’s school. OK?

Hi Paula.

I’m a weaver in The Netherlands and weave the navaho way. On my daughter’s school the current theme is Native Americans, and as part of the activities I will be weaving at her school. Also I have a half finished rug with two Yei figures that I wish to display, and have been looking for a good explanation of what Yei are. I found your site and text the clearest to use, and would like to translate it in Dutch and show it next to the rug. Is that allright with you? I will only use it at the school, and mention your website address of course. And: beautiful website!

Warm greetings,

Hi Klaske,
Sure you can do that ! We do appreciate you attributing the article to our website which is the website I write this blog for.
If you take any photos of the event at the school and would like to send one to me to this email address, I’d like to post them on the blog. Paula

Native American Symbols – Yei


Native American Symbols – Yei

Yei is een verkorte versie van YeiBiChi, een heilig wezen uit de Navaho cultuur.

Yeis zijn de bovennatuurlijke wezens die communicatie mogelijk maken tussen de Navaho mensen en hun Goden. Een Navaho kunstenaar vertelde me dat ‘ze de hoeders van de deur naar de andere wereld’ zijn.

YeiBiChi zijn de gemaskerde menselijke dansers die de Yei goden verpersoonlijken voor ceremoniele doeleinden.

De Yei is een mytisch figuur die veschillende genezende krachten symboliseert. Er zijn verscheidene yeis, een daarvan is de Regenboog man. Yeis bezitten wijsheid om te delen met de mensen om ze te helpen harmonieus te leven, te overleven en zich op de juiste wijze te gedragen.

In Noord Amerika zijn ze te vinden als petroglyphs (rots kunst). Yei figuren worden vaak gebruikt in genezende rituelen om iemand’s balans of hozho te herstellen.

Hozho is een woord uit de Navaho taal dat de kwaliteit van de harmonie aangeeft, maar het betekent veel meer dan dat. Het gaat niet alleen over het bereiken van harmonie, maar ook over het handhaven er van. Het gaat over ‘walking in beauty’, in schoonheid voortgaan, iets dat door iedereen te behalen valt omdat er een besef van juistheid nestelt in de kern van elk mens. Om in waarachtige hozho te zijn, moet men de wereld en de omgeving omarmen en deel er van zijn en tegelijkertijd de duidelijke toon laten horen van het eigen bestaan en zijn.

Soms, om iemand’s hozho te herstellen, word een hataalii gehaald, een Navaho genezer (Zanger of Medicijnman). Deze hataalii verwerkt de betreffende yei in een zandschildering naast de woning van degene die herstel behoeft. De schildering wordt  van zand en gekleurde materialen gemaakt, zoals stuifmeel, gemalen stenen en bloemen. Als de zandschildering compleet is, gaat degene die herstel nodig heeft er op zitten, en de ziekte wordt uit de persoon het zand in getrokken. Die nacht zal de genezer alle gebruikte materialen verzamelen en ze in de Vier Windrichtingen verspreiden. Deze ceremonie kan wel tot 9 dagen duren. Dit is altijd een zeer persoonlijke aangelegenheid, nooit waargenomen door iemand van buiten het betreffende gezin.

Een andere vorm van zandschilderen is tot stand gekomen om de Native American kunst voor te stellen. Het wordt samengesteld op een plank als een blijvend stuk kunst – de materialen worden op een gelijmd oppervlak gestrooid. Alle symbolen die gebruikt worden, worden, hopelijk, immer respectvol weergegeven.

Er wordt gezegd dat zandschilderijen niet compleet, niet volledig zijn zoals genezende zandschilderijen, maar het geeft wel een aardig beeld.

Yeis  werden ook vaak in weefwerken verwerkt, vooral in het Shiprock New Mexico gebied en het Noordoosten van Arizona. Aangezien het gebruiken van yeis in zandschilderijen bedoeld is als een heilig, tijdelijk gebruik en opgeheven zodra de heling plaats heeft gevonden, waren de yeis die in de eerste kleden werden gewoven taboe. Dit was rond de jaren 1920. Een heilig figuur dat gebruikt wordt voor heling op deze wijze permanent te laten zien was niet juist. Tegenwoordig gewoven kleden hebben dezelfde bestaansrecht als de zandschilderijen kunst – ze zijn er vooral als kunst, niet om te gebruiken in gebed of rituelen.

Er zijn mannelijk en vrouwelijk yei figuren. Vrouwelijke yei hebben vierkante hoofden, mannelijke yei hebben ronde hoofden. Yei worden op verschillende manier voorgesteld, staand, gekromd, in een hoek, of een U vorm.

Is this chip inlay pin pendant an early Tommy Singer piece?

Hi Paula !

Happy Holidays to you and your Family! 

In researching a silver piece I own, I came upon your blog.  I’m trying to find out if the combo brooch/pin/pendant is by the silversmith Tommy Singer.  The design has chip inlay.  On the back, there is a capital “T” hallmark.  I understand this might be an earlier hallmark. 

I was looking to receive your opinion on if this was infact Tommy Singer’s work.  May I send you photos of the piece so you can help to identify the piece?  (I have 2 photos)

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,  Dena

Hi Dena,

Happy Holidays to you too !

Judging from the photos you sent, it  looks like early Tommy Singer chip inlay of a yei figure.

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. Navajo Tommy Singer is often credited for first using chip inlay in Native American jewelry.

The T hallmark is attributed to Navajo silversmith Tommy Singer in these two books:

Hallmarks of the Southwest by Barton Wright


The Little Book of Marks on Southwestern Silver by Bille Hougart.

Cloud and Rain Hallmark on Copper Bracelet

Hi Paula,

I have a wide heavy stamped copper bracelet which has a spring tension closure.  The symbol inside is a cloud with lines of rain falling.  Do you have an idea of who the maker might  be? 

Thank you!  Delilah

Hi Delilah,

What a unique and beautiful bracelet.

The figure seems to have characteristics of a YeiBiChi , a figure that is part of the Navajo story and appears on Navajo jewelry.

I’ve seen similar hallmarks. Three clouds with rain falling is a fairly common component of both Navajo and Hopi hallmarks. The hallmark in your photo is not complete so it does make it a little difficult to compare to similar 3-cloud and rain hallmarks, but, even so, I have not seen one quite like the one on your bracelet.

I researched:

Navajo hallmarks

Hopi hallmarks

Navajo shop marks

Hopi Guild marks

and I have come up with nothing that matches the one on your bracelet.

So I am hoping by posting this, someone else might recognize it and leave a comment at the end of this post.


Native American Terms – Fetish, Totem, Amulet, Talisman

I wondered why in your web store you describe some Indian animal carvings and jewelry pieces as fetishes and others amulets or totems. Are they all the same thing? – Stuart

The terms fetish, amulet, totem and talisman are often used interchangeably to describe an object that provides good fortune and protects from evil. The exact meaning of any of these terms depend on the culture and location in which it is used. Briefly, here is how I see them:


Alaskan Thunderbird Talisman by David Audette from Sitka, Alaska

A talisman is an object that is considered to possess supernatural or magical powers and is used especially to avert evils, disease, or death. A talisman is typically engraved or cut with figures or characters, constellations, planets, or other heavenly signs. It is often worn as an amulet or charm. From the Greek word “telein”, which means “to initiate into the mysteries”. The word talisman is often used synonymous with amulet.


Turquoise and Sterling Silver Lucky Horseshoe Amulet by Navajo artist Wilbur Muskett Jr.

An amulet is a protecting charm – any object worn to bring good luck and to ward off evil, illness, and harm from supernatural powers and from other people. Amulets are typically carvings, stones (especially with naturally occurring holes), plants (such as sage, 4-leaf clover, shamrock), coins, and jewelry (crosses, horseshoes, gemstones).


Horse Totem on Horse Spirit Medicine Bag by Apache artist Cynthia Whitehawk

A totem is an object that symbolizes a person’s or a tribe’s animal guide. This could be a totem pole, an emblem or a small figurine or carving. Native American tradition holds that different animal guides come in and out of a person’s life depending on the direction that person is headed and the challenges he faces. A totem animal is the one animal that acts as the main guardian spirit and is with a person for life, both in the physical and spiritual world. Traditionally, it is the totem animal, such as an eagle, wolf, bear, horse or dragonfly, that finds the person, not the other way around.


Bear Fetish by Zuni artist Emery Eriacho

A fetish is a sacred object used in religious ceremonies, for spiritual awakening and to communicate with and direct supernatural powers. A fetish can provide protection, promote healing and ensure success in ventures such as hunting or farming. A Native American fetish is most often a carving, usually of an animal, that has some sort of power, and is sometimes decorated with stones, shells, and feathers. A carving without power is merely a carving. A person’s own beliefs determine the difference between a fetish and a carving.

So, whether an object is a talisman, totem, amulet or fetish is up to you. Just as the beauty of an object is in the eye of the beholder, so the power of an object is in the belief of the seer or wearer.


Native American Symbols – Yei

Native American Symbols – Yei

Yei is a shortened version of *YeiBiChi, a holy figure in the Navajo culture. Yeis are the supernatural beings that allow communication between the Navajo people and their Gods. One Navajo artist told me, “They are the keepers of the door to the other world.”

YeiBiChi are the masked human dancers impersonating the Yei deities for ceremonial purposes.

©  2010 Horsekeeping © Copyright Information

Sterling Silver Navajo Yei

Sterling Silver Navajo Yei

The yei is a mythical figure that symbolizes various healing powers. There are various yeis, one of which is Rainbow Man (a separate post coming). Yeis have wisdom to share with man to help him live in harmony, survive and behave in the right way.

Appearing as Petroglyphs (Rock Art) in North America, Yei figures are often used in healing ceremonies to restore a person’s balance or hozho.

Navajo Yei Naja Sterling Silver Pendant

Navajo Yei Naja Sterling Silver Pendant

Hozho is a Navajo word that depicts the quality of harmony but it means so much more. It is not only gaining harmony but maintaining it. It is a sense of walking in beauty, something that is achievable by all because there is a sense of rightness in the core of each person. To be in true hozho, one must embrace the world and the environment and be a part of it while still striking a clear tone of one’s own existence and being.

Sometimes to restore a person’s hozho, a hataalii (Navajo healer) also known as a Singer or a Medicine Man is called in. the hataalii incorporates the appropriate yei figure into the sand painting (dry painting) near the person’s home that needs healing. The painting is made of sand and other colored materials such as pollen, crushed stones and flowers. Once the sand painting is completed, the ailing person sits on the sand painting and the illness is drawn out of the person into the sand. That night the healer gathers up all of the material used in the painting and scatters it to the Four Directions. The ceremony can last up to 9 days. This type of healing sand painting is a private ceremony, not viewed by those outside the family.

The other type of sand painting is created for the sake of representing Native American art. It is put together on a board to remain as a permanent piece of art – the materials are sprinkled on the glued surface. Any symbols incorporated are, hopefully, used in a manner that is not disrespectful. It is said that sand painting art is not “completed” like a healing sand painting is, but it does give a close representation.

Yeis were also often woven into rug designs most notably from the Shiprock New Mexico area and northeast Arizona. Since the use of yeis in sand paintings is meant to be a sacred, temporary use and discarded when the healing has taken place, when yeis were first woven into rugs in the 1920’s, they were taboo. To have a sacred figure that is used for healing to be used in a permanent way on display was just not right. Today’s woven rugs are justified in a similar way as is the sand painting art – they are for display only for their artistic merit, they are not used for worship or as prayer rugs.

There are male and female yei figures. Female yei have square heads and male yei are depicted with round heads.

Navajo Sterling Silver Yei Square Head

Navajo Sterling Silver Yei Square Head

Navajo Yei Round Head

Navajo Yei Round Head

The figures can be found depicted standing upright, curved, angled and in a three-sided square.

Navajo Sterling Silver and Turquoise Yei

Navajo Sterling Silver and Turquoise Yei

*spelling variations also seen: Yeii, YeiBiChei, YeiBeiChai, YeiBeChai, YeBiChai)

Native American Symbol – Whirling Log (Swastika)


Native American Symbol Whirling Log

The design of the Whirling Logs is similar in appearance to the symbol of horror associated with the Nazis.

Both are swastikas.

Swastika is Sanskrit meaning “well-being”. Throughout most of history, it has been associated with order and stability. The unfortunate association of the swastika with Hitler understandably makes some people uncomfortable when they see a similar symbol on Native American baskets, rugs and jewelry.

To distinguish Whirling Logs from Hitler’s Swastika, some try to make a distinction between which direction the figure appears to rotate, clockwise or counter-clockwise. But if you look at a whirling log on the outside of a Native American basket and it is whirling counter-clockwise, that same design will be whirling clockwise on the inside. Similarly with a woven rug – each side of the rug would show the symbol whirling a different way. So that is not distinction.

Native American Basket with Whirling Log Symbol

The distinction is in the intent, the context, the long history of the symbol. Read more about the history of the swastika.

Wikipedia has an excellent article with illustrations with more about the history and use of the symbol of the swastika with a note

after learning of the Nazi association, the Navajo discontinued use of the symbol

^ Dottie Indyke. “The History of an Ancient Human Symbol.” April 4, 2005. originally from The Wingspread Collector’s Guide to Santa Fe, Taos, and Albuquerque, Volume 15.

Whirling Logs are used in Navajo sand paintings during a healing or other type of ceremony. A sand painting is supposed to be a temporary piece of art which is destroyed after the ceremony is over. However sand painting designs are also used in prints and framed paintings, rugs and on jewelry.

The Whirling Log symbol is associated with a narrative involving a man (sometimes called the Culture Hero) who takes a journey down the San Juan River in a hollowed out log canoe. During his adventure, he encounters whirlpools and a special event where the San Juan River meets the Colorado River.  There he comes upon a whirling cross with Yei figures seated on the cross. From the yeis he learns much knowledge which he takes back to his people.

(See a future post about Yeis)

Since World War II, the use of the Whirling Logs in Native American artifacts has been confined mainly to rugs. Jewelry with the symbol is usually from before 1940.

Vintage Native American Pawn Bracelet with Whirling Log

Be sure to read this excellent article on Kim & Pat Messier’s Blog

The Use of the Swastika Symbol in American Indian Art