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  1. 1. TURQUOISE·WATER·SKY the stone and its meaning
  2. 2. 3 Mineralogy and chemistry SCARCITY MAKES AN object more desirable, makes it more powerful. Scarcity makes an object magical. For centuries in New Mexico, scarcity has been synonymous with water. Our reservoir of sky offers us the color of water. It releases a few drops that the ground laps up. The drops navigate through rocky soil toward a home port—that small crevice that opens next to particles of copper. Over eons, the copper makes magic with the water, taking its elements, transforming them into turquoise, that reflects the sky. The magic follows a formula: CuAl6 (PO)44 (OH)8-4H2O . This alchemy creates a range of blues and greens in different shapes. It makes turquoise as hard as a gemstone, but compliant to stone tools. It also, in the traditional view, gives turquoise a soul. Another kind of chemistry occurred between turquoise and Native Americans that carries through to the present. Native Americans recognize turquoise for its power to breathe in prayers, breathe out protection—against snakebite, lightning strikes, stiffness in the joints. It brings fertile herds, guides arrows straight to their targets. In a land that does not have enough water, turquoise— formed by water—holds the color of water. The color of sustenance. Of protection. Of enough.
  3. 3. 4 Real or fake? ANCIENTS TO MODERNS have sought to capture the color of turquoise. And in some cases, the color meant more than the material. Wooden pendants dating to a.d. 1200 were covered with green malachite paint. Anasazi pottery were decorated with parallel, diagonal lines that told the viewer to imagine blue- green where they were painted. To improve the blue quality of the stone, Navajos soaked it in sheep’s tallow. Native Americans planning to trade turquoise held the stones in their mouths, using their saliva to improve the stones’ color—and value. When Tiffany & Company’s gemologist sang the praises of sky blue—or Tiffany blue—turquoise, prices and demand shot through the roof. By the 1920s, demand for the bright-as-a-June-day stone outpaced supply. Hubbell Trading Post met the high demand among tourists discovering the Southwest by having Venetian glass created to look like the prized stone. Native American jewelers would use the beautifully colored, false stone when the real thing wasn’t available. Modern steps such as stabilization and reconstitution enhance the color, and the durability. And just as ancients painted wooden pendants to imitate the desired color, synthetic turquoise now reflects the beauty of the sought-after authentic prize, at a much lower cost. If the color captures the ideal, it is a treasure. But conscientious shoppers who are concerned about whether they are buying a quality stone should remember: Caveat emptor.
  4. 4. 7 Color and meaning JUST AS THE sky’s colors change with the weather and seasons, turquoise’s color reflects its environment. Aluminum turns turquoise green. Zinc creates a yellowish green. Turquoise of the highest quality, holding the best colors, lies near the surface. Exposed to sunlight and weather, turquoise lightens. Regardless of the color, turquoise holds prestige and power. Some Native American creation stories have the first people emerging from a lake. Turquoise represents this source of all life. Deities carry weapons and live in homes made of turquoise. The Apache believe turquoise filled the pot at the end of the rainbow. Zuni ceremonies include turquoise-colored face, mask and body paint to represent Awonauilona, the sun’s life-giving power. Turquoise’s power is so great that no horseman would ride while carrying it; it would tire the horse. Similarly, hunters drew lines with turquoise between the tracks of game to slow the game down. It hangs in household bags to protect the home against unpredictable misfortune. It hung from piercings in the septums of particularly brave Meso-American warriors. Turquoise is worn proudly, a display of its wearer’s wealth and status. Turquoise bracelets, necklaces, rings are wearable bank accounts; in the past, Native Americans would use pieces as deposits for goods needed from traders. When crops or wool was sold, the owners paid the traders and reclaimed their jewelry.
  5. 5. 8 Turquoise’s companions THE SACRED MOUNTAINS in Navajo tradition are decorated with white shell, turquoise and jet. And Johano-ai, the Navajo Sun King, had horses of turquoise, white shell, pearl shell, red shell and jet. (Navajos knew which horse the Sun King was riding, based on the weather: sunny, blue skies meant the king was on his turquoise horse; a dreary day meant the king was astride his jet horse.) While Asian lapidaries matched turquoise with gold, rubies, lapis lazuli and diamonds, Native Americans mated turquoise with more common materials: shell, jet, bone and red argillite. The less extravagant results are equally beautiful. Bone was readily available and easily worked. Jet was also fairly common and beautiful in its own right (the Zuni refer to jet as “black turquoise”). Ancient pieces from New Mexico bear spiny oyster shell from the Pacific and shell from the Gulf of California. The pieces carry much more shell than turquoise, showing how hard turquoise was to obtain and to work with. With broadened markets and more accessible materials, Native American jewelers today are following in the paths of their Asian predecessors: their jewelry now combines turquoise with gold, lapis and diamonds.
  6. 6. 11 Prehistoric record TRADERS BROUGHT COPPER bells, parrot feathers, even chocolate into the Southwest, perhaps exchanging them for turquoise. Some craftspeople worked in jewelry workshops with lapidary tools, including abraders and drills, but farmers and artisans also created turquoise beads, pendants and pieces for inlay, likely as a fallback in case of low crop yields or failures. Evidence of these enterprises was found at Chaco Canyon and date back elsewhere to a.d. 700 or earlier. Chacoan turquoise, which may have originated in several mining areas, was used for trading and religious services. Among pieces found at Chaco was a turquoise tadpole fetish. Like Hopi earrings that held rows of turquoise on a cottonwood square that represented stacked cobs of blue corn, the fetish was a prayer for water and abundance. At Chaco for a time, the prayers were answered. Two individuals were laid to rest with 56,000 pieces of turquoise, reflecting a highly prosperous, and reverential, community.
  7. 7. 12 Mining history THE HISTORY OF turquoise mining in the Southwest often begins with the startup of iconic mines: Bisbee, Cripple Creek, Kingman, Sleeping Beauty, Cerrillos—mines scoured by white entrepreneurs beginning in the late nineteenth century. This is the history that stands at the top of the slag heap. Underneath is the history of Native miners. It is estimated that Native Americans had been working with turquoise about 1200 years before the Spanish arrived, with the heaviest mining taking place between a.d. 1350 and 1600. Roughly 200 mines have been discovered throughout the Southwest, most believed to have been started by Native Americans, who used shaped stone hammers, mauls and adzes to chisel the pieces of sky out of the rock. Because turquoise is often found close to the surface, it is likely that the treasure was first discovered in plain view. Logic followed that if it was on the ground, it was likely under the ground, too. Many ancient mines were depressions in the ground. More sophisticated mines had tunnels and rooms supported by pillars, with lapidary shops nearby for sorting and processing the stone. The largest ancient turquoise mine was found at Mount Chalchihuitl, near Cerrillos, New Mexico. Some turquoise found at Chaco Canyon came from mines in the Cerrillos area, more than 150 miles to the southeast.
  8. 8. 15 Native American, Spanish and Moorish influences TURQUOISE JEWELRY EVOLVED as a companion of conquest. In their 800-year reign of Spain, the Moors introduced crescent moons and the shape of pomegranate blossoms into Spanish culture. The Spaniards, seeking gold and silver, rode into Native American communities on horses wearing bridles bedecked with crescents. The Navajo adapted the symbols to reflect their own lives. The shape of the crescent became a naja at the base of a squash blossom necklace. Pomegranate blooms, a pattern used widely by the Spanish that represented their Christian faith as well as health, fortune and fertility, inspired the squash blossoms themselves. It is widely believed that the first recognized Native American blacksmith, Atsidi Sani, learned the craft from a Mexican blacksmith. He may have added silversmithing to his skills during or after he was held prisoner at Fort Sumner, after he and his people were forced to relocate from Arizona. Atsidi Sani and his students spread the skill. Zuni craftsmen merged the design with their skillful lapidary, form-fitting stones without matrix into patterns. The lapidary skills of Zuni jewelers are best demonstrated by inlay and by petit point and needlepoint jewelry, in which meticulously cut stones form patterns on silver.
  9. 9. 16 Contemporary artistic expressions BECAUSE OF THE work of contemporary Native art founders Charles Loloma, Kenneth Begay and others, current Native American jewelers no longer have to meet the expectations of viewers who only know Native American art as “traditional.” Instead, they are free to merge their own inspirations with the skills and traditions they have learned throughout their lives. Among them are Angie Reano Owen (Santo Domingo)— who, looking for a new avenue for creation amid the traffic jam of 1970s heishi, revived inlaid jewelry traditions—and Na Na Ping (Pascua Yaqui), whose elegant inlaid jewelry bears the work of a true lapidary, with stones that are meticulously cobbled together. Both Owen and Ping were influenced by older jewelers. Owen was inspired by her mother’s Depression jewelry, squash blossom necklaces made from plastic and car battery parts. Ping learned stone cutting from his uncles. Both also took their paths away from tradition to reach their artistic vision. Owen merges the old (such as using wood as the backing for a bracelet) with the new (the black matrix that outlines each stone in her mosaics). Ping cuts stone with the skill taught to him by his uncles, but combines the stones in modernistic blends of color and angularity. Like many modern Native jewelers, both are able to express their traditions in a contemporary voice.
  10. 10. From In the Presence of the Sun: Stories and Poems, 1961–1991, © University of New Mexico Press, 1992. Reprinted with permission. Earth and I gave you turquoise when you walked singing We lived laughing in my house and told old stories You grew ill when the owl cried We will meet on Black Mountain I will bring corn for planting and we will make fire Children will come to your breast You will heal my heart I speak your name many times The wild cane remembers you My young brother’s house is filled I go there to sing We have not spoken of you but our songs are sad When Moon Woman goes to you I will follow her white way Tonight they dance near Chinle by the seven elms There your loom whispered beauty They will eat mutton and drink coffee till morning You and I will not be there I saw a crow by Red Rock standing on one leg It was the black of your hair The years are heavy I will ride the swiftest horse You will hear the drumming hooves. —N. Scott Momaday Earth and I Gave You Turquoise
  11. 11. Museum of Indian Arts & Culture photography by kitty leaken