The Totem Post

The Totem Post
A unique jewelry and gift shop with gifts from around the world.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Santo Domingo Jewelry

The jewelry of the Santo Domingo tribe is, for the most part, a continuation of traditional and ancestral design and technique. Long ago metal was not easily obtained, so jewelry was made of the natural elements which were found nearby or could be traded for. The Santo Domingo today use primarily stone and shell with very little use of silver. Sometimes a backing is chosen - shell, or in the past records, combs or car battery pieces - and then a mosaic design is is inlaid on top. It is often very colorful and abstract.

This tribe also makes "heishi", which is a string of hand ground stone used for necklaces and earrings. The small stone pieces are drilled and strung and then rolled to grind them down smoothly. The result is a string of stone that feels smooth like a snake's belly. When heishi is made this way, each bead fits perfectly with the one next to it. If the string is broken, it may never have the smooth feel it did when it was made.

There is something almost magical and ancient about this type of jewelry. To know that people hundreds of years ago wore this same style of jewelry and that today it still is beautiful and desired is amazing. Wearing it makes you feel you are a part of days gone by.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Brown County Art Colony

For those of you who have never been to Brown County or do not know the history of the area, it is a fascinating place. Brown County is in the hills of southern Indiana. It is really the first place where the hills start forming as you go south in Indiana. There are mists on the hills and many trees which flower in the spring and turn glorious colors in the fall. Because of this, near the turn of the century, many painters came to this area to paint the wonderful scenery. It soon became a haven for artists and a wonderful, creative community. Famous artists who painted here and lived here were Marie Goth, V. J. Cariani, Adolph Schultz, T. C. Steele.

It has changed a great deal in the past 100 years, but still there are wonderfully creative people who live here. John and Beth Mills who make a unique style of stoneware pottery. Bruce Taggart who makes mandolins and other stringed instruments. Martha Sechler who has a colorful, approach to painting scenery and natural elements. Amanda Mathis who does primitive style paintings of the town and its people. Irene Olds who is an amazing portrait artist and the cartoonist for out local paper, the Brown County Democrat. Brad Cox who is an imaginative metal sculpture. Marty Gradolf, a thought provoking Native American weaver. There is simply so much creativity here, it is everywhere you look. It is in the thinking and atmosphere everywhere.

It is a wonderful place to visit, live and definitely to have a shop with things which have a creative nature. If you haven't been here, you must come visit. If you have, just come back to rejuvenate the artist in yourself. It is a magical place.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Hopi Jewelry

The Hopi began making jewelry in the 1500's, but silverwork began in the early 1900's. A Zuni silversmith taught them how to use the tools and metal and they began making simple jewelry. As time passed, it was noted that Hopi jewelry was not necessarily distinct from Navajo or Zuni jewelry. So, Dr. Harold Colton and his wife, Mary-Russell, founders of the Museum of Northern Arizona, suggested that they use designs from their pottery and basket weaving. This set them apart from the others. This idea lent itself well to the overlay technique which has become their trademark. After World War II, returning Hopi servicemen were given an 18 month silversmithing course. This perfected their style and brought new ideas and designs.

Today a piece of Hopi jewelry is a work of art. Each piece is done by hand and individually designed. The overlay technique utilizes two pieces of sheet silver. Designs are cut into one piece and then overlaid and soldered onto the second sheet of silver. The area that "peeks" through the cutouts is oxidized to show the pattern more clearly. Often it is also tooled to add depth. Hopi work is usually heavy and the cutouts are crisp, precise and often quite detailed. The designs come from their surroundings and customs. Each piece has meaning to the artist. The Hopi are a deeply spiritual tribe and this translates into their jewelry.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Zuni Jewelry

The Zuni Indians live primarily on a small reservation in New Mexico. They have made jewelry for over a thousand years. They began by using mainly stones and either drilling or inlaying the stones. This was before they were introduced to silver work in the 1870's by the Navajo. Today they still are fascinated by the use of stones to create beauty. In this way, Zuni artisans use the colors of the stones - turquoise, coral, mother-of-pearl, jet, lapis, sugalite, pink mussel shell, opal, etc - as a color palette to create designs on jewelry. They use small stones to create cluster designs, they also inlay stones to make pictures in stone - birds, animals, kachinas, scenes. Terms you may hear with their jewelry making are : needlepoint, petit point, cluster, channel, inlay. (These terms will be discussed in later posts). The use of silver is mainly to frame or hold the stones and does not tend to be heavy or bold. They let the stones speak for themselves. The Zuni families each try to develop their own style. In fact, in the earlier days, before artists signed their work, you could often tell who made a piece of Zuni jewelry by the design. Zuni also are incredible fetish carvers, as discussed in another post. Which is logical, given their unique capability of utilizing stones in different ways.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Navajo Jewelry

One of the main reasons I wanted to do this blog was to help customers understand Native American Indian jewelry. It is such a wonderful American art form and deserves recognition as such. It seems logical to start by discussing Navajo silversmithing.

The Navajo began working with silver in the mid 1800's when a Mexican introduced it to them. And soon many Navajo were creating simple earrings, bracelets and buckles. By the 1920's traders brought new influences to the Navajo in the form of better tools, silver coins, and stones. So production increased. The Navajo nation is large and over time several styles emerged. In general, Navajo typically do intricate silverwork by stamping, sandcasting, or tooling the silver. They also love the beauty of stones and will often use the silverwork to frame a beautiful stone such as turquoise, coral, lapis lazuli or petrified wood. They like larger pieces which display craftsmanship, but also do small pieces. Silverwork now comes in the form of squash blossom necklaces, silver bead necklaces, pendants, concho belts, rings, earrings, buckles, bracelets, pins, bolo ties, money clips,and even boxes and figurines. Contemporary artists are now creating works of art using old techniques and giving them a new twist. You can see some of the new works in magazines such as Native Peoples.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Skookum Dolls

This is a subject near and dear to my heart. When I was young I met a Comanche champion Fancy Dancer named Woogie Watchetaker. He was very sweet to me, as I was a child whose parents were helping put on a Pow Wow in Nashville, Indiana, so I was around, underfoot. He talked with me often and was so gentle. A bit later I was given an antique Indian doll and I named it Woogie, for my friend. It wasn't until a couple of decades later that I found out the heritage of this doll - it was a Skookum doll. A doll with a history all its own.

Skookum dolls began as an idea of Mary McAboy, a Montana woman who, in 1913, began making apple head Indian dolls with blankets wrapped around them. Skookum was a word used in that area which meant excellent or "bully good" (as it says on the label on many of the feet of these dolls). She patented several designs, male, female and a female with a baby. She made them from her home. As her business grew, she went into business with a Western company in Colorado called H.H. Tammen. This company distributed these dolls for nearly 50 years. These dolls had molded faces, which were then given to housewives out west who hand painted them and then assembled the doll using old pieces of fabric, beads and blankets. So, no Skookum will ever be like another. These dolls were sold in trading posts and many shops in the west and were a popular tourist item from the 1920's - 1960's. Their age can be determined by the make of the face, the type of materials used and the type of material used for moccasins. These dolls are a part of Americana and nostalgic for so many people.

I have begun to find these dolls and we now have many on display, for sale, at the shop. I also have learned how to refurbish some of the older dolls, as they were often stuffed with straw, which has deteriorated over time, or they have lost some of their hair or have a moth-eaten blanket. Children played with these dolls and often cracked a face or lost the blanket. But some children kept them as a display doll and they are well preserved. So you can find them in many different levels of value.

I love the fact that Skookum dolls have such a history and were a part of American childhood, but were special enough to be preserved in many attics across the country. I also feel a sense of synchronicity that we now sell them in our shop. I wonder if Woogie knows how often I think of him now (o:

Monday, February 22, 2010

Virginia Fairy Crosses

Following the "stone" theme of the past few posts, today's topic is Virginia Fairy Crosses. When I was very young, I remember buying one of these crosses and being so fascinated by the legend. It is said that in this small area in Virginia, many many years ago there were fairies. Once, an elfin courier came to tell them of Christ's death and when the fairies cried, their tears formed into these stone crosses. It is said that Pocahontas had an entire necklace made from these. Presidents, crowned heads of Europe and soldiers have kept one of these crosses with them as a protective charm.

The technical term for this crystalline form is staurolite. They come in several cross-like shapes, maltese, roman and sometimes they are more like an X in shape. They are found in clusters imbedded in a rock, or just separate in this shape. There is a State Park in Virginia where you can go to find these on your own, there are plenty to be found and rains constantly wash in a new supply. They are primarily found in Virginia, but have also been found in Russia and France. The type we have are polished, but keep the natural shape in tact. It is said - "Through days of labor and nights of rest-the charm of a fairy cross will keep you blest" Wearing one of these crosses makes you feel very close to nature.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Animal Totems

Many Native American tribes have symbolic meanings for their brothers the animals. Nature is such a part of their culture and spiritual identity, that every thing has a purpose and meaning. These meanings are quite in depth if studied and may vary a bit from tribe to tribe. But here are a few to give you some insights on this idea.

BEAR - Strength, protection, nurturing and introspection (hibernation)

BUFFALO - Abundance, gratitude and prayer

DRAGONFLY - Messenger of prayers to the Spirit World, guide to positive and new ideas.

EAGLE - Spiritual vision which enables one to see the whole picture.

FROG - Cleansing and beginning of life.

HORSE - Freedom and power, but power that respects and is wise.

OWL - Wisdom by seeing and hearing things that others cannot.

SNAKE - Power to discard the old for new ways, to transform negative to positive.

TURTLE - Patience to wait for the right moment, Respect for earth, protection of thought before sharing.

WOLF - Teaching for the good of the clan, preserving independence, leadership

Friday, February 19, 2010

Zuni Fetishes

Hello again. Today I'd like to talk about Zuni Fetishes. This is sort of an offshoot of yesterday's Rock Art. Now, this kind of fetish is not a kinky thing, but a small stone carving or even a naturally shaped rock which looks like an animal. These figures are thought by the Zuni to help them spiritually or in daily endeavors such as growing crops. This idea came from a legend that tells of how The Sun dried an earth covered with floodwaters. Lightening was sent to strike the earth and burn away some of the water. When it did it was too easy for so many predators to eat people. So they were struck by lightening as well, which diminished them to a small stone. However, their hearts were still alive and they were told to help mankind with the magic held within their hearts. So when a Zuni found a rock shaped like an animal, it was thought to be one of these animals which held magic in their hearts and it was greatly treasured. Today there are many Zuni fetish carvers who continue this tradition, but as an art form. A fetish is not truly a fetish unless it has been blessed by a shaman.

The wonderful thing about these fetishes are the emotion they stir within. Many people collect fetishes - some because of the animal, some the carver, some just adore the whimsy or intricate detail of the carving. Whatever the reason, these little animals are a wonderful way to connect to the vision of an artist and the beauty of stone and form. They are portable and can sit on your desk or go with you in your pocket as a reminder of spiritual qualities they represent. . .that is a whole other blog post. Maybe tomorrow!!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Rock As Art

Rocks are another thing that has fascinated my family for years. Perhaps we saw Lucille Ball's "The Long, Long Trailer" once too often. But on our family vacations we always came home with some "pretty rock". There is something about the natural designs, colors and feel of a beautiful stone. It doesn't have to be a diamond to have value. I love seeing faces or scenes in the matrix of a stone. Nothing can calm a person as much as the feel of a smooth, river worn stone. There is some intrinsic value to a geode that looks rough on the outside and has unseen beauty on the inside - a metaphor for many people. Also, stones are the work of centuries - molten lava, sediment compressed. They are works of art that took centuries to create. They have untold stories and have seen things we have not and will be here longer than we are. There is something beautiful and reverent about that.

So, in our shop we have many things made of stone. Of course there are interesting stones in our jewelry, but we also have salt lamps, crystal cluster tea lights, marble eggs, totem stones with animals carved on them, worry stones, onyx carvings, kisi stone carvings from Kenya. Just because everybody needs a rock. Maybe that is what they were getting at several years ago with the "pet rock." That man and nature can connect when man can have a portable reminder of how beautiful nature can be and what lessons it can teach.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Hello from Nashville

Thanks for viewing my blog. I hope to help anyone who is interested in Native American Indian jewelry. Also, I would love to hear thoughts on spiritual insights. I think we all are connected in so many ways and creativity is a great way to get to know each other. I have been artistic nearly all my life. Perhaps I got that from growing up with parents who were professional dancers and living in an artist colony in Indiana. Anyway, I see such a connection to life through art of every kind. I love things that are handmade because when someone wears a piece of jewelry that is handmade or displays a piece of artwork that someone else has created, they are revering the soul of another. It connects us. What a wonderful thing. So stay tuned for new insights, as I discover this world of blogging.