Sacred Red Pipestone from Minnesota

Lakota horse pipe carved by 4th generation Lakota pipemaker Alan Monroe from pipestone he quarried from Pipestone National Monument

 

From the website of Pipestone National Monument 

“When you pray with this pipe, you pray for and with everything.”  -Black Elk

 

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For countless generations, American Indians have quarried the red pipestone found at this site.

Red Pipestone is also referred to as Catlinite. Read more about Catlinite by clicking here.

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 These grounds are sacred to many people because the pipestone quarried here is carved into pipes used for prayer. Many believe that the pipe’s smoke carries one’s prayer to the Great Spirit. The traditions of quarrying and pipemaking continue here today.

More information from the Pipestone National Monument website

Located in rural southwestern Minnesota, the pipestone quarries are considered a sacred site by many American Indians. For the last 5,000 years or more, tribes across the central region of North America have traveled to this site to quarry. Today, they still travel long distances to this site to continue the tradition of pipestone quarrying and pipe making. Since 1946, the 56 active pipestone quarry pits have been managed by issuance of a quarry permit.

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Pipestone quarrying is often an underappreciated part of the tradition surrounding pipe making. The task of extracting pipestone from the earth is slow and laborious using hand tools not much more advanced than the tools and methods used in past millennia. The process can require many days of physical labor with only sledgehammers, pry bars, chisels, wedges, and steel bars allowed. Good physical condition is a prerequisite.

 

A cross-section view of a quarry showing the layers of earth and quartzite that needs to be removed before reaching the layer of pipestone. Note that the pipestone seam is angled downward. Over time, the quarriers must remove more and more quartzite, one of the hardest rocks in the world, to continue extracting the pipestone.

Depending upon the specific quarry and amount of material extracted, experience has shown that quarrying time can be estimated at two to six weeks to reach the subsurface layer of pipestone. This pipestone lens is sandwiched between layers of very hard Sioux Quartzite formation rock. Depending upon a quarry’s location along the quarry line, the upper levels of quartzite can be four to ten feet thick above the pipestone layer. Prairie plants and soil varying in depth from one to six feet cover the upper layer of quartzite.

Quarriers use shovels and wheelbarrows to dig up surface soils and glacial till. Then they dump it in rubble piles at the rear of the quarries. Subsequently, broken pieces of quartzite rock are also discarded.

The upper layer of quartzite is composed of multiple quartzite strata, with vertical fractures and cracks in the rock. Wedges or chisels are placed into these cracks can be driven down with sledge hammers to break apart loose individual quartzite blocks. Upon loosening a piece, it is worked free with a steel pry bar and allowed to drop to the floor of the quarry. Heavy sledge hammers are then used to break the bigger chunks of quartzite into smaller, more manageable pieces that can be lifted and thrown out of the back of the quarry. The process of breaking out the quartzite is repeated many times until the pipestone layer is exposed.

See the slide show below which shows the blessing and quarrying of the pipestone that is used to make the items in our store

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The smaller pieces are also used in building a rock retaining wall along the front of the rubble pile. The rock wall serves as a barrier so that as additional quartzite and soil are thrown or stacked at the rear of the quarry, the rubble pile is prevented from collapsing back into the quarry. Building a sturdy retaining wall to keep rock and fill out of the pit is an essential part of managing a quarry and a very important protective safeguard for quarriers.

Sacred Catlinite Ceremonial Necklace

Once the pipestone is exposed, care must be taken in removing the stone as it is very fragile and when handling large slabs it can break. The pipestone layer may vary from 10 to 18 inches thick and it too is composed of multiple layers from 1 ½ to 3 inches thick. Individual layers are carefully removed one slab at a time by driving wedges into the natural horizontal seams. The natural vertical cracks in the quartzite carry down through the pipestone, which allows the quarrier to remove the pipestone layers in irregularly-shaped slabs or tabular blocks.

Raven Effigy Pipe

The quarry pits are located in the bottom of a bowl-shaped drainage. In the spring and early summer months groundwater from rain and snow melt collects in this low lying area, filling the quarries with water. Most quarriers prefer to work during the summer to late fall months to avoid the groundwater problems. Monument staff will assist quarriers by pumping water out of the quarries, but only two days ahead of when quarrying is planned. Often, when it is high, groundwater will flow back into the quarries as fast as it is pumped out. Since continued pumping will not reduce the water level, it will not be attempted during these periods when groundwater is high.

Buffalo Effigy Pipe

Paula

Examining a Tab Necklace – Is it Kewa, Santo Domingo or Other?

This post is designed to describe the process I go through when I am trying to authenticate whether an item is Native American made or not.

Here is a very pretty necklace that may or may not be Native American made. In this particular case, I’m going to say guilty until proven innocent, in other words, not Native American made unless I can find some solid proof that it is.

Paula's Tab Necklace

Paula’s Tab Necklace

But coming to a verdict is harder than one might think because there are far fewer definitive references for Santo Domingo, Kewa and Pueblo stone necklaces than there are for silver and stone jewelry.

Add to that, the fact that very few stone necklaces have hallmarks of any kind. And finally, tab necklaces are much more uncommon than other Native American jewelry. In fact, this is the first of its kind to arrive here.

First of all, what it it? It is a Tab Necklace – the three inlaid pendants suspended from the heishi choker put it in the Tab Necklace category.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABecause it measures 17 inches, I would categorize it as a choker as opposed to a necklace which is typically 24-32 inches long.

What is it made of?

The very finely turned and graduated heishi is made from brown shell which varies from a deep amber, dark honey to a very dark brown. It reminds me of tortoise shell in its variegation. The only piece I have for reference that I KNOW is tortoise shell is my beloved Chester Mahooty bracelet shown here.

Chester Mahooty inlay bracelet. The two outermost wings are tortoise shell.

Chester Mahooty inlay bracelet. The two outermost wings are tortoise shell.

The heishi is very smooth and expertly produced. Heishi is made by stringing shell or stone, then grinding, sanding and polishing it into smooth edged circles. Each of the heishi discs in this choker are only 1mm thick. The graduation is very well done.

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This choker is strung on string and finished off with sterling silver cones and a hook and eye fastener. The fastener seems hand made. There is sunburst stamping on the cones.

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Now to the tabs. The base is made of a very dark wood. It is possibly iron wood or cocobolo wood which some Navajo artists use in conjunction with their inlay work.

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southwest design border669

MK440-AB-sheath-med-yazzie-B1

Cocobolo wood used in conjunction with inlay knife handles by Navajo Doris Yazzie.

Cocobolo

southwest design border669

The inlay on the tabs of my necklace is made with some very interesting turquoise with matrix and a white material that has the hardness of stone. There are no visible pores in the white material and, because of its density, it has been polished to a very smooth surface. It could be ivory, alabaster, stone composite ??

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The channels between the turquoise and cream pieces are baffling since they have a distinct gold cast to them. They could be brass, jeweler’s gold or some variation.

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Each tab has a thinner channel of metal at the bottom position. On the middle tab, that thin channel almost looks like is has leaked something which could be a metal residue or a metallic colored resin or adhesive.

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As far as age, this necklace was probably made at least 15 years ago and it could be much older.

What do authentic Native American Tab Necklaces look like?

I’m including information on early tab necklaces for historical interest, not to suggest the choker I am researching is one.

from Skystone and Silver, Stacey, Santo Domingo Mosaic Necklace

from Skystone and Silver, Stacey, Santo Domingo Mosaic Necklace

Depression era tab necklaces (made beginning in the 1930’s up to the 1960’s) were constructed from various discarded materials such as 78 rpm records, car battery cases, red plastic dinnerware and Dairy Queen spoons.

scan0248 caption

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Jewelry by Southwest American Indian: Evolving Designs, Schiffer p 122

The backing for the inlay on vintage tab necklaces was usually black – from records or car batteries.

The heishi used was usually quite thick and made from white clam shell.

Fine Indian Jewelry of the Southwest; The Millicent Rogers Museum Collection p149. ca 1940

Fine Indian Jewelry of the Southwest; The Millicent Rogers Museum Collection p149. ca 1940

Most of the examples I have been able to find are necklace length, approximately 26-30″.

Generations, the Helen Cox Kersting Collection, Santo Domingo Tab Necklaces 1940-1059

Generations, the Helen Cox Kersting Collection, Santo Domingo Tab Necklaces 1940-1059

The ends were finished off with either a squaw wrap or with cones and hook and eye closures.

What does all of this mean about MY necklace?

I love it. It is beautiful.

Who made it? I don’t know.

Is it Native American made? Possibly but not likely……………here are the Pros and Cons:

Pros – String, cones and clasp, very fine heishi work, nice turquoise.

Cons – Wood backing for the inlay, undetermined material in the channels of the inlay.

If you have comments please leave them at the bottom of this post.

Be sure to read all of the comments as they come in because that is part of the process of learning about these pieces.

Bottom line. Although this is most probably an imported choker from the 1970’s, it is very well made, pretty and looks great on. So even though not a Native American made necklace, it still is a nice vintage item. It is what it is.

Paula

 

What is a cabochon?

Hi Paula,

I have a simple, quick question. I see the word cabochon used when describing turquoise and other stones on Native American jewelry. What does that mean?

Jill

Hi Jill,

That is a good question.

A cabochon is a stone that has been shaped, rounded and polished rather than cut into a stone with facets like a diamond. The resulting shape is usually a convex (domed, rounded upward) top with a flat bottom.  While very small stones can be made into round cabochons, larger stones are most commonly made into elliptical (or oval) shapes.

Here are some examples of cabochons in Native American jewelry.

NP275-larimar-yazzie-1

Larimar

NP413-ABCD-whitebuffalo-nelson-A

White Buffalo

NP464-onyx-lee-1

Black Onyx

NP464-onyx-lee-2

NP421-A-E-turq-yazzie-1

Turquoise

NP376-lapis-johnson-3

Denim Lapis

In contrast to cabochons are faceted stones such as this peridot gem – faceted stones are rarely seen in Native American made jewelry.

Peridot_cut_stones_peridot_faceted_stones

Paula

Native American Jewelry Repair – Watch for Upcoming Series

Repairing Native American Jewelry

We receive many queries from customers and readers who have a Native American jewelry item that they want repaired.

There is a difference between repair and restoration.

If a bracelet has a break in one of the sterling silver wire bands and you want that break fixed so you can wear the bracelet, that is an example of a repair.

If you have inherited a vintage squash blossom necklace which has lost two stones and has several crushed blossoms, and you want it to be fixed so that it looks like it did originally, that would be an example of a restoration.

Repairing an adjustable chip inlay ring, that only cost $10 originally, could be cost prohibitive – unless the ring is so dear to you that cost is not an issue.

However, with a vintage belt buckle that your grandfather wore every day and passed along to your father and now he to you  – that might be a different story. The restoration might be costly but could result in an irreplaceable heirloom.

Any repairs to Native American jewelry should be done by craftsmen experienced specifically in Native American jewelry techniques and who have access to materials commonly use in Native American jewelry.

To help you learn about repairs and restoration, I’m partnering with a friend in Scottsdale who happens to work at such an establishment.  Watch for the first in our series of repair articles coming soon !

 

What is the difference between cobblestone and cornrow inlay?

These techniques of setting stone against stone in a thick mosaic are related yet different. They are most often seen in Navajo stone work. Both methods require that each stone be rounded or beveled along its edges before being placed in the desired pattern.

Here is where the differences appear. Corn row refers to similar size pieces of stone set parallel, side by side in a neat row – the edges of each stone are usually rounded. Cobblestone refers to pieces that are fitted perpendicular or angled to each other like you’d see in a stone courtyard. Often cobblestone pieces vary in size and have beveled rather than rounded edges.

You can easily see why cobblestone inlay is called that if you’ve ever seen a cobblestone street in an old historic section of a US city or abroad. Besides cutting the stones so that they fit into an intricate pattern, the artist must also bevel each stone on every edge. This requires great skill and time and investment in materials.

A similar inlay pattern called cornrow has the stone pieces all laid parallel, like corn kernels on a cob.

Amethyst Slave Bracelet with SC hallmark

Recently my boyfriend bought me a amethyst slave bracelet. I was trying to do some research on the item and can not find anything like it online. In my search I came across your Yazzie slave bracelet, it is the closest bracelet I have found to mine. The chaining is the same. The silver work is close to several of your Navajo pieces. I thought it very unusual that the piece had amethyst instead of turquoise. It is stamped with the same sterling stamp as some of your others but underneath is SC in graved. I was wondering if you might know anything about the piece or could point me in the right direction in finding out about the piece. I appreciate your time and any help you can give me. Shannon

Hello Shannon,

Slave bracelets are not typically associated with Native American culture. Although it is said their origin is Africa, they are more commonly associated with the other “Indian” culture, that is, India. They are a common piece of jewelry associated with harems and belly dancing.

A slave bracelet has 3 parts all connected together – like yours. The bracelet, the ring, and the connector. Sometimes the connector is a series of chains and sometimes there is an island in the middle of the chains between the bracelet and the ring, like your bracelet and like the one below.

With that said, we have had several older Native American made slave bracelets come through our pawn shop as you have discovered. And contemporary Navajo and Zuni artists are currently making slave bracelets. Where there is demand, there will be supply.

I’ve seen Native American made slave bracelets of all silver, silver with turquoise, malachite or onyx but  I’ve never seen one made with amethyst. So you have a unique item there ! It does look Navajo style.

As far as the hallmark SC, I have no information on that but perhaps someone reading the blog might.

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Navajo Tommy Singer Bamboo Coral and Treasure Necklaces

Hi Paula,

I am interested in some of Tommy Singer’s work which is displayed on your website.

Items NHS828, NH878, NH827, and the multi-strand bamboo coral.

Tommy Singer 3 Strand Gemstone Necklace
Tommy Singer Turquoise Gemstone Necklace
Tommy Singer Purple Spiny Oyster Gemstone Necklace
Tommy Singer 7 Strand Bamboo Coral Gemstone Necklace

I am wondering what percentage of the beads he uses are actually handmade/handformed by him or his family. My wife and I are building a collection, trying to stick to sole-authorship pieces.

Any information you can give me on these pieces, or any others you might have by Tommy and others would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks and best regards,

Charlie

Hi Charlie,

Thanks for your inquiry.

The 12K gold filled barrel beads that are decorated, gold, black silver are made by Tommy Singer. Also the solid sterling silver barrel beads are made by him. They are on most of his necklaces. They are his signature treasure necklace beads.

The purple and orange spiny oyster and turquoise heishi style disc beads are made by him. Also the other gemstone beads that are disc style.

The long narrow bamboo coral – I am not sure but I think not made by him.

The little sterling silver decorative spacers – I think not made by him.

The sterling silver cone ends are not made by him.

So a high percentage of what goes into his necklace is hand made by Tommy Singer or his family.

Doris and James Coriz make all the component of their necklaces, for example

Spirit Necklace made by Doris and James Coriz, Santo Domingo
Olive Shell Fish Necklace by James and Doris Coriz, Santo Domingo
Close up of fish

These artists also make ALL of the heishi right on the “string” so to speak.

10 Strand Heishi Necklace by Janice Tenorio, Santo Domingo
Close up of Tenorio heishi

Enjoy browsing and let me know if I can help further.

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