T is for Turquoise

Helbing Collection A-Z is a continuing feature of our blog. Each week, I will highlight an item or items from our Helbing Collection of Native American Arts and Crafts.

This week I’d like to highlight some of the turquoise jewelry in the collection. According to Wikipedia “Turquoise is an opaque, blue-to-green mineral that is a hydrous phosphate of copper and aluminum.” It is found in several places in the world including the American Southwest. Turquoise is frequently used in Navajo and Zuni silver jewelry. We have several pieces of turquoise jewelry in our collection – here are a few:

Of this piece, Cleora wrote, “A silver brooch in a sunburst design, set with one round turquoise in the center and many tear-drop turquoise stones radiating from it. This pin was given to me (Cleora Helbing) when I retired from the Indian Service by Clara Gonzales who worked with the Zunis as a teacher and principal for many years. When she retired, the president of the U.S. called her in to Washington and presented her with the Distinguished Service Award. The pin was made by Chester Mahooty.”
Chester B. Mahooty was an internationally known singer, dancer, and silversmith. You can hear him sing HERE. For 28 years, Mahooty’s Zuni Rainbow Dancers toured throughout North America, Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa. A master silversmith, Mahooty was noted for his exceptionally large turquoise jewelry and wore 65 pounds of turquoise and silver when fully dressed in his Zuni attire.

While we don’t know the artist who made this bracelet, it is a striking piece that I wanted to share with you. Cleora wrote, “This silver bracelet, etched with line designs, is set with turquoise. Although all of the turquoises are oval, the bracelet is obviously very old, for these stones are of all sizes and range in color from very green to dark blue-green, indicating that the silversmiths had not yet perfected their art of making stones on jewelry. I bought this bracelet from “Fonda Joe,” and Indian in Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1940.” I disagree with Cleora’s comment that the technique was not perfected. The stones are not perfect, but they are set in the silver beautifully. And the roughness of the stones gives a more natural look to the piece.

This silver ring is set with a large oval turquoise stone. The turquoise has deep gold veins, a sign of value for a turquoise stone. Around the stone is a border of silver balls, four on each side.

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