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Navajo and Pueblo jewellery from the Southwest United States is denoted by, though not restricted by, its use of turquoise and silver.
National Museums Scotland's first purchase of Southwestern jewellery came in initially as a loan in the early 20th century. This came through James E. Cree, a cattle rancher of Scottish birth who settled with his parents in New Mexico from 1886 to 1903. Through the Cree family the Museum acquired brass bracelets with cold chisel work and Navajo ball and hoop silver earrings which can be dated to the late 19th century, when the metalsmithing tradition had come into its own.
Since that time the Museum has acquired a number of pieces, with more coming into the collection over the last ten years. Since the late 1990s Henrietta Lidchi, the Keeper of the Department of World Cultures, has been researching and collecting contemporary Native American jewellery, visiting Arizona and New Mexico on a regular basis. This has been supported by National Museums Scotland and resulted in purchases and gifts reflecting the diversity and artistry of Southwestern jewellery as a dynamic artform, both in the past and in the present. The research and resulting collections has been recently published in Surviving Desires: Making and Selling Native American Jewellery (British Museum Press/University of Oklahoma Press).
Perry Shorty lives in Shiprock, New Mexico, on the Navajo Reservation. Shorty began making jewellery in the mid-1980s, and has risen to prominence for the intricacy and perfection of his reinterpretation of traditional-style Navajo jewellery. This concho belt evokes the style of early 20th century pieces. There is a balance between the strong sculptural shapes and the heavy working of silver with the delicate, almost lace-like, stamp work. It has a rhythmic and dazzling quality.
The squash blossom necklace, like the concho belt, is an iconic Southwestern form. It consists of round beads, squash blossoms, here of coral and turquoise, and a central crescent-shaped pendant (naja). Smokey Gchachu lives in Zuni Pueblo and works in the needle point style. This requires patience and exactitude, with multiple finely cut stones set against highly polished silver. Gchachu uses traditional Zuni techniques in designs which are more contemporary in feel. He has created a delicate and substantial necklace deploying traditional techniques to create a contemporary necklace with 189 pieces of coral.
In 1893, the Scottish anthropologist Alexander M. Stephen wrote evocatively of the ‘glitter of silver ornaments’ worn by Navajo men and women riding on horseback. Still today Navajo women’s traditional style clothing includes ornamental collar tips and buttons. These 1930s collar tips use twisted and looped wire, the latter in vogue in Navajo and Pueblo jewellery of the time. The turquoise was cut by hand. One turquoise was drilled as a bead shown by the silver infill.
By the mid 20th century Navajo and Pueblo jewellery had been subject to many types of influence. The design of this brooch shows the influence of costume jewellery and modernism on Native American made jewellery. The form is elegant and the stamping economical, used to evoke movement and insect-like qualities. This piece was donated by George Taylor Anderman, formerly in the collection of Carl Lewis Druckman (1958-1996).
Laguna/Chirichahua Apache jeweller Pat Pruitt works with stainless steel, which he uses here with dramatic effect to represent the dragonfly. The body of the dragonfly is slightly curved. The dragonfly has a ceremonial importance in both Navajo and Pueblo culture and is represented across a number of art forms. This piece was donated by Pat Pruitt.