Mike Schmaltz Brings a Dragonfly to Life

Native American pieces that are completely handmade are becoming harder to find.  By NA handmade, I mean made in the USA by a registered Native American using no manufactured elements. Its like cooking from scratch – using whole foods and no canned ingredients.

Jewelry by Algonquin artist Mike Schmaltz is not only handmade but beautiful and unique.

Michael (Poole) Schmaltz started making jewelry full time in 1973. He learned jewelry through making many mistakes and learning what not to do. He picked up some valuable tips by watching a few master Zuni silversmiths who were more than willing to share. He learned the art of hot forging ingots into sheet and wire from the blow by blow description of Tom Burnsides hammering silver that is described in the book The Navajo and Pueblo Silversmiths by John Adair.

Let’s step inside Mike’s shop and watch him create a coin silver dragonfly pendant from concept to finish.

Photo 1 – The design and dimensions are roughed out on graph paper.

Photo 2 The coin silver ingot is heated to a dull red, then taken to the anvil . When it turns black, it is pounded with a heavy hammer all over all surfaces, then reheated and pounded again. These steps are repeated until the required shape, thickness, and size is reached. It takes a lot of experience to know when to reheat so as to not get a cracked ingot.

To read more about coin silver click here.

What does Coin Silver mean in relation to Native American jewelry ?

 

Photo 3 The sheet is flattened by pounding with a polished faced hammer. Once the sheet is large enough for the project, the design is drawn on the metal.

Photo 4 The stamping is done and the outline of the dragonfly is cut out.

 

Photo 5 The smooth bezels are made to best suit the piece of jewelry. They are set in position and soldered in place. The stones will be cut to fit the bezels.

Photo 6 The edge of the body is refined and silver raindrop accents are added down both sides.

Mike makes all of his wire from ingot, hand drawing the wire through a draw plate.

Photo 7 The wire legs and Shepherd’s Hook are soldered in place.

Photo 8 The back complete with hallmarks

Photo 9 – The front complete and almost ready for stones.

Photo 10 – The dragonfly is antiqued with liver of sulphur which is then removed from the high spots with steel wool.

Photo 11 Now it is time to choose the stones. A few test ovals were drawn on this beautiful Chinese turquoise but it was determined that in small pieces this stone would be too dark.

Photo 12 – The Morenci stones have more bright color and variation so were chosen for this piece.

Photo 13 – The eyes are made by grinding spots out of the turquoise head and cutting jet to fit.

Photo 14 – Each stone is cut to fit a bezel and set one at a time with a little sawdust cushion underneath the stone to help prevent future cracking of the stone.

Photo 15 – And the finished dragonfly pendant. Ready to be hung from a strand of beads.

Mike’s jewelry speaks for itself – it is genuinely beautiful.

Thank you Mike for your photos and comments for this article.

Paula

Book Review – Native American and Southwestern Silver Hallmarks by Bille Hougart

Native American jewelry enthusiasts, collectors, wholesalers and retailers alike often refer to Bille Hougart’s book (Native American and Southwestern Silver Hallmarks, Third Edition) as the “bible” and the most useful book on identifying Native American hallmarks.

This 7″ x 10″ fat paperback has 517 pages.

The bulk of the book, pages 34-416, consists of an alphabetical (usually by last name) list of artists. In many cases there is a photo of the hallmark along with biographical information such as tribal affiliation, birth date, types of jewelry usually made, family member of note and more.

 

Example of interior pages

There is a 10 page section in the front of the book that discusses the history and function of the Indian Arts and Crafts Board.

Following there are discussions of:

The Hopi Silver Craft Guild

The Navajo Arts and Crafts Guild

United Indian Traders Association

The back matter contains an alphabetical listing of marks. This list is of the actual marks, different from the body of the book which is alphabetical by artists’ last names. This makes several ways to find who a mark belongs to.

Then there is 42 page section of symbol marks by category such as Paws, Sun etc.

To complete this essential work, there is a

Glossary

Acronym List

Bibliography

Useful Addresses

and an index.

If you have interest in Native American jewelry and need to identify hallmarks, this book is essential.

Paula

Hatbands – Native American and Otherwise

There is nothing like a nice handband to perk up an otherwise nondescript hat.

This article focuses mainly on hatbands but you will see that many of the example hats also have stampede strings. In case you are not familiar with them, they are basically a chinstrap fastener that can be used either under the chin or at the back of the head to help hold a hat on in the wind or during a stampede !!! They are usually left loose until needed as shown by Tom Selleck – sigh!

QUIGLEY DOWN UNDER, Tom Selleck, 1990. (c) MGM.

Stampede strings can be a simple leather “string” (on less expensive hats), braided leather (often kangaroo on Australian hats), braided horse hair with tassels (popular on US Western hats) and other materials.

There are various ways of attaching stampede strings to hats. Most of the hats shown here use the method where the stampede string encircles the crown and then passes through holes on either side of the brim. But there are other ways to attach them.  I will leave that for you to research – there are many helpful how-to articles on the internet.

So on to the “embellishment” portion of this post – the hatband !!

Most hats come with a ribbon band of some kind, narrow to wide. Depending on the hat, this might look the best. Simple. Elegant.

Other hats look great with a touch of horsehair either as a separate hatband or as part of the stampede string.

Almost any hat looks good with a concho belt hat band and some look good with beaded hat bands.

Following are some hat “case histories” with some information to help you decide if and how you might want to dress up your hat.

By the way………hatbands are not just for western hats…………they look great on most panama straw hats as well, as one of the examples below will show.  Maybe even on a fedora for the adventurous !

One thing to keep in mind as you add a hatband – the proper way to set a western hat down when you are not wearing it is upside down. (If you lay it down on its brim too many times, it ruins the shape of the brim.) Because of this tradition, you will want to be sure your hatband is securely fixed in place so it doesn’t fall off your hat.

 

Before I continue with the hat showcases………here are a few items that you might find handy.

 

Paula

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

 

What is a Strike a Light bag?

Native American women would tie a bag like this under their apron and would carry in it items necessary for making a fire. This would usually consist of flint, a “Strike-a-Light” which is a special steel plate to use with the flint for creating sparks to start a fire, and tinder (such as dry moss or rabbit fur) to catch the sparks and start the fire.

Vintage Strike a Light Bag

What are Ranger Belts and Ranger Buckle Sets ?

In the mid 1800s, the Texas Rangers developed the Ranger Belt. It was designed so that they could carry a large, heavy sidearm, usually the Colt Walker, which had a holster that required a wide belt.

Texas Ranger Cpl. J. Walter Durbin (at right) said he had some 15 good men in Company D, though a few could be a “little fussy and dangerous” when drinking. Private Wood Saunders (at left) measured up splendidly—on both counts. This is one of my favorite photos because it shows how both Rangers carried their six-shooter Colts just forward of the hip, butt to the front, easily permitting a strong-hand cross draw. Courtesy Nita Stewart Haley Memorial Library & J. Evetts Haley History Center and True West Magazine

Prior to this, the Rangers carried long guns and belts were not commonly used.

From True West Magazine: “The six-gun’s heft made impractical the common practice of stuffing a pistol into the waistband of the bearer’s pants, or into a cloth sash tied around the waist or hips meant to secure pistols, knives and other means of self-defense. Belts were not in common use at the time as pants were high-waisted and tightened with a cinch at the back, or supported with suspenders over the wearer’s shoulders. Thus, these Colts were carried in holsters mounted on saddles.”

By making a wide stiff belt but with narrower, more flexible billet straps in the front, the holster and heavy gun would be supported but the fastening of the belt would be easier. Because of the wide belt underneath the billets, the belt could be tightened without pinching because of the protective underlayer.

The belt design employed the same technique used for tightening horse cinches without pinching.

There is an underlayer of heavy leather under each ring that the latigo passes through, therefore no pinching when cinching up !

 

A modern ranger belt ready to dress up with a Native American buckle set.

A more modern variation of the Ranger Belt is the Tapered Belt that starts with a standard belt and tapers the buckle end and the tip end to a narrower width, usually 3/4″

The Ranger Belt or Tapered Belt will allow easy change if they come with 3 sets of snaps, one to attach the buckle and one each for the two keepers.

Tapered belt with 3 sets of snaps for Ranger Buckle Set

Kingman Inlay Ranger Buckle set by Zuni artist Stanford Coochi – shown on a Tapered Belt

To set the tip, simply punch a hole in the leather in alignment with the position of the peg in the tip and slip the leather in, lock it in place. The 1-3 series below uses the scrap leather than comes with the set to show how it is done. Photo #4 below shows a finished belt tip.

1 – The backside of the tip showing the peg

2 – Punch a hole in the same position as the peg

3 – Slip the Leather tip into the sterling tip, locking the hole onto the peg

4 – Finished belt tip for the belt below, back side

Sterling Silver Ranger Buckle set by Navajo artist Lee Charley – shown on a Tapered Belt

Paula

What is Seafoam Turquoise?

The term Seafoam Turquoise does not refer to a mine or location where certain turquoise is found.

Rather it refers to two visual characteristics that turquoise nuggets might have. The turquoise could come from any number of mines.

Seafoam refers to both color and shape.

Here is a slide show with examples of the color seafoam, used to describe interior paint, linens and clothing among other things. Although the colors vary, you can see the sea in all of them!

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Below is what the shape of seafoam can look like, but it varies considerably. It is meant to look like the configuration of bubbling foam at the seaside, so bumpy turquoise in the seafoam color.

For beads, the nuggets are not cut, but left in their natural shape.

If to be mounted such as on the vintage necklace below, the back of the seafoam nugget is flattened but the top is left bumpy.

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Paula