• The Zuni People (A:shiwi) have lived in the Southwest for millennia, sustaining themselves primarily by farming.

    Traditional Zuni life is oriented in a matrilineal clan system. The Zunis are known worldwide for their fine jewelry and animal fetishes. The largest of the 19 Pueblos, Zuni Pueblo is located 35 miles south of Gallup, New Mexico. The Zuni occupy an area about the size of Rhode Island, although most of the population (est.12,000) is concentrated in the village of Zuni.

    In 1848, the U.S. Government assumed control over all the SW territory, appropriated Zunis’ aboriginal territories and shrank their homeland to a small fraction of its original size. According to the Zuni Creation Story, at the beginning of time the Ancestors emerged into this Fourth World from a location in the Grand Canyon and eventually found their way to Zuni, to Halonna:wa, the Middle Place.

  • This area of the country was inhabited more than a thousand years ago by people called the Anasazi. The Zunis are direct descendants of these ancient people. While related to other pueblo tribes, they are unique in many ways.

    The Zuni language, (Shiwi’ma), is unique and bears no similarity to any known language. According to the many linguists who have studied it, the Zuni language emerged about 7,000 years ago and has been maintained with very little change. It continues as the principal language of the Zuni Pueblo and is spoken by a significant number of tribal members.

  • Only four tribes are renowned for working in silver and tuquoise: Santo Domingo (Kewa), Hopi, Navajo and Zuni.

    The Zunis are known for using natural turquoise from the Sleeping Beauty Mine with sterling silver.

    What one sees in Zuni jewelry are tiny pieces of stone, held together with very

  • little metal. It is not far-fetched to see this as a metaphor for Zuni society where the members are held tightly together with minimal restraint and where each member depends on every other member to hold his or her position to make the whole work.  ”Zuni, A Village of Silversmiths" James Ostler, Marian Rodee, and Milford Nahohai

  • The Zunis are renowned for a particular type of stonework called inlay. The stones are worked meticulously and then arranged to fit together, stone-to-stone, or with silver in between, which is known as channel inlay.

    The Zunis do not cast the silver. Each piece is carefully fabricated. Most materials used for Zuni fetishes and in jewelry are not indigenous to Zuni Pueblo.

  • The predominant colors and stones used in traditional Zuni inlay are turquoise, red coral, black jet and white mother of pearl. Symbolically, red represents Mother Earth and turquoise Father Sky. Other materials that may be used in Zuni jewelry are pink coral, abalone, green snail shell, orange or purple spiny oyster, melon shell, and fossilized ivory.

  • The Zuni are known for their intricate stonework and rarely create plain silver jewelry. The most traditional Zuni style of jewelry is called Petit point. It is identified by tiny turquoise stones supported in individual bezels, or metal. This extremely time-consuming work results in a creation that is intricate and delicate inappearance. Petit point can take various forms and are sometimes referred to accordingly: needlepoint (long narrow pointed oblong stones), snake-eye (clusters of round stones). 

  • Authentic collectible fetish necklaces are, and always have been, made by the Zuni People.
    While many necklaces are represented as authentic Zuni, most are not. Determining authenticity requires expert knowledge of the carver fetishes, materials, and price, specifically: Fetishes can be identified and traced to the original carving families in Zuni Pueblo.

    Perhaps twenty carvers make fetish necklaces in Zuni today. These artists can be referenced in books on Zuni carvers. — Heishe (fine shell or stone beads separating the fetishes) is hand made and is usually from Kewa Pueblo. A necklace with no heishe between the fetishes, is called a “stacked necklace” and may not be Zuni.

  • An authentic collectible Zuni fetish necklace will have a price ranging from $300 to $3000 per strand and will rarely be discounted. With so few genuine Zuni fetish necklace makers the selection is limited and in time, the value of a collectible authentic Zuni fetish necklace will appreciate. The market is flooded with Navajo and other copies, domestic and foreign.

    A necklace with the bottom centerpiece in the form of a wingspread eagle is probably a fake. Carvings of armadillos or katsina-like figures on a necklace usually indicate it is not authentic. Zuni fetish necklaces rarely consist of more than three strands and matching earrings are rare.

  • A:ho’ a:ya:na “They will become like a finished person.”

    “When I am ready to fire my pots, I prepare food and cornmeal and then prepare the manure pile and gather kindling to start the fire. After I put the pots on the fire, I give the food offering. If you have an empty heart, then your pots will break. If the pot was meant to come out as a “person” and take care of us, then that’s the way the pottery will come out. Long ago before pots were made for selling we took care of them and they took care of us.” Josephine Nahohai

    Zuni pottery is not self-conscious. It is sustained by the pride of its craftsmen. The beauty that we see in contemporary Zuni pottery is inspired by Zuni elders. The shapes, boldness, strength of the designs and sophistication of their composition are timeless and continue to honor the A:shiwi potting tradition. James Ostler “Dialogues with Zuni Potters” Milford Nahohai/Elisa Phillips

    The tradition of Zuni pottery-making is a rich one, having been practiced for more than a thousand years to produce both functional and ceremonial vessels. By the middle of the last century, however, this art form was fairly dormant, having given way to jewelry-making, the main support of the Zuni economy. Over the last fifty years, pottery-making has been revived through ceramics classes at Zuni High School and some dedicated and gifted instructors such as Daisy Hooee Nampeyo, Jenny Laate and Josephine Nahohai.

  • In the mid-1980s, the Zuni Tribal Arts and Crafts Enterprise sent six Zuni potters to the Smithsonian to study older Zuni pottery. They found inspiration in viewing the old anew. Traditional Zuni designs include water symbols such as tadpoles, frogs, dragonflies, and the Zuni “rain bird,” as well as flower rosettes and deer with heart lines. Traditional forms include the stepped-edge cornmeal bowl (also known as cloud or prayer bowls), bird effigies, and vessels in such forms. Sculptural appliqué is a common feature in traditional and contemporary work.

    Today, we find the next generations of Zuni potters actively combining traditional and contemporary design and process. Many, such as the Kalestewas, Peynestsa and Nahohai family members still dig their own clay and gather organic materials to create natural paints. Some elect to minimize mishaps by using an electric kiln rather than outdoor pit-firing. Others, such as young multi-dimensional artist Alan Lasiloo, experiment with such variables as firing techniques and clay types to produce a unique appearance.

    No matter where these artists place themselves in the evolving tradition of Zuni pottery-making, or how many awards they may receive, they all consider it the greatest honor to be asked by a religious entity to make a ceremonial piece, and they are glad to see their pots carried on the heads of the famous Zuni Olla Maidens. Southwestern Pottery, by Allan Hayes and John Blom. Southwestern Indian Pottery, by Bruce Hucko, A Guide to Pueblo Pottery, by Susan Lamb.