The Totem Post

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

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: