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Santo Domingo Pueblo and its Jewelry

Santo Domingo Pueblo is located in Sandoval County, New Mexico, about 25 miles (40 km) south of Santa Fe. In the last US Census, the population was 2,550. Most of the residents of the Pueblo are Native Americans who speak a dialect of the Keresan Language.

One of the largest, most populous and most prosperous of the Rio Grande Pueblos, Santo Domingo is located near the located near the original Cerrillos turquoise mines, and the people have a distinguished history of jewelry making. Many collectors around the world prize the jewelry of Santo Domingo for its clean, modern look. In truth, the jewelry produced at Santo Domingo today is very similar to that produced in the Anasazi Pueblos a thousand years ago. The Santo Domingos are very well known for there bead jewelry and especially turquoise bead jewelry. Authentic Santo Domingo Bead Jewelry is highly coveted.

According to material about Santo Domingo in a display at the American Museum of Natural History, the pueblo "... is admired for clinging strongly to its traditions. Its pride, conservatism, and relatively large size, have produced a solid core (of traditionalists) committed to maintaining (the old) ceremonies and beliefs." They are admired for their traditional bead jewelry and turquoise bead jewelry. Santo Domingo Beads are highly revered and made in the traditional ways of the Anasazi.

Santo Domingo Pueblo is named for St. Dominic, and the village celebrates an annual feast day on August 4th of each year to honor him. On that day, more than 2,000 residents of the Pueblo and of other pueblos participate in traditional corn dances. Visitors are welcome to visit at all times to learn about traditional pueblo life. There is a museum and cultural center there with a good deal of historical information and displays.

About Santo Domingo Jewelry

Santo Domingo today is the leading producer of the sliced handmade flat circular beads known as heishi. Some heishi necklaces contain over 10,000 beads so finely cut they look like strands of hair. Other than Santo Domingo beads, its artists are also famous for inlaid pieces, often featuring turquoise on shell bases, and for slab jewelry of both genuine and chalk (reconstituted) gemstone, mainly turquoise tab earrings. As discussed above, much of the Santo Domingo jewelry made today is very similar to Anasazi jewelry found in digs at Chaco Canyon and Mesa Verde. Some of the jewelry found in these digs is more than a thousand years old. If you are in the west you will surely see Santo Domingo Jewelry and especially Santo Domingo Beads in all the major galleries. Santo Domingo Jewelry is famous for its hand-rolled turquoise heishi beads. The Santo Domingo Beads are very fine, some of the best heishi on the market. Almost everyone loves Santo Domingo Jewelry and the Santo Domingo Bead Jewelry is very easy to wear everyday.

Santo Domingo Heishi

The word "Heishi", is from the Keresan word meaning "shell," and traditionally referred to shell beads. Today, however, it describes tiny, flat handmade beads of any material. In ancient necklaces made by Anasazi, a necklace might contain thousands of beads. In the old days, each bead began its life as a rough shell fragment, which was drilled with a cactus needle and sanded with hundreds of other fragments on a foot-powered stone wheel. Modern innovations include power tools and large beads featuring inlaid patterns of other stones. Many other tribes, especially the Zuni, purchase Santo Domingo Heishi and incorporate it into their own work. When you take this into account there is a lot of jewelry out there that is at least partly Santo Domingo Jewelry.

Figure 2. A Modern Shell Heishi Necklace

White Shell Santo Domingo Bead Necklace


Figure 3. An Older (1950s) Natural Turquoise Jacla Necklace

Santa Domingo Necklace turquoise beads


Mosaic Inlay

Shell mosaic is a trademark style of Santo Domingo jewelry, drawing on a tradition dating back many centuries. Many modern Pueblo artists consciously style their inlaid jewelry after styles and patterns unearthed by archaeological research, found in rock art or on display in museums.

The necklace shown in Figure 4 is an old inlaid shell combined with modern beads by a Santo Domingo artisan.

Figure 4. Old Shell Inlay Work

Santo Domingo Inlay Neklace


Figure 5 illustrates a more modern version of the shell mosaic technique.

Figure 5. A Modern Santo Domingo Shell Inlay Necklace

Santo Domingo Inlay Shell Necklace

Not all Santo Domingo inlay is based on ancient traditions. Modern inlay artists break from the past by using nontraditional colors such as green and purple, materials such as plastic and imagery such the U.S. flag.

"Depression" Necklaces

"Depression" Necklaces originated in the 1930s, but were sold well into the 1960s. I used to buy one every year at the Pow Wow in my home town of Flagstaff, Arizona. These necklaces were made of found materials and were the first jewelery items for which the Santo Domingo Pueblo became well-known. In the illustration below, the red typically came from red plastic dinnerware or Dairy Queen spoons. Plastic from car batteries or old records was used for the backing. These necklaces used to be sold by the roadside for a dollar or two. They are now quite expensive, and one in pristine condition can go for well over a thousand dollars.

Figure 7. A Genuine Santo Domingo "Depression" Necklace

Santo Domingo Depression Necklace

Slab Necklaces

Slab necklaces are cut from slabs of gemstone and are a fairly recent addition to the Santo Domingo creative repertoire. These necklaces could not have been made without modern technology because they require large slabes of gemstone that must be stabilized for strength.

Figure 7. Santo Domingo Stabilized Kingman Turquoise Slab Necklace

Santo Domingo Kingman Turquoise Bead Necklace


Genuine Santo Domingo Fetish Necklaces

For religious reasons, the Santo Domingo people do not carve detailed models of living things for their jewelry. Their fetish carving is mostly limited to stylized birds, as shown in Figure 8.

Figure 8. Genuine Santo Domingo Bird Fetish Necklace

Santo Domingo Fetish Necklace


Fake Santo Domingo Fetish Necklaces

Recently, on eBay and other online venues, there has been a proliferation of fetish necklaces advertised as "Santo Domingo Fetish Necklaces", some for quite high prices. Most of them are imported from the Philippines, and most fall into one of two categories: Stack necklaces with various centerpieces and thunderbird necklaces strung with pin shell beads and various animals. When shopping for fetish jewelry, it's good to remember that these necklaces have little or no value. Two examples are shown below.

Figure 9. Fake Santo Domingo Stack Fetish Necklace

Santo Domingo Turquoise Nugget Necklace


Figure 10. Fake Santo Domingo Thunderbird Fetish Necklace

Fake Santo Domingo Thunderbird Necklace

More Santo Domingo History


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