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After the Zuni: fetish necklaces.

By studying the art of other cultures, we can gain valuable insights. Each culture expresses itself through its art. In the case of the Zuni Indians, art depicts a way of life.

The Zuni Indians of New Mexico have been making fetishes and fetish jewelry since aboriginal times. To the Zuni, a fetish is a carving which has the form of an animal. This carving embodies the spirit of the animal, giving the fetish a sacred power. The fetishes play an integral part in ceremonies, hunting and other daily activities of life.

To understand the mystery of the fetish, one must understand the Zuni Indians and their way of life. But to appreciate the form and image of the fetish, one needs only to see some of the fetish carvings and intricate fetish necklaces, to be drawn in as an enchanted observer.

It was from this point, as observers, that my sixth grade class and I began to study the Zuni and appreciate their excellent jewelry making. Because carving fetishes would have encompassed far more skill and time than we had at our disposal, we decided to make fetishes out of clay. We used cone 6 porcelain (China clay) for its beauty, durability and hardness.

After viewing and discussing slides of Zuni jewelry, every sixth grader was given clay and tools (wooden meat skewers from the grocery store, wooden clay tools, and stamps made from bisque clay). The students then began to create clay fetishes. They drilled holes in each piece with the skewers so that later they could be incorporated into a neckpiece. They also formed and drilled clay beads. All beads and fetishes were kiln fired.

Because the Zunis frequently used heshe, turquoise and silver, we wanted to include these materials in our jewelry, too. Heshe, small shell beads, were affordable. But turquoise and silver were too expensive for our budget, so we used turquoise-colored glass and seed beads, and silver plated beads. Stringline, a stainless steel cord coated with plastic, was used to string the beads (called "tiger tail"). Stringline is very strong and easy to tie. A strong fishing line would also work very well.

I asked the students to organize their designs by making them symmetrical. This meant each design was started in the center. Two pieces of stringline were threaded through the centerpiece of the necklace. Beads and fetishes were then strong onto each side of the necklace. Because two lines were used, they could be separated to make two strands of beads, or pulled together through a series of beads. This allowed the students to create intricately patterned designs. After all fetishes and beads were strung, each necklace was tied together with a square knot, making sure it fit over the head of its designer.

The finished pieces were a delight to all. We discussed the jewelry as pieces of functional sculpture. Each student was proud to wear his or her own creation. The students we're exposed to a mysterious part of an intricate culture, while they incorporated image, form, imagination and skill in the making of jewelry.

Kathleen Schonauer teaches elementary art in Bridgeview, Illinois.
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Title Annotation:studying the Zuni Indians' art of jewelry-making
Author:Schonauer, Kathleen
Publication:School Arts
Date:Apr 1, 1991
Previous Article:Fantastically creative insects.
Next Article:Sculpture: Technique, Form, Content.

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