Lakota Artist Mitchell Zephier and his Plains Indian Jewelry

Mitchell Charles Zephier

Cétan Ho Wasté (Pretty Voice Hawk)

Four Color Medicine Whee Turtle

Mitchell Zephier grew up on the Cheyenne River and Rosebud Indian reservations. After marrying on Roxanne Apple Rosebud he gave re-birth to Plains Indian Jewelry, particularly Lakota metal adornment. He has mentored over 34 apprentices in the arts of metal-smithing and marketing.

Mitchell Zephier says – “These earrings are miniature shields. The four horses are intended to represent the four horses that the very famous man Black Elk saw in his vision. The four horses came to him from the four directions and symbolized the four directions, the four races, the four seasons and the four Lakota virtues of generosity, bravery, fortitude, and wisdom.”

Mitch collaborates with fellow Lakota artists. Mitch has won numerous awards including first place at Red Earth Show, several awards at the internationally prestigious Sante Fe Indian Market as well as presented his work at far off Native American venues like Schimutzun Celebration in Connecticut. He has also earned the South Dakota Governor’s award.

The four colors of this Medicine Wheel Shield pendant are inlaid with black pipestone, red pipestone, sandstone and alabaster.

Mitch has other forms of artistic expression. His album Cherish the Children won a National Native Music Award for Best Children’s Album. Mitchell Zephier’s latest venture is to team up with fellow artists to explore, on film this time, the issues that affect the lives of Native Young People in Cloud Horse Production’s Lakota 4 Life, a Zephier inspired look at the issues, decisions, responsibilities and opportunities facing Native Youth today.

These earrings are real Buffalo Indian Head Nickels from which the artist has cut away the background leaving the silhouettes.

Other family members and friends that work on the jewelry include his son Wakinyan Luta Zephier , Belle Starboy, Webster Two Hawk Jr., and Roger Dale Herron.

Native American Symbols – Turtle and Tortoise

The turtle is an old, sacred figure in Native American symbolism as it represents Mother Earth, and after all, where would we be without her?

Is it turtle or tortoise? See the section at the end of this article to learn the difference. I’m going to use the word turtle to represent both.

To each tribe, the turtle might depict something slightly different but with a recurring theme of creation, protection, longevity.

Carnelian Turtle Totem on Apache Dreamcatcher by Cynthia Whitehawk

According to the Woodland tribes (those in the New England and Great Lakes areas), the turtle dove into the primeval waters to retrieve mud to make the earth. In Iroquois lore, the turtle is a part of the creation myth.

Iroquois Creation Myth

What is a Woodland Tribe? There are many – you might recognize some of the tribal names: Iroquois, Mohawk, Sac, Fox, Mohegan – For a complete listing of the Northeast Woodland Tribes.

The turtle’s hard shell represents perseverance and protection. It has been and can be used as a calendar. The 13 large patterned squares in the center of the shell represent the 13 full moons of the year. The 28 smaller squares around the perimeter of the shell represent the 28 days of each lunar month.

Zuni Turtle Fetish by Adrian Cachini

To the Lakota, the turtle (ke-ya) spirit brings health and longevity. In the past, a beaded turtle was put on the umbilicus or the crib of new born girls for protection and a long life.

Lakota Turtle Spirit by Alan Monroe

Lakota Turtle Dreamcatcher by Tony Monroe

To the Southwest Native American peoples (Navajo, Zuni, Hopi, Santo Domingo Pueblo and others), the turtle represents precious water and is revered in that way. Turtles are popular fetish figures and especially in the southwest where water is a true gift.

Pipestone Turtle Fetish by Daphne Neha, Zuni

In certain Navajo ceremonies, medicines must be dispensed from a turtle shell or an abalone shell – no other container will suffice.

 

Sterling Silver and Gold Turtle Pendant by Tommy Singer, Navajo

In Zuni legend, turtles bring fertility and longevity. Medicine bags with turtles associated with them ask similar longevity for their owners and are considered by some to have the ability to defy death.

Apache Turtle Medicine Bag by Cynthia Whitehawk

Tortoise shell was used for inlay but has been illegal in the U.S. since 1973.

Turtle shells have also been used in the formation of dance rattles.

Turtle or Tortoise

What is the difference between turtle and tortoise? Are they synonymous?

They are similar but not the same. Both are egg laying reptiles with hard shells and scaly skin. They are slow moving so rely on their shell as protection – they can retract their head and legs into their shell to various degrees. Both are cold blooded so require external sources to warm themselves and shade to cool themselves.

A turtle lives in the water (oceans, lakes, rivers) primarily so has webbed front feet and streamlined legs for swimming. The only time a turtle comes on land is to lay eggs. Once hatched, baby turtles are on their own. A turtle has a flat shell. Turtles eat plants and bugs. They tend to migrate in the ocean and other waters.

 

Mother Earth Turtle Rattle by Cynthia Whitehawk, Apache

A tortoise lives on the land primarily so has feet with long claws for digging and no webbing between the toes. Tortoise legs are more like short, strong stumps, good for dessert walking. A tortoise has a rounded or domed shell and since they are usually found in hot climates, they stay underground during the heat of the day. The tortoise is herbivorous, preferring succulents. Tortoise eggs are laid in a nest and when they hatch, the baby turtles move to the mother’s burrow. Tortoises tend to say in one area for life.

Russell Shack, Zuni

Both turtles and tortoises have very long life spans in comparison to humans, some tortoises living as long as 150 years.

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Navajo Sand Painting – Four Sacred Plants and Turtle


I bought a beautiful Navajo Sand painting about 10 years ago, it is
of the Four Sacred Plants with a turtle between each plant. This Sand
Painting will hang in my bedroom after I finish a quilt to go with
it. I am looking for the Navajo Name for this sand painting, I would
like to use the name also for my quilt. Then center of my quilt is
the design taking from the sand painting, and I have designed a
border with turtles.
I hope you can help me, if you can’t could you direct me to a site
that might be able to help with this Navajo Sand Painting name.
Thanks
Karen

Hi Karen,
The four sacred plants are corn, bean, squash and tobacco.
Turtle represents long life and offers protective and healing powers.
These symbols are used in a variety of ways in sandpaintings and woven rugs.
There are somewhere between 600-1000 sandpainting designs.
Sometimes the name and artist are written on the back – have you looked there?
If not, if it is at all possible, contact the artist or agent you purchased the painting from. That would be the very best way to determine the name.
I don’t know of a site off the top of my head where you could ask the name of a painting but if you decide to go that route, I’d take a good photo of the painting and have it at the ready.
Then google “Navajo sand paintings” and you will see that there are quite a number of dealers that seem quite knowledgeable. I’d write them a similar note to the one you wrote me and if they reply, ask if you could send them the photo. As it has been said, “A photo is worth a thousand words” and that might help a knowledgeable expert narrow things down for you.
Also by posting your question on this blog, it might be possible that someone would read it and answer here !
Best of luck with your beautiful painting and quilt.