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Beads were and still are like “staples” for people of the Native American culture. Native American Indian beads are carved from shells, turquoise, coral, copper, silver, amber, ivory, wood, and you might not have ever guessed, even animal parts. Well, I for one do not want to wear beads made from animal parts, yet, for some people from a Native American culture, this could be as normal as apple pie for me.
When I think of Native American jewelry I always see “turquoise” as their main bead choices, yet turquoise is surely not the only type of beads used by Native American cultures to create jewelry. Glass beads from Europe became part of their stashes of jewelry making supplies when the Europeans brought them over from Europe. Today, we will probably see more of the glass beads in Native American jewelry pieces along with turquoise and other materials.
Bead work patterns among Native American tribes of people varies. For example, the woodland tribes are known for their floral patterns and the province tribes of the Great Plains area are known for their geometric designs. And of course there are some cross overs in designs as the woodland tribes designed flora patterns in jewelry resembling their native forests. They also sometimes incorporated geometric designs in the borders of their jewelry. We can find crossovers in jewelry designs among the plains Indian tribes who sometimes added a bit of floral pattern to their geometric designs.
Imagine beads being carved out of shells! Even in non-coastal areas many Native Americans were very skilled at creating beads from shells.
Ancient Native American women were primarily the beading artisans of their tribes of people. They had special positions for women trained by a master beader in which these women would create beautiful pieces of clothing, accessories and ceremonial artifacts. I suppose these were the real bead artists among them.
Native American tribes in Southwestern United States still use the heishii technique for creating beads. Heishii beads are made from shells, turqouoise and other semi-precious stones. This technique involves first breaking the raw material into smaller pieces. A small hole is made through each piece with a hand-pump drill. The heishi beads are strung onto a sturdy cord. Once the stringing process is complete the string of beads are rolled back and forth on a piece of fine sandstone. The sanding down process of the beads creates beads all the same size with smooth edges.
Heishii beads necklaces are commonly made of many strands sometimes with just one type of bead or sometimes with many types. Turquoise beads combined with shell beads are the most common materials used to create heishii bead jewelry.
Flat pieces of turquoise or shells were carved into animals or other figures, strung onto strings with heishii beads and used to tell stories to children.
Native American people who had beads were generally seen as fairly prosperous people to have enough money to afford the beads and time to make jewelry. Beads were somewhat of a status symbol among them and a much cherished tradition that goes back thousands of years within the Native American Indians.
Written by: Connie Limon, Bead Jewelry Artisan
Rhea is a pair of dangle earrings I added to Carmilita’s Victorian Dangle Earrings Collection. She dangles about one inch from the hook. She is appropriate for anytime wear, but may be especially appropriate for Christmas and/or New Year’s Holiday Celebrations, or as a Christmas Gift.
2 Gold Plated Leverback Earring Hooks
6 Gold Plated Fancy Bead Caps
4 Gold Czech Glass Pearl Beads 6 mm
2 Gold Plated Head Pins
2 Red and Gold Lampwork Beads 12 mm
Rhea’s Price $15 (includes shipping charges)
See other selections of bead jewelry at: Carmilita’s Earrings