Wednesday, May 20, 2015



Despite turquoise’s close identification in the US with the Southwest, other parts of the world have long held turquoise in high esteem.

Non-Indigenous Realm-

Turquoise was used on the gold funeral mask of King Tutankhamen in Ancient Egypt.


The oldest turquoise mines in the world, operated for thousands of years, are in Iran.


The word “turquoise” comes from the French name for a beautiful blue stone they thought came from Turkey, but was actually from Persia.

Indigenous Realm- 

Turquoise is formed in arid regions by infrequent precipitation flowing through host rock and depositing minerals and salts. It is in these same regions – the US Southwest, central and northern Mexico, Andean South America, Tibet and Uzbekistan – that it is most valued as a gem stone.


The Zuni word for turquoise can be translated as “sky stone.” This link between turquoise and sky is also true outside the Southwest; for example, in Tibet, the sky is sometimes called “the turquoise of Heaven.”


Pueblo dancers wear turquoise regalia during the summer growing season to ensure rain.


The stone’s color ranges from white (called chalk), to deep blue, pale blue, florescent yellow-green, deep green, and everything in between, but it’s the color and shape of the matrix, the veins of the host rock that run through turquoise, that contribute to its prestige and value.


Turquoise is a soft stone and changes color as it is worn, becoming darker and greener. In many parts of the world it is believed that turquoise absorbs poisons and protect the wearer, or alternatively, that its color reflects the health of its wearer.


Shell and turquoise are often used together. Both allude to water, one based on origin and the other on color, with the pairing intensifying the water symbolism

Navajo thought-.


The Navajo link turquoise to protection and health. At birth, babies receive their first turquoise beads. The stone, in both whole and crushed form, is also included in puberty rites, marriage and initiation ceremonies, in healing ceremonies and other rituals. With the stone so intertwined with every stage of Navajo life, it is no coincidence that they are famed for their turquoise jewelry.


Way of Being.

In the Navajo world art
is not divorced from everyday life, for the
Creation of beauty and the incorporation of oneself in beauty represent
the highest attainment and ultimate destiny of man.. Beauty –h ózhó- is
the combination of all these conditions.
(from Language and Art in the Navajo Universe - G.Witherspoon)

Saturday, May 16, 2015

EarART earrings by Venaya Yazzie

EarART earring designs made by Venaya Yazzie

Earrings I make that are inspired by my original paintings.

Turquoise: non-Native (secular) ideas and meanings

Navajo Turquoise and Silver Squash Blossom Necklace.
Photo source Internet.
Though I have grown up in the world of Indigenous Adornment via my Navajo and Pueblo matriarchs, the oral history stories I have heard are somewhat personal. I found this interesting article from a New Mexico museum site that does a good job on the concepts of Native Peoples stories and beliefs of turquoise.
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 1200 AD were covered with green malachite paint. Anasazi pottery, decorated with parallel, diagonal lines, told the viewer to imagine blue-green where there was none. To improve the stone’s blue quality, Navajos soaked it in sheep’s tallow.
By the 1920s, demand for the 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.
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.
Color, Meaning, Value
Turquoise’s color reflects its environment. Nearby 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. Native American 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.
Its power is so great that no horseman would ride while carrying turquoise; it would tire the horse. Similarly, hunters drew lines with turquoise between the tracks of game to slow the game down. Hanging from bags in households, turquoise protects against misfortune.
Turquoise bracelets, necklaces and rings are wearable bank accounts; in the past, Native Americans used pieces as deposits for goods needed from traders. When they sold their crops or wool, the traders were paid and jewelry was reclaimed.
Mining History
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 AD 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.
The largest ancient turquoise mine was found at Mount Chalchihuitl, near Cerrillos, NM. Some turquoise found at Chaco Canyon came from mines in the Cerrillos area, more than 150 miles to the southeast.    
Native, 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, especially, liked the symbol. They traded for it or captured it. 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, 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 while touring “Navajo Land” with an American Indian agent in 1853. 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 learned the skill from Navajo teachers. Over the years, techniques and styles comingled, in lavish ways such as Navajo silver-stamped boxes decorated with Zuni inlay work.
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 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.


Handmade beadwork and shell adornments.

Original handmade beadwork with shell made by
Venaya Yazzie via Yazzgrl Art Studio, New Mexico.
Photo courtesy of Venaya Yazzie

My love of creating Indigenous beadwork has been inspired by the lives of both family and friends through the years.

My first recollections of the art and act of beading was as a young girl seeing my aunt beading her unique seed bead earrings. Then later as a college student, I would watch my best friend, who was a powwow dancer, beading her own powwow regalia for her Jingle Dress outfit. I would later learn to bead from a Souix friend and from taking an Indigenous Arts course while a student at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, NM.

Now I bead for the enjoyment of the creative process and technique. I bead for mental and spiritual 'balance.' Lately, I've been beading mostly earrings with added adornments such as shell pieces, turquoise, and various other stones. The earrings pictured here are my latest addition and original style.


Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Powwow and the 'beauty' of beadwork

Venaya Yazzie is  wearing beadwork designed and made by her
in this photo.

The calendar tells us that the summer is on its way, but for many of us who participate in the powwow circle, the weather tells us that its time for the outdoor dancing in the sun.

So the summer months mean that the 'powwow season' is approaching. As a part of my modern Indigenous life the powwow is how I stay connected to my People. The powwow circle is my other family, it is were I become 'rooted' again to the truth of myself as Indigenous.

This photo is about how I perpetuate 'Indigenous Adornment.' The beadwork is my own original beadwork which was made, by me and wholly  inspired by my stepfather's family who are Turtle Mountain Chippewa from North Dakota.

Contemporary Indigenous beadwork is diverse in designs and colors, yet those specific designs tell much about the tribal affiliation of the person who wears them. You will never find an exact design of powwow regalia or the beadwork. The reason is that one does not copy or recreate someone else's beadwork design within the powwow circle. To do so would be a great disrespect.

Blessings in all things.

EcoEARS earring designs by Venaya Yazzie

EcoEars Earring Designs by Venaya Yazzie
Photo by Venaya Yazzie 2015 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Squash Blossom Beauty

Navajo silver Squash Blossom necklace.

This image depicts a 'classic' art piece done by an unknown Navajo silversmith. This was the classic design of the original Squash Blossom necklace of the early days after the side 'blossoms' were added.  I have to say this is my favorite type of necklace.

Balcony House Art

Balcony House at Mesa Verde National Park.
Image of art created by Venaya Yazzie during her
Artist-in-Residence in 2014
Photo by Venaya Yazzie

Last year in May 2014 I was an artist-in-resident at Mesa Verde National Park in southwestern Colorado. I spent most of the time out in the open air creative art. I was able to stay at the park for two weeks where I trekked the backroads of the park while visiting the ruins of the ancient Puebloan people.

As a art resident I was asked to create on art piece to donate to the permanent collection at Mesa Verde, this photo depicts the donated art I made.

By far Balcony House was the favored of all the ruins at Mesa Verde. I spent lots of time visiting this space while at the park.

Beauty was all around.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Desert rain.

Spring rain clouds in the high desert.
Photo credit- Venaya Yazzie 2015