Vintage Bear Claw ‘Squash’ Necklace
Vintage Sterling Silver, Nevada Turquoise, Coral and Bear Claw Necklace. This ‘Squash Styled’ necklace features two turquoise stones with coral accents and silver Leaf-work in each Bear Claw cluster. It is estimated to have been made from 1950’s to the 1970’s. The center ‘Naja’ focal point measures 3.5 inches x 3 inches and the total measurement is 30 inches long.
History of the Squash Blossom Necklace
“Squash blossom” is a term long been applied to a unique necklace produced by Southwestern Native American Tribes. It was first made by the Navajo and later by the Zuni and Hopi.
The term squash blossom was attached at an early date to the unusual bead, which has a flowering end. The Navajo word “Chil Bitan” means flower-like bead, or more literally translated, “bead which spreads out.”
However, the flower is not believed to be a squash blossom, and really does not resemble one. It is like a young pomegranate. The pomegranate was a symbol of Granada, Spain, and Spanish and Mexican dandies wore a small silver version of this symbol to decorate their blouses, capes, and trousers.
Navajo Indians may have seen one of these decorations and incorporated it into a plain silver bead necklace. They had already borrowed the Spanish crescent moon and star symbol, which was worn on the horse’s bridle, on the center of the animal’s forehead. Navajo craftsmen simplified this theme, often to a plain crescent; in fact, the Navajo word for this ornament is “nazhahi” – now commonly spelled naja, which means crescent. The naja was first worn with plain silver beads, but later became a part of the distinctive squash blossom necklace.
The squash blossom has been explained in other ways. For example, Mrs. John Wetherill, the wife of an early trader on the Navajo reservation, is said to have contended that this bead was inspired by the tiny flowerets in the center of the common sunflower.
There is a resemblance here, but it is more likely that the young pomegranate, by way of the Spaniards, was the real inspiration for this bead. The term squash blossom will continue to be used as it is so well established.
It is unsure when the squash blossom was first used by the Navajo. On a drawing of a shorter-leafed type, Woodward has the dates 1865-1880, and the dates 1880-1937 for a longer-petaled style. However, when Washington Matthews described Navajo silvercraft in 1881 he makes no mention of this bead type, yet he describes in detail the plain bead and other pieces of this early date. Adair simply notes that the squash blossom “probably did not come into existence until sometime after 1880.”
Early photographs, several dated about 1890, show the squash blossom worn by Navajos. Navajo are the best known, for they have been the most productive of this piece and have maintained a purity of representation which Zunis and Hopis have not observed.
Zuni Indians often expose so little of the flower that it would not appear to be a squash blossom. Hopi Indians have produced relatively few of these necklaces, most of them in the Navajo tradition.
History of Zuni Jewelry
The Zuni Native American Indian Pueblo is located 32 miles southwest of Gallup, New Mexico. They have been known for making Needlepoint (tiny needle shaped stones), Petitpoint (tiny round, oval or square stones) and Turquoise Inlaid Jewelry since the early 20th century.
The Zuni Indians focus on stone cutting. They make simplistic silver pieces to accommodate their intricate stonework. Rings, bracelets, earrings, pendants, pins and necklaces are made with fine and delicate turquoise and other gemstones set in artistic designs.
This New Mexico Pueblo Indian tribe is very traditional and religious, which is reflected in their art. The Zuni people have been skilled lapidary artisans since ancient times. These stone lapidary skills, which had developed over the years, were easily applied to the creation of ornamental jewelry. With the incorporation of an expertise in silversmithing, the Zuni have taken the art of stone decorative jewelry to another level with their complex inlay channel designs, fine turquoise petit point as well as hand carved fetish jewelry. They have developed a unique look which can be easily spotted by collectors and jewelry connoisseurs alike.