Santo Domingo Pueblo Three Strand Shell and Turquoise Necklace

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Jeweler Unknown

Pueblo Wrap

This Santo Domingo Pueblo Three Strand Shell and Turquoise Necklace is typical of those from the mid-1950s by artisans from Kewa Pueblo.  The white shell hieshe was formed from sea shell which was cut into small squares, drilled with a hole, strung on string and then sanded by hand to produce round beads of uniform size.  

The heishe was then restrung with small turquoise gemstones which were drilled and inserted, along with an occasional white polished shell reminiscent of birds.  The three strands were tied together and bound with string in a pueblo wrap fashion.

This style necklace is centuries old.  Archaeologists discovered caches of turquoise and shell necklaces at Chaco Canyon, evidence that the ancestors of today's Pueblo people were using turquoise nuggets and shell as items of adornment over one thousand years ago.  And from the earliest of times, turquoise has been favored by the Pueblo Indians of the Southwest. They mined it at Cerrillos, about 30 miles south of Santa Fe, for centuries. Turquoise had religious, ceremonial, superstitious and economic values to the Pueblo Indians.

Bits of turquoise were put in bearing beams of buildings to strengthen them, offerings of turquoise were made at sacred shrines, medicine men used it in diagnostic and healing rituals, and it was often used in burials. It is a unique sign of wealth and is seen in abundance at ceremonial dances at the pueblos of New Mexico.  

Hieshe, made from seashells, such as used in this necklace, is constructed in a most interesting manner. The shell is cut into small squares, drilled and strung on cotton string, then slowly and meticulously rolled over sandstone until each piece is round and all the pieces are of the same diameter or graduated diameter, if desired. Cotton is used because it is softer and doesn’t wear against the shell too abrasively. The turquoise tabs that are added to such a hieshe necklace are drilled, often off center, and strung with the hieshe to form an interesting necklace.

The part of the necklace that is in the back of the neck is wrapped in cotton thread in what is known as a “pueblo wrap.”   Perhaps it was intended to be removed and replaced when it becomes soiled.

Throughout this three-strand necklace are nuggets of various types of turquoise and shell beads. Both the turquoise and shell are of vastly different sizes, shapes and colors creating an amazing assemblage where it provides a different appeal every time it is viewed. Some nuggets are small and perfectly shaped, some are larger, natural stones which have simply been drilled with a hole. 


Condition: this Santo Domingo Pueblo Three Strand Shell and Turquoise Necklace is in very good condition

Provenance: from the estate of Frances Balcomb passed through a daughter.  The Balcombs had Indian art galleries in New Mexico and Arizona in the mid twentieth century, the last of which was closed in the early 1970s.  This necklace could have been gallery inventory or personal to Frances Balcomb.  

Recommended Reading: Indian Jewelry of the American Southwest by Sarah Peabody and William A. Turnbaugh

Relative Links:  Jewelry NecklaceSouthwest Indian JewelryKewa - Santo Domingo Pueblo

Close up view of the strands of shell and turquoise.

 

 


Jeweler Unknown
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