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

 

Native American Materials – Spiny Oyster

Spiny Oyster and Turquoise Naja with 3 Strand Necklace

Spiny Oyster and Turquoise Naja with 3 Strand Necklace

Sometimes people describe a Native American piece as having spiny oyster stones – similar to saying erroneously that a piece has “coral stones”.

About Coral

Coral History

Although spiny oyster is is durable, it is not a stone. It is a shell.

Navajo Spiny Oyster Pendant

Navajo Spiny Oyster Pendant

Spiny oyster, not surprisingly, is a shell (spondylus) that is covered with spines. It is found along the Pacific coast of Baja California and Baja Mexico.

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It varies from vibrant red shading into oranges and purples, with definite striations and variation of the colors. Red spiny oyster has been used as a substitute for coral.

 

Santo Domingo Spiny Oyster Necklace

Santo Domingo Spiny Oyster Necklace

 

Santo Domingo Rouge Spiny Oyster Necklace

Santo Domingo Rouge Spiny Oyster Necklace

Right now the orange spiny oyster beads and inlays are hot, hot, hot, so I thought you’d enjoy seeing some of the many variations of this beautiful natural material.

 

Sterling Silver Navajo Spiny Oyster Cross

Sterling Silver Navajo Spiny Oyster Cross

Inlay with spiny oyster can be smooth and sleek or chunky cobblestone. Here is one example of each.

Navajo Sterling Silver Inlay Horse Head

Navajo Sterling Silver Inlay Horse Head

Spiny Oyster Cobblestone Inlay Navajo Bear

Spiny Oyster Cobblestone Inlay Navajo Bear

As if the orange wasn’t beautiful enough, spiny oyster comes in all shades or reds and purples – something for everyone’s taste! Here are a few examples.

Purple Spiny Oyster Treasure Necklace by Navajo Tommy Singer

Purple Spiny Oyster Treasure Necklace by Navajo Tommy Singer

Santo Domingo Red Spiny Oyster Necklace

Santo Domingo Red Spiny Oyster Necklace

Watch our new page where you will see some other beautiful spiny oyster items added later this week.

Native American Fetish Necklace – Mother or Grandmother Necklace

The Quandelacy family of the Zuni pueblo has a tradition called the Grandmother Necklace which is a fetish necklace made of birds and animals – one animal carved by each member of the family and presented to Grandmother or Mother.

How big is your family? Or your extended family?

Raven Fetish Necklace

Raven Fetish Necklace

Horse Fetish Necklace

Horse Fetish Necklace

Hummingbird Fetish Necklace

Hummingbird Fetish Necklace

Mixed Animal Fetish Necklace

Mixed Animal Fetish Necklace

3 Strand Fetish Necklace

3 Strand Fetish Necklace

10 Strand Fetish Necklace

10 Strand Fetish Necklace

Native American Necklaces – What is heishi?

Heishi and other Shell and Stone Necklaces

Heishi means shell and in the past, referred to pieces of shell that have been drilled and hand rolled or ground into bead shapes and strung as necklaces. With the reduced availability of some shell materials, the modern Native American artists also use hand made beads of other natural materials including stones when making heishi necklaces.

Heishi facts and informationHeishi originated with the Santo Domingo and San Felipe Pueblo Indians of New Mexico. That’s why many people refer to this type of jewelry as Santo Domingo jewelry.

Although all of the items we sell in our Native American Jewelry Store are hand made by Navajo, Hopi, Zuni or Rio Grande Pueblo Indian craftsmen and women, there are many inexpensive imitation heishi items for sale elsewhere that use man-made materials and are produced by non-Native Americans. So, like many other things, you get what you pay for. If you want an authentic, traditional heishi necklace, this is the type you should be looking for.

The shells most commonly chosen for heishi include penn shell, olive shells, spiny oysters, mother-of-pearl (MOP), and melon shell. Coral is also used as well as stones such as lapis, turquoise, jet, pipestone, and serpentine.

Heishi facts and informationHeishi beads are made by slicing the shell or stone into uniform strips. Then the pieces are nipped into small squares. Each square then has a hole drilled in it. The squares are strung, each material being strung in a separate group. The strings of squares are smoothed and rounded by grinding and rolling the beads. Once the beads have reached the rough ground round stage, they are ready for sanding. The beads are smoothed and shaped using sandpaper. The string of finished material is washed and dried in the sun. Then they are polished on a leather belt.

Heishi facts and informationNow the artist strings the various heishi beads in a unique design.

Authentic handmade heishi, although smooth and of uniform consistency, will have variations among the beads. There will be a variation in color and thickness or there might be a slight imperfection in the shell or bead. This adds to its unique appearance.

What is stabilized turquoise?

Heishi facts and informationOften in heishi necklaces and other nugget necklaces, the turquoise has been stabilized. This means that a natural turquoise nugget has been treated with a stabilizing agent that closes the pores of the stone so it will not change color or fracture. This allows the artist to use smaller beads for necklaces; they would otherwise fracture if not stabilized. It also means your turquoise jewelry will look just as bright and beautiful years from now as from the day you purchased it.

Natural turquoise, although beautiful, can change color when it comes in contact with body oil, hand lotion, soap or any other fat-based compound. Blue stones tend to become more green.

Although all stones can fracture if treated roughly, natural stones tend to fracture more easily than stabilized stones. When a natural stone is used in a sturdy sterling silver setting, it is protected but when it is used as beads in a necklace, it could be easily chipped. That’s why most heishi and nugget necklaces use stabilized turquoise.

Heishi and Stone Necklaces

Hello and welcome to the wonderful world of Native American Jewelry and Artifacts and other things I am passionate about. I am the manager of the webstore  www.horsekeeping.com

Heishi Season is Upon Us

Heishi necklaces are a perfect combo with summer weather, tank tops, V neck t-shirts…and there is nothing quite like a turquoise choker to highlight a tan !

There are so many wonderful colors and forms of stone and shell heishi, nuggets and beads, single strand to 25 strands, various lengths and of widely divergent styles that choosing a stone necklace can be somewhat overwhelming.

To help you make a good choice, I’ve organized stone necklaces into “Shop by Length” and “Shop by Style” so you can browse either way. In addition, I’ve written an article “How to Choose and Wear a Necklace

How to Choose and Wear a Necklace

©  2008 Horsekeeping   © Copyright Information

Heishi ChokerThere are so many wonderful Native American necklace choices, from heishi to silver beads, that choosing one can be a bit overwhelming. That’s why I am going to try to make your selection process a bit easier with some gentle guidance.

Heishi ChokerThe best way to choose a necklace is to measure a necklace you already have that fits like you want it to and is suitable for the way you want to wear it.

For example, if you are shopping for a choker that you want to wear around your neck (as opposed to on top of a shirt or blouse), the Heishi Chokermeasurement you will use will be a bit more critical because you want the choker to fit your neck and hang just the way you like it. Two people with the same neck size might choose two different size chokers. Some people like a choker very high and rather snug so might choose a 16″ choker while others don’t like the feel of a tight fit and like a bit of a drape to their chokers so might choose an 18″ choker. So get out your favorite necklace or take a piece of cord and test it out in front of a mirror. Wear it around for an hour or so to be sure that size is comfortable.

Most adult women wear chokers in the 16-18 inch range. We try to keep Heishi Chokera good selection in that size range in our store.

Men usually wear chokers in the 18-20+ inch range. For some reason, that size range is difficult to find in Native American jewelry so we’ve had to special order a group of those for our male customers.

The 21-22 inch necklaces can either serve as a choker or a necklace, depending on your size and wearing preference.

Heishi ChokerIf you are looking for a necklace, one that drapes longer or that you can use over your clothes or as a necklace to hang a pendant on, then you will want to put a necklace or test cord under your collar and decide where you want your necklace to hang. The choker or necklace that is perfect during the summer won’t fit over your turtlenecks and shirts in the fall and winter – so for over clothing, you’ll need to purchase one 1-3″ longer depending on the thicknessHeishi Choker of the fabrics you usually wear.

Most women’s necklaces are in the 21-30 inch range. The length you choose will depend on your height (the length of your upper torso) and your personal preference for drape.

Heishi ChokerMany necklaces can double as a place to hang a pendant so if that is your goal, be sure the fastener on the end is not too large so it will fit through the loop on the back of the pendant or through the or pendant bail. Heishi ChokerIf you are using a pendant with a Shepherd’s Hook, this won’t be an issue.

Native American made necklaces are priced according to the artist’s reputation, skill and ability and the materials they use. It is also based on the length of the necklace, so in effect, you pay by the inch ! But most importantly, you are paying for art – wearable art is priceless.

Heishi ChokerOne final piece of advice that we have learned first hand. When it comes to Native American jewelry, if you see something you like, you should purchase it because it may very likely not be available again. Unlike manufactured jewelry that is machine made and available in large quantities, Native American jewelry is make one piece at a time and although a Heishi Chokerparticular artist might make a dozen of a particular necklace in one year, the next year, he or she might make none.

The Santo Domingo, Navajo and Zuni artists are constantly creating new ways of using their traditional materials and designs to make beautiful jewelry. We have often had the opportunity to purchase, let’s say 5 or 6 of an item, but for one reason or another, we only took one or two but then when we tried to get more, there just were not any available! So it you like it, buy it !

If you have any questions, contact me at // orders@horsekeeping.com.

Paula