Monday, May 4, 2009

Today I’d like to share some information about the Zuni Sunface, its symbolism and importance to the Zuni people, and all people who find themselves staring at it’s fine craftsmanship.  

The Sunface can be seen in many different Zuni art styles from pottery to rugs, and of course in jewelry.  Because of its great importance the Sunface has been used in almost every type of jewelry that can be crafted. 

The Zuni, like most Native American people, were centered in an agricultural life style. This required them to have a keenly sharpened understanding of the relationship between the seasons and their crops.  The Sun plays the penultimate role in this relationship, and is therefore considered one of the most important beings to the Zuni culture.  The Sun is the bringer of life, stability, and continuity.  The Sun brings prosperity and joy to families, and playfulness to children. The Sun affords the Zuni good luck and fortune.  To the Zuni, giving respect and prayers to the Sun is as natural as breathing.  As such, their jewelry incorporates the Sun and represents the Sun as Sunface.

From a craftsmanship perspective, the Sunface is one of the pinnacles of Zuni inlay artistry.  It requires exacting cuts and an extremely high level of skill to appropriately create the fine inlay used in the Sunface.  Most typically the Sunface is crafted in a full circular motif.  The center inlay will represent the face of the Sun.  The forehead is usually split into two (sometimes three) sections.  Depending on the complexity and size of the piece, the two sections can be single cabochons or can be finely inlaid works in and of themselves.  The two sections represent two important concepts.  The first is the pairing of oneself with the family.  To the Zuni people family is as critical to life as food and water, yet they also understand that each person is unique and special.  Each one requires the other, and as such, both become represented as a main component of the Sunface.  The other meaning is to symbolize the coming and going of the sun; sunrise and sunset or the day and night.  The continuity of these events gives hope and stability to the Zuni, and again, neither can exist without the other.

The remaining lower section is made up of the eyes and mouth.  The eyes are most typically represented as long rectangular shapes almost always crafted in black (either jet or onyx).  These “slits” are the eyes of the Sun, peering out upon all of us.  The Zuni do not add detail to the eyes for reasons of respect.  The eyes are “windows of the soul” and as such an artist cannot assume to know what lies within.  Therefore they are represented by the black rectangles.  The mouth is typically round, but can be crafted out of almost any stone.  This is the same for the remaining section of the face.  Mother of pearl is most common, but all stones have been used.  The mouth is fashioned as a simple circle for several reasons.  First, this maintains the continuity represented by the Sunface; the circle representing the cycle of life and death,  day and night.  Another reason often associated with the simple circle design of the mouth is that the Sun is neither good nor bad, and thus no smile or frown is associated with the Sunface.  It is simply a mouth.

Beyond the center face, the overall Sunface design can take on several forms.  The most common is the full circle.  In this design the center face will be surrounded by a fully symmetrical design typically accented by a feather like design.  These feathers will often be split and represented by two or more cabochons.  This design creates several meanings.  First, the most obvious is the form of the Sun itself; the central Sunface surrounded by beams of light, shining down upon the Zuni.  Another interpretation is that the feather design offers the Sunface freedom to soar and glide through the sky thus enabling him to create sunrise and sunset.  From this comes another interpretation - the Sunface associated with birds, and most commonly the eagle.  Thus, as an eagle, the Sunface is both wise and powerful. 

The second basic form for the Sunface is where the outer circular design does not complete a full circle.  Instead it stops around the 5 o’clock and 7 o’clock positions.  This gives the appearance of a headdress.  Two feather designs, almost like earrings, are usually found in this style as well.  This style is no more or less important that the full circular design.  This style represents the Sunface as a decorated god, wearing a headdress and can be thought to show Sunface decorated as a god.  Another interpretation is that the partial circular design represents the sky as seen above a horizon. The earring like feather design can be the clouds and rain, giving life to the earth.  When worn as a ring or bracelet, the wearer’s fingers or wrist can then represent the earth.

A third basic form for the Sunface is an oblong or oval shape.  The Sunface’s face remains center to the piece, but the outer design is created to give a wider setting.  This is typically seen on bracelets and bolo ties.  It is more rarely seen in other forms of jewelry.  This image gives an even stronger symbolism to the eagle.  The wider spread of the setting can represent the wings spreading wide to take flight.  Another interpretation is that the wider sections represent the arms of the Sunface reaching out to embrace the world and the Zuni people.

I’ve only scratched the surface of the fantastic Sunface discussing just a few of the common designs and only several suggestions as to the importance it will have to the artist who created it and the person who wears it.  Of course there are thousands, and maybe millions of different styles of Sunfaces, each as unique as its artist and it wearer. 

To see some examples of these styles, click any of the above pictures, or click here to visit our sunface items:





Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Zuni Petit Point, Snake Eye and Needle Point Techniques

Today I’m writing about the differences in three very popular Zuni jewelry techniques which are often confused; petit point, snake eye, and needlepoint. These three stone setting techniques offer exquisite detail in a finished setting and are instantly recognizable.

The turquoise and other stones used in all three techniques are called cabochons. Cabochon is a jeweler’s word for a stone that is polished instead of faceted. A faceted stone, such as a diamond, is called a gemstone. Cabochons are small polished stones and are the basis for petit point, snake eye and needle point Zuni work.

Silver work began to be seen in Native America during the mid 1800’s. It was introduced by artists from Mexico, as well as neighboring tribes who had taught themselves and shared their skills. The tools used during this time were not capable of creating the finely intricate patterns seen in later years, so much of the Native American jewelry in the 1800’s was centered on a polished stone with silver work being forced to accommodate the natural shape of the stone.

In the mid-1900s, most likely the 1930’s or 1940’s, better hand tools, as well as electric tools began to be used by the Native American jewelers. These tools allowed for a much greater level of precision when working with stones and allowed the jewelers to make the stones fit into their designs, instead of the artists’ vision being forced to use the stones natural shape.

With the new skills and new tools, the petit point technique began to be seen in Native American jewelry. The petit point technique creates a small cabochon with one end rounded and the opposite end carved and polished to a point. It could be described as looking like a tear drop. The finely crafted cabochon is then placed in a setting, typically sterling silver. The petit point cabochons lend themselves to round designs such as the classic cluster bracelets.

The petit point technique requires finely honed stonework skills. The cabochons are very small and can easily fracture during the honing and polishing process. Each jewelry artist has created their own method of forging these small pieces and once mastered, will typically sit and create hundreds of the polished stones all at once in preparation for creating a finished piece.

The snake eye technique requires the same level of stonework skill as petit point, but creates a cabochon that resembles a sphere, or dot; thus looking like the eyes of a snake when finished. Typically an artist will create a small cylinder shape and then polish one of its ends round. The cabochon can then be cut to the necessary height. Once set in its sterling silver setting, the cabochon appears to be a small highly polished sphere.

The third technique, needle point, requires the highest level of skill to achieve success. Like petit point and snake eye, needle point has been made possible by finer tools that allow for extremely delicate stone carving. Needle point requires thinly sliced cabochons with finely polished and finely pointed ends. The very nature of the shape, as well as the number of cuts necessary to achieve the correct shape, requires a great amount of patience and skill. Artists that are new to needle point can expect to create 10% usable cabochons. The remaining 90% will be shattered and broken pieces. These small broken fragments are usually too small to be reused and are used for purposes other than jewelry (example: for turquoise fill used in pottery). Once the artist gains experience, the waste pile shrinks and the cost to create each usable cabochon shrinks as well.

Needle point cabochons are set in a vertical setting. When viewed from above, each small pointed stone appears to be a small sliver of polished work. Each stone looks to be a turquoise needle that has been placed into a sterling silver setting; and thus the name needle point has been given to this technique.

Because of the difficulty in crafting needle point cabochons, certain mines of turquoise are more popular to be used. These include sleeping beauty, lone mountain, and spider web.

Be sure to take a look at some more examples of these techniques in our store, Turquoise Canyon;

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Buffalo and its symbolism to Native Americans

I thought that since I’ve explained fetishes a few days ago, now would be a great time to go ahead and dive into some of the specific animals. First I’ve choosen the Buffalo; a great symbol of the American Southwest, a centerpiece to the Native American culture and, more personally, an animal that holds great meaning for me since I connect the Buffalo with some of my journeys.

First, a little history on the Buffalo as an animal. The American buffalo "Buffalo," also called the American Bison, is only distantly related to either of the two "true buffaloes", the Asian buffalo and the African buffalo. The American Buffalo is more closely related to the Wisent or European Buffalo.

The Buffalo once inhabited the grasslands of North America in massive herds, ranging from the Great Slave Lake in Canada's far north, through the United States to Mexico in the south, and from eastern Oregon almost to the Atlantic Ocean. Its two subspecies are the Plains Bison, distinguished by its smaller size and more rounded hump, and the Wood Bison, distinguished by its larger size and taller square hump. Wood Bison are one of the largest species of cattle in the world. It is surpassed only by the Asian gaur and the Asian Water Buffalo. In the Americas the Wood Bison is the largest land animal alive today.

These majestic animals can grow to be 7 feet tall, 10 feet long and weigh over 2,000 lbs.

Until the 1800’s (19th century) the great Buffalo roamed the American plains in huge herds. It was not uncommon to have thousands of buffalo in a herd. Their migration patterns help to craft the Native American’s living habits as strongly as the great prairie fires that occurred during summer and fall seasons. During the late 1800’s the hunting of the Buffalo became a lucrative source of income for both Native Americans as well as the new people settling in the American Southwest. Buffalo hides brought in large sums of money, and by the turn of the century, the Buffalo were hunted close to complete extinction.

In the early 1900’s, Buffalo conservation began to turn around the almost inevitable disappearance of these animals. Several notable Americans began to raise and protect Buffalo on their own ranches instead of hunting them. Because of these efforts the Buffalo population is approximately 350,000 today in North America. Though a small fraction of the 60-100 Million estimated Buffalo that roamed the prairies in the mid 1800’s, the current population continues to grow.

The Buffalo was central to the way of life for almost all Native American peoples. From the tribes that lived and hunted those in the mid North American continent, to the tribes on the coasts that used buffalo hide traded from others, Buffalo were critical to the chain of life. Native Americans migrated with the Buffalo and depended on their meat as a food source. However, Native Americans also regarded the Buffalo as highly important animals to their cultural and spiritual lives.

This is where the connection of Buffalo as an animal to Buffalo as a fetish becomes important. Because of its sheer size, the Buffalo represents strength and perseverance. Unlike many other members of the animal world, the Buffalo never turns its back to wind, snow and rain - it will face the elements head on and never turns its back, always facing trouble. The Buffalo also represents home and community. This is because of the large herds that would live and migrate together in harmony.

People who find that the Buffalo is their sacred animal will typically have the following traits: strong willed, wise, be able to make and keep many friends, have good relations with family members, enjoy being challenged, equally enjoy completing or solving the challenge, get bored or tired in monotonous or repetitive routines, and will always look to improve their life and the lives those around them.

The Buffalo has many stories and tales told throughout the world. These wonderful stories detail how the Buffalo has shaped lives from centuries ago to modern times. A search on the internet can provide hours upon hours of wonderful information. I encourage everyone to find their own way through this information. After all, the search for knowledge is just as important as possessing the knowledge.

Monday, April 20, 2009

All About Zuni Fetishes

Today I thought I would give a little information on Zuni fetishes. I first thought about diving right in and talking about the Buffalo and its importance in carvings and fetishes, but I think it best to first give some information on fetishes and carvings in general.
You can see some fantastic examples of Zuni fetishes at Turquoise Canyon,

In the traditional sense, Zuni fetishes are small carvings made from various materials by the Zuni Indians. These carvings serve a ceremonial purpose for their creators and depict animals and icons integral to their culture. As a form of contemporary Native American art, they are popular worldwide.

Zuni fetishes depict animals such as the wolf, badger, bear, mountain lion, eagle, mole, frog, deer, ram, and many others. There are many more animal subjects used by today’s contemporary carvers that may include insects, non US native animals such as lions, or even animals of the oceans such as sharks; these would be considered non-traditional. Other animals, such as the horse, were carved mainly for trade. The Zuni was not a horse culture but their horse carvings were considered by the horse cultures to the north as having great power for the protection of their herds

Traditionally, the materials used by carvers were often indigenous to the region or procured by trade. The most important of these materials was turquoise which is considered by the Zuni as the sacred stone. Jet, shell (primarily mother-of-pearl), and coral are also frequently used. These materials and their associated colors are principle in the Zuni sunface, a cultural symbol which is present in Zuni jewelry and fetishes and represents their sun father. Other materials used are Zuni rock, fishrock, jasper, pipestone, marble, or organic items such as bone and deer or elk antler.

Each animal is believed to have inherent powers or qualities that may aid the holder. The Navajo, for example, treasured and bartered for figures of horses, sheep, cattle or goats to protect their herd from disease and to insure fertility. The Zuni hunter was required to have his fetishes with a "Keeper" and practice a ceremony of worship when procuring a favorite or proper fetish to aid in a successful hunt.

On the subject of feeding, it is believed from tradition that the fetishes require a meal of cornmeal and ground turquoise periodically. Fetishes may be kept in a clay pot as it is the tradition, although collectors usually like to keep theirs somewhere where they can be admired. Any but the very delicate fetishes could be carried by the owner in a pocket, pouch or bag.

The artist's styles are as unique as the artists themselves, and there are many whose works are highly sought after by collectors. Some collectors prefer a figure that is more realistic in appearance, while others prefer the more traditional styles that are intrinsic to Zuni belief. The traditional belief of the Zuni is that the least modification of the original material maintains, or heightens, the power of the fetish as a "natural concretion".

Besides being made from various stones and other materials (each material has unique properties), the contemporary fetish may carry an offering of a smaller animal or a prayer bundle of carved arrowheads with small beads of heishe. It may be adorned with a heishe necklace, feathers, etchings representing ancient petroglyphs, or an etched or inlayed heartline. These small items, although colorful to the eye, are intended to protect and feed the fetish itself.

This article (and many other good ones) can be found at Wikipedia.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Brand New Items Just Added !!

Hello again.  We've added some new items to our store.  I'll choose 3 of them to detail here, however, please take a look at all of them at our web store

First is a Zuni Red Bird Pin.  Being an animal lover myself, I’ve grown very fond of all of the Native American animal jewelry.  This great red bird is capable of being either a pin or simply add a chain to make it a pendant.  Look closely to see the detail of the feathers as well as the incredible silver work between each of the coral stones.


The legend of the Redbird: A long time ago, Raccoon passed Wolf on a path by the creek. As usual, he insulted Wolf and Wolf began to chase him. Raccoon ran to hide on a limb of a tree overhanging the creek. Wolf followed, quickly becoming exhausted. He had been running all day, and was ready for a nap. He stopped for a drink from the creek, and when seeing a reflection in the water of Raccoon above him, Wolf dived in. He almost drowned before pulling himself to shore, and he lie on the bank and fell in a deep sleep. Seeing this, Raccon climbed out of the tree, took some clay from the creek bottom and plastered Wolf's eyes shut. When Wolf awoke, he could not open his eyes. He scratched at the clay hardened on his eyes, but could not break it off. He struggled and whined. An ugly, brown bird heard the wolf's cries and came to see if he could help. "What happened to you?" asked the little bird. "My eyes have been plastered shut, and I cannot break it off," whined the wolf. "Can you help me, please?" "I will try," said the bird. As the bird pecked on the clay, it slowly crumbled away and soon Wolf was able to see again. "How can I repay you, brother, for the kindness you have shown?" asked Wolf. "That is not necessary," replied the bird. But the wolf was so grateful that he wanted to do something. He then looked at the plain, brown bird and said, "I've got it!" He took the bird to where the red rock is found, and using it, painted the little, brown bird red. "Now you are a Redbird," said Wolf, "and all of your children from this day on will be born with the beautiful, red feathers." And so they were, and are today.  If so grateful that he wanted to do something. He then looked at the plain, brown bird and said, "I've got it!" He took the bird to where the red rock is found, and using it, painted the little, brown bird red. "Now you are a Redbird," said Wolf, "and all of your children from this day on will be born with the beautiful, red feathers." And so they were, and are today.


Secondly I’d like to show off this amazing reversible Pendant by Tsadasai.  This pendant has two wonderful designs on its front and back.  The first is a very traditional Zuni Sunface design, complemented by a wonderful silver background.  The Sunface represents the bringer of life, hope, and continuity to all people.  This particular image of the Sunface is represented in traditional turquoise, coral, gaspeite, and mother of pearl.  The opposite side has a more modern design.  Though modern, this design displays a very traditional view of the earth – clouds and rain represented in blue, the air and land in green, and the sunrise and sunset in yellow and blue.  This modern design also shows off the great skill of the Tsadasais and their inlay work.


Finally we have this wonderful Owl Pin / Pendant.  Again, animal pieces are some of my favorite and this is no exception.  This wonderful piece, crafted by noted Zuni artist Pablita Quam, shows a brilliantly white owl sitting upon a branch.  The owl is crafted entirely of mother of pearl, with jet accents for its eyes, beak, and claws.  The owl has very special meaning and is the protector of the home.  It watches over us and protects us.  Owls also represent wisdom and truth as well as the ability to see what others cannot.  By taking in all of its surroundings the owl can calmly ascertain all situations and happenings.  This particular piece also shows off the Zuni’s skills at crafting small pieces of stone into a complicated puzzle, creating a wonderful image!


See you again soon.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Caring for Turquoise Jewelry

You've finally decided to jump in and buy a piece of turquoise jewelry from Turquoise Canyon or another fine seller of Native American Jewelry. Or, perhaps, you have a piece or two (or maybe thousands!) already? No matter the number of items you have, caring for your turquoise jewelry is important to ensure that it remains as impressive as the first day you purchased it.

Turquoise is softer than most stones used in jewelry. Using Mohs scale of mineral and gem hardness, Turquoise is a 5-6 (out of 10). Mohs scale is based on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the hardest stone which is diamond. The softest of stones will be similar to graphite, which is used in everyday common pencils; obviously very soft. Stones in the range of 1-4 are rarely used for any types of jewelry without being stabilized.

Because turquoise is softer than most stones, you must be careful not to store turquoise jewelry in a way that would allow it to be scratched or jarred against other items. For example, storing turquoise rings in a large drawer with many other rings could cause the turquoise stone to scratch, or even worse, fracture.

It is also important to also understand what 'stabilized' turquoise is. Stabilized turquoise is turquoise that has been strengthened with an epoxy resin or other similar substance. The epoxy is infused into the pores of the turquoise stone. After this process, the turquoise is no longer porous and the resin provides greater strength to the stone. Its color remains unaffected. Stabilization allows designers to use softer stones such as turquoise that might otherwise not be suitable for jewelry. Due to the fact that turquoise mined in American is especially soft, almost all Native American Turquoise has been treated in this way.

Stabilization is often mistaken for reconstituted turquoise. Reconstituted turquoise is a turquoise stone that is made from many turquoise chips, or even pulverized turquoise powder, all glued together to form a stone.

Keep your turquoise away from high heat such as on top of radiators, and remove your turquoise jewelry if you will be working with cleaning agents, oils, paints, etc.

Inevitably your turquoise jewelry will get dirty. Clean your turquoise jewelry using warm soapy water and dry it using a clean towel. Avoid any chemicals or cleaning agents such as Windex, Comet, or ammonia.

To sum it up:

  1. Be careful to buy high quality jewelry with high quality turquoise. Click here to see our inventory.

  2. Avoid chemicals, paints, oils, etc. when wearing turquoise jewelry

  3. Clean your turquoise jewelry with simple, yet effective, soap and water

  4. Pretty easy, huh?!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Brand New Items Just Added!!

We never slow down here at Turquoise Canyon. Whether taking pictures, writing descriptions, answering questions, or adding information to our blog we're always trying to add to the Turquoise Canyon experience. Today I'm writing to introduce a few of our new items; click here to see the most recent list of new items. Our newest set of items includes necklace, pendants and more. Today I'll point out a few, but please take a look at them all.

First, we've added this Santo Domingo shell pendant by Rudy and Mary Coriz. This beautiful Pendant features traditional Santo Domingo artistry. The shell is enhanced with beautiful cuts of Turquoise and a single cut of Lapis bordered along one edge by a Sterling Silver band. The reverse of the shell is signed RC and has Mary's Trademark Feather. This style is very typical of the amazing work done by members of the Santo Domingo tribe. A beautiful dark orange and brown scallop shell creates the foundation of this piece. The turquoise stone has been chosen as a great offset to those colors with its rich blue color. The single lapis stone adds to the striking detail.
The final addition of the sterling silver banding that edges the transition from the shell to the inlay work is truly well done and adds elegance to this traditional piece.

Another addition is this wonderful double sided, swivel Zuni pendant. Finely crafted on both sides, this piece is certainly a true work of art. It features a Kachina Dancer made mostly of mother of pearl. The Dancer shines and glimmers in white and silver tones. The other side shows the Mud Head Kachina in red coral. the Mud Head represents primitive man; people before they are quite matured fully. They are the the clowns of a village, playfully unaware of responsibilities or worries. Because of this, they can also cause unintended mischief to others. The Kachina Dancer is of course one of the most recognized of Zuni's characters. There are individual Kachinas to embody many of the Zuni's spirits, beliefs, and practices. On this pendant it plays as opposite to young and naive Mud Head. Zuni artistry never ceases to amaze me. The finely cut stones with such intricate patterns are truly amazing.

The final piece I will highlight today is a more modern design in the world of Native American jewelry. This Zuni Pendant features the corn roll technique for it's finely set stones. Unlike the traditional inlay work of the Zuni, the corn roll technique gives each and every stone its own depth and texture. The stones are beveled at the top, giving each transition a 'valley' to distinguish its edges. Traditional Zuni inlay features smooth transitions across the entire piece, where this corn roll technique gives way to a much more tactile piece. No more or less difficult to achieve than traditional inlay, corn roll provides Zuni artists another way to express themselves through shape and color.