Winter has gotten real here at Museum Bites, and in defiance of the subzero temperatures and deep snow, we’re going to sample some spring bling. So grab a warm brew and settle in as we wind the clock back to the late 1800s and the origins of the squash-blossom necklace.
Silver Navajo (Diné) Squash-Blossom Necklace (c1915) Art Institute of Chicago, Photo by cjverb (2019)
These bold and beautiful statement pieces were initially handcrafted from silver by Navajo (aka Diné) artisans. Worn by both men and women, the traditional design includes a weighty chain adorned with chil bitan and a nazhahi (aka naja). The chil bitan are elongated, starburst-tipped beads that are meant to resemble a flowering plant like a squash blossom or pomegranate. The nazhahi is the crescent-shaped pendant that lies at the center of the necklace. Its design was inspired by the silver crescents the Spanish used to decorate their horse bridles. This in turn, may have been inspired by crescent shaped-jewelry worn by Moors to protect against evil which they brought with them to Spain.
Left: Chil Bitan Close-Up, Navajo (Diné) Squash-Blossom Necklace (c1915) Art Institute of Chicago, Photo by cjverb (2019)
Top Right: Squash Blossom, Photo by Marc Pascual, Pixabay
Bottom Right: Young Pomegranate Fruit, Photo by Zichrini, Pixabay.
Nazhahi Close-Up, Navajo (Diné) Squash-Blossom Necklace (c1915) Art Institute of Chicago, Photo by cjverb (2019)
The squash blossom necklace featured here is on display at the Art Institute of Chicago. Take a closer look at the spiky chil bitan and the flower-tipped nazhahi. Notice how the nazhahi’s double crescents resemble two pairs of arms encircling one another in a hug. The ends of the outer crescent even look like hands. The entire ensemble is a gorgeous example of Navajo artistry.
Navajo Silversmith with Tools and Wares (1880), National Archives at College Park, Wikimedia Commons
The Navajo, are the second largest group of Native Americans in the United States. Between 1100-1500 CE, their ancestors migrated from Canada to the southwestern United States. In the 1860s to early 1870s, Navajo artisans learned how to craft silver from Mexican silversmiths. Initially, they melted down silver coins and ingots and poured the molten mixture into molds made of volcanic tuff. Navajo smiths crafted concho belts, horse headstalls, and a variety of jewelry, including their signature squash-blossom necklace.
Left: Silver Navajo (Diné) Concho Belt (c1880s) Art Institute of Chicago
Right: Silver Navajo (Diné) Horse Headstall (c1870s) Art Institute of Chicago
In 2011, the state of New Mexico named the Navajo squash-blossom their official state necklace. Click on this New Mexico Secretary of State: Squash-Blossom Necklace link, to learn more. If you’d like to view more stunning examples of these beautiful jewels, click on this Squash-Blossom Necklace link, courtesy of the Smithsonian Institute National Museum of the American Indian.
Fun Navajo Fact: Diné, the language spoken by the Navajo, is tonal and complex. During World War II, the US Marines recruited a select group of Navajo men to encode messages on military tactics in Diné. Their code proved unbreakable and their mission was a huge success.
Navajo Code Talkers (c1944) National Archives at College Park, Wikimedia Commons
Click on this Diné link, courtesy of Independent Lens, to learn more about the Navajo Code Talkers and their language.
That concludes our look at the squash-blossom necklace. I’ll be back next week with more Museum Quick Bites. In the meantime, be safe, be kind, and take care 🙂
Cover photo by Mlaranda, courtesy of Pixabay.