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May 4, 2015

Do You Know The Way to Sante “Fe”

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In previous blogs, I wrote about my passion for turquoise and gold in Early Victorian designs and then in the contemporary collections of jewelers who reintroduced turquoise with high karat gold. In one of the blogs, I talked about how turquoise had gotten a bad rep since the 70s, defining the decade with bold cuffs, rings that took up much of the finger and long earrings. Being a child of the seventies, I saw a lot of this jewelry. I was given a inlaid Southwestern sterling silver and turq band for my first “going steady” ring (which turned my finger green) and then some Zuni turquoise bracelets later on for my sweet sixteen, and earrings, which were long and weighty before I was so aware of how they could tear or pull at my lobes. My mom, who was in her in her late twenties and early thirties in the seventies, also took to the trend, which we get an interesting and informative glimse of in Southwestern Indian Bracelets: The Essential Cuff by Paula A. Baxter (Schiffer Fashion Press, An imprint of Schiffer Publishing Ltd, April 2015).


In addition to being on target with the wide cuff making a comeback as well as the 70s and vintage jewelry returning to the fashion scene, this book is dedicated to educating on the intricate and evolving styles, the first of which were designed in 1868. And that is where the author Baxter is so adept at showing us the historical context. A quote which starts chapter siz, explains “The 1970s was the decade when American Indian Jewelry ‘suddenly” came into vogue.” After being around and displaying incredibly intricate artisan and metalsmithing abilities, Baxter talks about the various possiblities as to why these styles took a firm hold in the 70s. It was a time of change and of more acceptance of ethnic diversity. It was also a time when the traditional life style for American Indians went through transformation and more natives were “living off reservation and moved into regional towns and cities.” Popular culture and young Southwestern Indians learned from each other and the Sante Fe Indiaan Market with its overview of various Inter-tribal styles and designs ushered in a decade that created more awareness.


But the heritage of earlier designs ran through the late 19th century into the early 20th century with a focus on the historical cuffs, meanings, motifs, handi-work and symbolism. The earlier bracelets borrowed inspiration from the Greeks and Romans, but then the symbolism or secret believes of a tribe were magically incorporated in to the designs of a bracelet whether it be one symbol or an entire scene. Inlay, black and silver relief, cut out designs and deeply engraved work was all part of the designs , which focused on a rich mosaic of colors of gemstones in the inlay works. Although I still prefer my turquoise in gold, after reading this book, I have a new appreciate for those pieces I used to “borrow” (read: sneak out of) my mother’s jewelry chest in a time when the Southwestern Indian cuffs snuck into our culture and captured a decade.

While you are purchasing your copy of “Southwestern Indian Bracelets” you might as well add another book to your shopping cart. I prefer to shop in real life in store –although delivery is definitely an option when you have to ride the subway in Manhattan with these more bulky books.

But there is a rich history to be found when purchasing these two Schiffer books together, Non-Figural Designs in Zuni Jewelry by Toshio Sei , (Schiffer Fashion Press, January 2015)

This well illustrated guides the reader through the origins to the contemporary interpretations of various styles of non-figural Zuni jewelry designs, including nugget work, cluster work, petit point, needle point, snake eye, and channel work. Many Zuni artists from the forties, fifties and sixties are showcased within these glossy pages, once again bringing me back to my youth: Turquoise and coral pins, bracelets, bolo ties. Seems so interesting what one can appreciate in retrospect. (I broke up with a boy for sporting an inlaid bolo in college to an important party)…


There are more than fifteen pieces each by masters, past and present. More than three hundred vibrant color photos reveal subtle variations that indicate each master’s distinctive style. There are cluster work bracelets by Leekya Deyuse, the single most famous jeweler in the Southwest, and Dan Simplicio’s nugget work, along with ways to distinguish his from other artists’ works.















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