|Since the middle of the 19th century, Southwest Native American jewelry artists have built on a tradition thousands of years old with a contemporary expression, exhibited through exemplary craft and thoughtful design. Their jewelry echoes cultural values such as respect for nature, a commitment to beauty--even in functional, everyday objects--and the inclusion of meaningful symbolism.
Southwest Native American jewelry design encompasses many techniques, including beadwork, stone carving and polishing, metalsmithing, leather creations, stamping and more. And, today's designs reflect international influences from 20th century Japanese sculptors to current European jewelry designers.
Renowned for their exquisite bead and shell work, past and present, Southwest people created heishi-style designs, as well as extraordinary seed bead work, both strung and embroidered. Today, Southwest peoples are also recognized and respected as supreme metalsmiths and lapidary artists.
|Though Southwest Native Americans have created with and worn gemstones, shell and beads for thousands of years, it was not until the 1850s that they began to also work with silver and other metals. Along with stamping silver, by emulating designs Mexican leather workers used to stamp saddles and bridles, they also hammered and cast silver or other metals, into a wide variety of designs. Modern Southwest jewelry frequently incorporates both gold- and silver-colored metals.|
|Southwest designs often embrace strong colors, particularly in gemstones because color is a primary mode for communicating ideas. Turquoise has been a pronounced design element in Southwest jewelry, in large part because of the turquoise deposits found in the Southwest. The Navajo people are renowned for their beautiful interpretations of the
squash blossom necklace.** The inverted crescent pendant on squash blossom necklaces, called the "Naja" by the Navajo, symbolizing good luck or protection, has been found in jewelry designs from the Paleolithic era.
As the Southwest people have evolved their style, the use of multiple gemstones in designs, cut in a variety of ways, has increased. Popular gemstones include coral, opal, malachite and more. A variety of shell, including mother-of-pearl shell, is also a popular design choice.Cabochons are widely used, as well as small gemstone pieces for inlay work.
Today's Southwest Indian jewelry artists embrace their own past and today's international styles, transcending all time and place.
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