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Early Squash Blossom Necklace
Early Squash Blossoom Necklace
The Squash Blossom Necklace has been interpreted by many artists and has taken many forms over the centuries, but typically features round silver beads, interspersed with beads that have a flared side like that of a blooming flower, with a single centered horseshoe-shaped pendant called a Naja. The variations on this template are limitless, however, and are only constrained by the imagination of an artist.
It is believed that the Navajo (or Diné) people were the first to adopt the Squash Blossom Necklace design, sometime in the late 1870s. Soon thereafter, however, most neighboring Southwest tribes had incorporated the necklace into their jewelry designs as well. Today, the Squash Blossom is an art form made by many Native and non-Native artists throughout the Southwest and beyond.
While the Native people of the Southwest had long histories of jewelry making and personal adornment, it wasn’t until contact with the Spanish that they began to incorporate metals into their work. The Navajo were certainly among the first to work with metals, perhaps initially capturing or trading for simple iron adornments from Spanish soldiers as well as their horse bridles and saddles. These ornaments soon made their way onto necklaces that graced the necks of the local populace.
As the Navajo began to learn the art of silversmithing in the late 1800s (a craft also attributed to continued contact with the Spanish and Spanish Mexicans), these metal adornments were probably recreated in silver form and strung together with beads formed from silver coins to form a proper necklace. As with many native cultures, wealth was often worn in the form of adornment, and in many early photographs of the Navajo and other Southwestern Native peoples, it is clear that Squash Blossom Necklaces were worn with pride and reverence for their beauty and inherent value.
Most agree that the term “Squash Blossom” refers to the unique, integral flared beads that line a Squash Blossom necklace. These beads do, in fact, resemble the blossom of a flowering squash plant - and to further support this interpretation, squash was one of the primary crops (along with beans and corn) that sustained the Native people of the Southwest, and is referred to as one of the four sacred plants of the Navajo. Seems like a simple answer, right? Maybe, but digging deeper into the history of the Southwest and the passage of symbols across cultures, the answer may be even more interesting than that.
The squash blossom bead bears an even more striking resemblance to the pomegranate fruit, the image of which has been a recurring motif in art and literature for more than 2000 years. Originally cultivated in the Middle East, the pomegranate spread east to China and west to Africa, and eventually proliferated in southern Spain. In fact, the city of Granada in Spain’s Andalusia region was named after the revered fruit, which symbolized many things including royalty due to its crown-like shape as well as fertility, birth, and eternal life, due to its abundance of seeds.
In colonial times, the Spanish brought the plant and its symbology with them to the New World, and the iconography decorated their missions as well as their personal adornments and horse gear. Given the knowledge that the Navajo assimilated these ornaments into their jewelry, we can assume that the “squash blossom” bead is actually the descendant of thousands of years of Eurasian symbology, and perhaps was only given the name “squash blossom” in the early 20th Century when marketing the necklace to the tourists traveling the Southwest via train.
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