September 2010 Artifact of the Month

Kachina Figure Bolo

ca 1978

Zuni Pueblo

1990.40.22

Materials: Silver, turquoise, gold, coral

Bolo Tie

The oldest mine of any kind on the North American continent, the Cerrillos turquoise mine just south of Santa Fe, New Mexico, dates back at least 2,000 years. Ancestral Puebloans dug deep into the stony ground using antlers and stones to bring up the precious turquoise. In many cultures, turquoise is sacred, taking its color from the sky, and symbolizes the supreme, life-giving and healing power of the Creator.

Originally, turquoise was carved by the Zuni into beads or animal fetishes or overlaid onto wood, bone or shell using adhesives such as beeswax or pinion pine pitch. The Spanish introduced silver mining, smelting and smithing technology into the Southwest in the 16th century. In 1872, the art of silver-smithing was introduced to the Zunis by a Navajo silversmith named Atsidi Chon. Initially, the Zuni imitated the Navajo style, but gradually a lighter framework of silver, mounted with delicately cut stones emerged.

This contemporary kachina bolo tie is an example of both masterful metalwork and lapidary skills. While the body of the kachina was created from silver, the intricate wings are gold. This combination of gold and silver is not commonly found in Southwestern jewelry; however, modern-day Native artists are using it more often. Additionally, the turquoise stones that are in the piece are Kingman Turquoise. The terms "Kingman" or "high blue" refer to the blue color usually displayed in this stone. It has become a color standard in the industry. The Kingman mine in northwestern Arizona became famous for its rounded, bright blue nuggets with black matrix. Few turquoise mines produced nuggets, especially of this quality. Old natural Kingman Turquoise is rare.

Kachinas are sometimes difficult to identify because different pueblos have varying ideas about their appearance and meaning.  Although the artist never identified which kachina is represented in this bolo tie, it could possibly be Kwahi, the eagle kachina.  

Our bolo is impressive in detail, materials and size. At 7 inches tall and 3 inches wide, he wears a squash blossom necklace, a silver kilt and sash, a wonderful turquoise tablet (head piece) and moccasins. The basic shape of each piece of turquoise in these elements is repeated throughout, creating a beautifully balanced specimen ending gracefully with turquoise drops at the end of the braided leather lanyard.