Zuni: The Finest Lapidary Artists of the Southwest
The Zuni pueblo is located in a scenic landscape of magnificent mesas and diverse habitats, about 34 miles south of Gallup, New Mexico. Zuni has over 10,000 tribal members. The tribe is traditionally built on a matrilineal clan system and revolves around a multifaceted ceremonial system that honors ancestors and their deep relationship to the striking desert Zuni homeland. The Zuni people convey cultural traditions through various forms of art, especially jewelry. In fact, Zunis have been making jewelry for over one thousand years! Jewelry-making became an important source of income for the people. Zuni silversmiths are known for having perfected the art of lapidary, producing some of the finest inlay jewelry in the Southwest and leading the way for other tribes in the 20th century. Other styles made famous by Zuni artists are needlepoint and petitpoint, where tiny stones are set in intricate designs. Below we explore various expressions of Zuni art.
Fetishes: An Ancient Art
Zuni fetishes are an ancient art form of the Anasazi and Mogollon region where animals were carved from shell, turquoise, and other stones. Fetishes are part of Zuni spiritual tradition and believed to bring good health, abundant crops, successful hunting, and other blessings. Originally the fetishes were stones that naturally resembled an animal, and over time the carving became more intricate to bring the animal to life in the stone. This practice laid the foundation for Zunis to become exceptional lapidary artists. Read here for common Zuni fetish carvings and their meanings.
Metal working in Southwest tribes began with the arrival of the Spanish, as they took small copper bells and coins traded from Mexico and turned them into jewelry. Over time, Zuni artists developed stunning jewelry with clusters of small needlepoint and petitpoint hand-cut stones. Through their masterful jewelry making, Zunis led the way for other Southwest native jewelers.
Zuni artists soon became known as masters of lapidary inlay work as well. Many vintage Zuni jewelry depicted intricate inlay of important Southwest cultural symbols, such as Rainbow God, Knifewing God, Thunderbird, and Sunface.
Fine Zuni inlay work shows off in its beautiful depiction of animals and nature. Dennis Edaakie was a highly regarded Zuni artist who made jewelry inspired by wildlife, and today, Quintin Quam makes gorgeous animal inlay jewelry. Countless other talented Zuni artists have brought animals to life in their jewelry as well (including one of our favorites, Rolanda Haloo - whose inlaid bird jewelry always seems to sell out immediately!)
We adore Colin Coonsis' mosaic inlay work that is a contemporary take on traditional Zuni inlay. Says Colin: "I sustain the belief that people today are influenced by a progressive society, and even Native American artists must adapt to progression with an open mind. As I collect experience, my work becomes ever more intricate, and detailed. The tradition of Zuni art remains, and through my jewelry, the traditional ideals that have influenced Native American art for nearly a century are preserved through the collective influences that I have derived from my predecessors." We know Colin has a bright future ahead.