Jewelry Collectors Guide: Mosaic Jewelry
Jewelry has been made and worn in the Southwest for thousands of years. One stunning style that is known around the world is known as mosaic. In true form, an artist creates a mosaic piece by attaching tiny tiles of stone, shell, or other natural materials to a shell base, forming colorful and unique patterns. We’ve prepared this collector's guide featuring mosaic jewelry to help connoisseurs and those new to American Indian art discover new meaning behind cherished pieces that showcase the artistry and excellence of Pueblo jewelers.
From Generations Past
For thousands of years, our ancestors have used turquoise, shell, bone and stone to create mosaic jewelry by setting even the smallest pieces upon a backing of wood or shell. Ancestral Puebloan sites, such as Chaco Canyon, documented that our ancestors were at the center of major turquoise trade routes that ran from the Pacific Northwest to Central America. These trade routes also brought shells, tusks, and other materials into the world of ancestral Pueblo communities, helping to make their mosaic pieces colorful and unique. Many early pieces are geometric in design, are simple pairings of color based on what the artist had, and are resourceful - making use of even the smallest pieces of material.
A Modern Revival
With the introduction of metal in the late 1800s and with the popularity of heishi, few artists were creating true mosaic form. In the 1940s and 1950s, artists from Santo Domingo Pueblo were creating a mosaic style known as Depression jewelry, using vinyl 78 RPM records and old batteries as the base to attach small pieces of turquoise, coral, and other stones cut from the rough stone. These pieces were set with epoxy, then ground and polished to a glossy and smooth finish.
Santo Domingo Pueblo artist Angie Reano Owen, after watching her mother create Depression jewelry, studied the traditional technique of mosaic inlay by traveling extensively throughout the region, viewing early pieces in museums and private collections to learn the techniques of her ancestors. In the 1970s, Angie is credited with first mosaic Revival piece, leaning into the use of the organic shapes of the shell.
Mosaic and Channel Inlay
When a traditional mosaic piece incorporates sterling silver or medal into the design, it’s known as channel inlay, a technique common in American Indian jewelry, and particularly that of Zuni Pueblo. In this technique, the natural shape of the backing or shell is no longer at the forefront, and the silver helps hold the stones together. Stones are also cut to meet the shape of the silver. This technique and gives the artist the ability to create more elaborate designs in their work.
Over time, jewelers have perfected their mosaic techniques, and today’s mosaic jewelry is the most celebrated and recognized art forms of Native American jewelry. Artists creating mosaic pieces are known around the world for their remarkable craftsmanship and beautiful pieces which are still created using methods and stones used for a thousand years. Many of today’s artists continue to hand-cut their stones from their raw form, creating designs that are inspired by elements of nature. Others are pushing the boundaries and creating new innovations and adding unique elements in their work.
At Indian Pueblo Store, we pride ourselves in our connection to artists and artistry of the Southwest. We invite you to explore our stunning collection of mosaic jewelry to find your next piece to treasure.