New Collection Focus

Victor Coochwytewa (American Indian, Hopi, 1922-2011). Choker, 1970-79. Silver, Morenci turquoise, 10 x 4’’ (Collection Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, 2018.06 / photo by EG Schempf. Acquired with funds provided by the Barton P. and Mary D. Cohen Art Acquisition Endowment at the JCCC Foundation)

This summer and fall, the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art will install a new Collection Focus area on the second floor of JCCC’s newly renovated Billington Library. This new installation will showcase contemporary Native American jewelry, especially works by Navajo and Pueblo artists. The works featured here by Victor Coochwytewa and Edith Tsabetsaye are two of the numerous masterworks that will be on permanent view at the library.

—Bruce Hartman

Edith Tsabetsaye (American Indian, Zuni, b. ca. 1940). Zuni Needlepoint Necklace and Earrings, 1973. Silver, turquoise, 15.5 x 27”, 1.75 x 1.5” (Collection Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, 2018.06 / photo by EG Schempf. Gift of H Tony and Marti Oppenheimer Foundation)

Victor Coochwytewa is recognized as a master of Hopi silver overlay jewelry. This painstaking and intricate technique requires the silversmith to create a design pattern in a piece of silver over which a second layer of silver is soldered. The incised patterns are oxidized leaving a black finish beneath the polished overlay. Coochwytewa is credited with the practice of texturing the base plate of silver, which has become a standard in Hopi jewelry. Coochwytewa’s skills as a silversmith are fully realized in this choker, but he considered himself a farmer first, tending to his corn crops. He often referred to his jewelry making as a hobby. The design of this choker makes a bold statement. Concentric geometric patterns encircle stair-step designs, a symbol for mountains in Hopi iconography. The oxidized and textured background creates a dynamic aesthetic in contrast to the polished silver overlay. The pendant is inlaid with a large, blue-green stone of Morenci turquoise.

Victor Coochwytewa began making jewelry in 1940, working alongside Hopi jewelry artist Paul Saufkie. After his service in World War II, he continued to hone his silversmith skills under the guidance of Saufkie and Fred Kabotie.

Jewelry making at Zuni Pueblo has a long and important history. The artisans at this pueblo are renowned for their lapidary skills and elaborate use of turquoise. Edith Tsabetsaye made her first cluster work necklace in 1962, and she has developed a highly distinctive style of needlepoint cluster work, employing raised, curved, needle-shaped turquoise stones. This necklace is based on a squash blossom design that emerged in the late 19th century; however, she has taken this form and updated it with her signature style. Silver squash blossoms project from roundels of Sleeping Beauty turquoise. The precisely cut needlepoint stones encircle smaller round cut gems, and at the center of each cluster is a pear-shaped cabochon. The crescent-shape “naja” pendant repeats the use of needlepoint and sphere cut stones. An additional drop dangles from the center of the naja, embellished with yet another squash blossom. Although she has incorporated a large quantity of turquoise in this necklace, the fine cuts of the gemstones create a delicate design pattern.

Edith Tsabetsaye learned the art of jewelry making from her parents, Joe and Susan Tsabetsaye.

—Denise Neil

About The Author: Contributing Writer

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