The Squash Blossom Necklace
Origins and History
Rarely has a single style of jewelry captured so much of the vibrance and the history of the southwest (as well as the hearts of its wearers) as well as the beloved squash blossom necklace.
The origins of this uniquely southwestern style are as fascinating and diverse as the southwest itself, and can be attributed to the intermingling of cultures in the area during the 1860s and 1870s. Navajo artisans learned silversmithing from Hispanic artists in New Mexico, as well as Plains Indians craftsmen. The creativity and innovation of those early Navajo silversmiths soon lent itself to many forms and styles of jewelry - one of which was the squash blossom necklace.
Originally, artists melted down Mexican pesos, US dollars, and any other type of silver they could find to create their works of art. By the 1890s, turquoise was a common addition to these pieces as well. As the style spread to many of the tribes in the area in the late 19th century, the Zuni craftspeople added their unique flair: the familiar turquoise inlay patterns we see today.
Form And Features
Although today squash blossom necklaces include much variation that is limited only by the imaginations of their designers, the pieces each follow the same basic form: an inverted crescent, or Naja, centerpiece, surrounded on each side by an average of 6 smaller flower pieces.
Other than this basic design, innovative artisans are known to integrate a wide variety of styles, stones, and sizes in each piece. Tribal variations are also common: Zuni and Hopi artisans tending to substitute different designs so the squash blossom itself is all but unrecognizable.
Meaning And Tradition
The Naja symbol - the impressive centerpiece of the squash blossom design - is said to have originated in the Middle East, where the Moors brought horse shoe shaped jewelry with them as a ward against the evil eye into Spain. From here, the Spanish conquistadors brought the symbol to the Navajo, who adopted it.
And as a food and as a symbol - the importance of squash to the Native Americans of the Southwest cannot be understated. As such, squash is also a clan symbol in some Native American cultures, such as the Squash Clans of the Navajo (whose Squash Clan is named Naayízí Dine'é) and the Hopi (whose Squash Clan is called Paatangngyam,) the Calabasah Clans of the Pueblo tribes, and the Gourd Clans of the Kiowa and Osage.
Owning A Squash Blossom Necklace Today
All at once, squash blossoms necklaces are an investment in fine art, a piece of American history, and a talisman full of meaning and purpose. For many Native American jewelry collectors, a southwestern wardrobe is incomplete without a squash blossom necklace. Although they are extremely beautiful, their beauty goes beyond simple aesthetics to hold something of the refined glimmer and history of the Southwest itself.
American Indian Health and Diet Project: https://aihd.ku.edu/foods/squash.html
The Art Institute of Chicago: https://www.artic.edu/artworks/207968/squash-blossom-necklace
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