Hopi Jewelry (written by Pagosa Funky Trunk LLC-all rights reserved)


Hopis are known among Indian tribes as “the peaceful ones.” Hopi is short for “Hopituh Shi-nu
-
mu.” They, like their Indian counterparts, utilize tradtional symbols in their jewelry-making. In their
earlier days – before World War 11 – they were pretty much copycats of their neighbors, the Navajos.
The northeastern Arizona tribe began creating something of their own called the overlay technique in
silver with the help of a program started at the Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff in the late
1930s, according Skystone and Silver authors. It was designed to help them further their already
proficient silversmithing through design trial and error giving them access and help to trying out new
ideas and making a better living. With the war, those “who had hardly been off the reservation before
“found themselves in the great art centers of this country and of Europe and Asia.” By 1950, Skystone
and Silver authors say they had finessed the art they have been known for ever since then – their
overlay technique in jewelry-making.
This Hopi technique involves cutting out of sheet silver two “identicaly shaped pieces” In the
top piece - “the overlay,” the jeweler saws out his design, then joins the two pieces together. It is
“blackened with liver of sulphur” and polished so that the exposed bottom piece is the only darkened
piece which highlights the engraved design on the top piece. It is sometimes set with turquoise pieces.
Margaret Wright, author of Hopi Silver , says following the war, Hopi servicement received
more help with their silver-designing from the GI Bill.
She describes the Hopis overlayig as “visullay-oriented” with a “tremendous fund of designs –
all graphic” The Northern Arizona museum's collections of their jewelry, she says, focus on “those
items which tell the story of silversmithing – from the Hopi's mostly Navajo-copied jewelry pieces to
their own.
Historians say Hopis were, and still are, very traditional in their living. A lot of that is portrayed
on their silver jewelry pieces .Hopis were traditionally farmers “who created extensive irrigation
systems for watering,” states information from AAA Nativearts.com. Corn, a mainstay of their diet,

especially “piki – paper thin bread made from corn and ash” - was also their ceremonies' “dominant
food,” the site states. Garland's, another Indian Jewelry internet site, states that corn, as the Hopi's
ceremonial focal point, is a “symbol of life and well-being.” It is frequently depicted as carvings on
their jewelry. The Native arts site adds that “Hopi silver will have a petroglyph, a scene, or sacred
symbols etched in the (jewelrys') silver.” Other common themes on their overlay creations are
Kachinas, or Katsinas, their gods – over 300 of them. Two Hopi smiths tell of their own Hopi
creations. Duane Tawahongva, of the Hopi Coyote Clan, says designs on his jewelry include “prayer
feathers, clan symbols, corn maidens, water waves and rain clouds”. Likewise, Ramon Albert, Jr., of
Hotevilla, AZ, a smith who works in copper, brass and bronze, uses “Hopi culture” designs such as
“the bear, the spider, and antelope, mixed with pray feathers, kachinas, kokopelli and corn.”
Snakes from the infamous Hopi ceremonial snake dances are also focal points on bracelets,
necklace pendants, bola (or bolo) ties, and belt buckles. These snakes represent the rattlers that dancers
would catch and then dance with in their mouths. AAA Nativearts.com's research shows that “there is
usually an Antelope Priest in attendance...cometimes stroking the snakes with a feather helping....or
supporting their weight.” Later, the snakes apparently are loosed back into the wild “to carry the
prayers of the dancers.” The use of fetishes with traditional meanings, as with many other Native
American Tribes, are included in their jewelry-making repertoire.
The lizard is a common fetish replica as it is “greatly respected for his above- and below-world
connections.” Turquoise, in which they are often carved from, or represented in their parts, is believed
by the Hopi “to hold back floods,” common to Southwest deserts. (Americana Inidan Shows)
“Hopi jewelry is really undervalued and under-appreciated for the amount of work that goes
into it, says” Helen Wells, Arizona Indian studies and art specialist.
Every piece of jewelry made by the Hopis, as well as that of other Indian tribes, tells a story
about the artist himself, his ancestors, and the land they inhabited. Bracelets, necklaces, rings – most
their designs do not come from their own imaginations,, but have embody the very essence of their

ancestral Native American existence – a legacy given to them of a special kind of survival, a way of
surviving life in its every-day, mundaneness by assigning spiritual significance to the living things they
shared their land with. So, their jewelry pieces also share space with a living history, much of it
imagined.