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I started out in 1977 in the small town of Pena Blanca, just 3 miles north of Santo Domingo Pueblo. In the beginning, I sold supplies to them to make their jewelry. This included lapidary equipment, such as saw blades, drill bits, grinding wheels, etc. and also findings such as silver beads, hook & eyes, all the materials necessary to fabricate and finish their jewelry. I also carried the raw materials needed, such as shells, pipestone, jet and serpentine. Do to circumstances, I ended up trading supplies for finished jewelry. After a while, with lots of jewelry and no tourists to sell them to    ( I was way off the beaten tourist path), I learned about and then joined the Indian Arts and Crafts Association in 1984. This organization was started in 1974 by a group of traders and Native American artists (mostly from the Southwestern USA) to further the education and promotion of Native American Arts. They hold two wholesale shows a year.

    In 1997 I decided to semi-retire and now pull a trailer out to Santo Domingo Pueblo from Albuquerque two to four days a week. The trailer is outfitted like my retail shop with all the materials they need to make jewelry.

      I started this website in 2004, which has been changing and evolving ever since.

Store away from Home  This is a view of my shop (trailer) that goes to the village 2-4 days a week.
Back (Entrance ) of Trailer

    The Santo Domingo's have been making their style of jewelry for centuries. Little has changed in the process except for where once the used hand tools, now since electricity came to the village in the early 1950's, they used motorized ones.

     The process for making heishe (the Santo Domingo word for broken shell made into beads) is very tedious. They have to cut the material into thin squares. Then they drill a hole in each piece, string it on piano wire and then grind it down into beads. Once ground down the beads have to be sanded smooth and polished. During this process, more than half the material they started out with is lost, due to grinding and chipping. This is why wafer cut and small beads are so expensive. They waste even more material cutting the beads so thin. After all this the beads are strung on either waxed linen or a fine coated wire, then finished with silver beads, cones and hook and eyes. Traditionally, they'd only string the beads on linen thread which they would then tie behind their necks or if it was a heavier piece, they would do what is called a string wrap where multiple strands of string are wrapped with string.

Spiny Oyster Shell

On the left are some of the materials used to make the beads. The  photo to the left is of a spiny oyster shell. This shell comes from old Mexico near Baja area south of California. They have used this shell for ages. Trade routes between Mexico and the Southwest have been around for centuries.

 

 

 

Melo Shell

 

The shell on the left is a melo (melon) shell. It comes from either Indian or Australia. This shell was brought to the village by traders back in the 1960's and became very popular for it's color. If left exposed to the elements, it will turn white and has been used as a substitute for clam shell. In it's natural state it is a bright orange to cream color.

 

 

Various Shells

 

 The shells on the left are mostly native to old Mexico. In the background is Gold Lip Mother- of-Pearl. Left to right is a cameo shell (Italy), orange pecten, various olivas, spotted conus and Black Lip MOP.

 

 

 

Various StonesThe stones on the left are all native to the southwestern USA. Top left is jet from either Utah, New Mexico or Kentucky. Serpentine is to the top right. It comes in all shades of color from cream to pale green to a dark green that looks like jade. Turquoise is on the bottom left. All turquoise used by Santo Domingo's is stabilized . They have been stabilizing turquoise ever since they started using it. In the old days they used animal fats. Now turquoise dealers use polymers. The reason for this is that turquoise in it's natural state is very brittle and porous. Stabilizing makes it easier to cut and grind and also has the added benefit of locking in the color. If left natural, turquoise absorbs oils and acids from your skin which over time change it to a much darker hue. There are no dyes used in any of the turquoise on this site. The stone to the bottom right is pipestone. So named because it is traditionally used for making the bowls of pipes, "peace pipes". It's scientific name is catlanite.

I hope this information has helped you learn and understand the process of making beads at Santo Domingo Pueblo. Please feel free to ask more by email at susan@windmilltradingco.com .

A great demonstration into how Kewa(Santo Domingo) Pueblo artists make their jewelry  - Making Handmade Beads