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Vintage, Museum Quality Jewelry

Della closed the door quietly behind them and stepped into the clear cold night. Flanked by her husband and son with her apron bulging, she walked quickly. Even with the wool wrapped around her hair and face she could see her breath rising from her like the smoke from a fireplace with a closed flue.  This frigid winter made it easier to avoid scandal.  The sun had set long ago. No one would see her exchange with Wallace. No one would hear him recognize and praise her art and skill. She, a woman! They walked down hill and away from the adobe cluster of homes past hornos still warm from a day of baking.  She patted her pockets of silver and turquoise jewels wrapped in strips of flour sack. Then raising her eyes to Dowa Yalanne, the Sacred Mountain, looming powerfully against the dark South Eastern Sky, she gave thanks to the Great Spirit for her gift of creation.

This is my own fictionalized account of a very real person, DELLA CASA APPA, who is regarded as the very first Female Silversmith in the Zuni pueblo. While the above is my own imagination I would venture to guess that it’s not far from the truth. The research I’ve done was helpful but it is family that has taught me most of what I know about Zuni and her People. My Great Grandfather Max’s good friends and associates in Lupton were Zuni. My Paternal Grandfather, Armand Ortega Senior, spoke some Zuni and had good Zuni friends and colleagues.  My father, Armand Ortega Jr, (the owner of Ortega’s) worked in Zuni one summer and has Zuni Friends and Artists. It’s my mom’s relationship with Zuni, however, that helped me recognize and respect the beauty of Zuni culture. She GREW UP there! Besides taking us there often to participate in events like Shalako and watch the Rain Dances, her stories are almost all comprised of rich Zuni history. Her Dad, Kay Tinnin, spoke fluent Zuni, ran the Vanderwagen trading post, was gifted a burial plot in Zuni and was even the Grand Marshal of the Zuni Parade one year! 

Maternal Grandfather, Kay Tinnin, at Vanderwagen Trading Post in Zuni 1950s or 60s

Because of my family history I feel a particular fondness for Silversmiths like Della Casa Appa. Mrs. Casa Appa, by all accounts, was most likely the first woman silversmith in a time when being so was frowned upon. In the 1920s, in fact, at the beginning of her career, she would sell her jewelry under the protective cover of darkness to C.G. WALLACE. On the nights Wallace didn’t seek her out, she was more than likely accompanied by her husband who taught her the trade and other male family members to Wallace’s Trading Post. I EXCITEDLY begin this newsletter with her because I’m thrilled to announce that Ortega’s recently acquired a TREASURE TROVE of VINTAGE MUSEUM QUALITY SOUTHWESTERN JEWELRY most of it from PRIVATE COLLECTIONS, Including an ORIGINAL DELLA CASA APPA Squash Blossom from C.G. Wallace’s own PRIVATE COLLECTION.

TRUE TRADERS, like my father, grandfathers, great grandfathers, etc., knowing the value of exceptional pieces, kept many of the VERY BEST of their purchases for themselves to treasure. C.G. Wallace, who opened his first trading post in the 1920s was no exception. He, knowing and wanting to share the VALUE and BEAUTY of these treasures, eventually donated hundreds to Museums. He sold other pieces at a Sotheby’s Auction in November of 1975. Ortega’s is Blessed to have one of his CASA APPA necklaces! We present this MASTERPIECE for sale to the public. We are not sure if this piece was auctioned but we know that it was one of Wallace’s and that it fell into the hands of the famous trader JOE MILO. His trading post is still in between Gallup and Zuni. DELLA CASA APPA pieces are extremely rare finds. Although they appear in museums, finding them for sale is a challenge. This amazing NECKLACE is from the 1930s and features PETIT-POINT turquoise in Appa’s famous cluster pattern. As in older pieces like this, you can see that the turquoise has intensified with age.

The SQUASH BLOSSOM NECKLACE itself has long been considered the CROWN JEWEL of NATIVE Silversmithing. Similar to the classic string of pearls, the Squash Blossom has been a timeless and fashionable piece for over a century. Both of my grandmothers and my mother owned at least one. Unlike pearls, however, the squash itself requires, hours, days and even weeks of INTENSIVE ARTISTIC LABOR to reach perfection. Likewise, squashes come in a variety of styles and stones. All the Vintage Squash Blossom Necklaces we have to offer in this Collection include HANDMADE BEADS. They range in STYLE from PETIT-POINT, CHANNEL INLAY, MODERN INLAY, OLD STYLE BOX and BOW to NEEDLEPOINT.  
This CHANNEL INLAY SQUASH BLOSSOM NECKLACE by FRANK DISHTA was made circa 1950’s. Frank Distha was one of the first Zuni silversmiths to work with C.G. Wallace and the first to do Channel Inlay in this Old Style. His pieces are highly regarded and hard to find. They are easily distinguished by the use of small smooth CIRCULAR and TEARDROP pieces. The necklace itself is 24 inches long. A similar Distha piece to this one is shown in Schaaf’s book American Indian Jewelry Volume II.  Below is a picture of the squash we have for Sale and a Picture of my Paternal Grandmother wearing a squash that resembles a Dishta. (It’s too grainy to be sure)
Another SPECTACULAR ZUNI PIECE we have in our recent vintage collection is of ZUNI PETIT-POINT TURQUOISE. Zuni PETIT-POINT is the use of thin or small turquoise stones: circular, oval or teardrop. CREATING with petit or needlepoint turquoise is an extremely time consuming art. (Needlepoint is thin turquoise pieces pointed on both ends) Each tiny piece must be carefully cut, placed, and then meticulously set in each bezel.  Dorothy Tinnin my maternal Grandmother was, like many of her friends, particularly fond of Petit and Needlepoint Turquoise Jewelry as seen in the picture below.
OUR NEW PIECE is an ELEGANT AND FANCY Petit-Point BLUE GEM TURQUOISE SQUASH of a VERY RARE DESIGN from the 1940s. These days Blue Gem itself is getting pretty rare but for many years it was supplied to C.G. Wallace and Zuni artists by Lee Hand. The maker of this piece is unidentified but I’m diligently working to uncover this mystery. The trader I purchased it from who has been in business for about 50 years told me in all his years he’d only seen one other like it! I have NEVER seen another like it! CONSEQUENTLY, I HAD TO BUY IT!! This particular necklace was originally purchased many decades ago in Santa Fe by a Texan family and later sold. It seems it has come full circle and good thing too. Look how amazing!!!!
The last two Squashes that I wish to draw your attention to were made in the 1920s and 1930s. The first is a FORERUNNER to the FRED HARVERY ERA BOX and BOW SQUASH. The Box and Bow squash usually has a box from which extend bows and blossoms. This piece, however, has no defined box around its stone and its bow is rounded. The sterling silver blossom petals. are small and while appearing more delicate and more natural than other box and bow squashes are actually of a thicker gauge and, therefore, STURDIER.
This last SQUASH is UNMATCHED!!!!! It is actually a 1930s SET! It includes an INLAY SQUASH with matching earrings by the renowned artist TEDDY WEAHKEE. Like many others, he sold his jewelry to C.G. Wallace. WEAHKEE was an extremely talented and generous man. He was a master of many skills. He was governor of Zuni at one time, fought in World War II, was a painter, a carver, a husband and a father.   Teddy having worked as an archeologist on ancestral pueblo sites was much inspired by artifacts he saw there. His jewelry illustrates this. I’ve heard also that the entire Weahkee family are extremely kind and generous and that those virtues are felt in the wearing of their pieces.

This is a rare beauty!!! I have been unable to track down any like it. Although I have seen smaller Weahkee pieces and inlay pot cufflinks, I have seen no pot inlay necklaces. Along with the handmade sterling silver beads, This piece features meticulously placed Onyx, Spiny Oyster, Turquoise, Mother of Pearl. This set is so spectacular and RARE!

Squashes, however, aren’t the only new treasures we have! We also acquired EXCEPTIONAL Vintage BRACELETS and RINGS. All of them are detailed online in OUR VINTAGE COLLECTION. Below I will briefly describe a few.

First, Zuni CEREMONIAL RINGS!!! These beauties were created for the Artists’ Families and friends to wear during important Ceremonies. As FATE would have it, however, these two were sold or pawned and eventually fell into the hands of private traders. This first ring is a One-of-a-Kind PETIT-POINT made by married couple MARY and LEE WEEBOTHEE. The Weebothees were a powerfully ingenious couple! By collaborating they were able to create ornate and beautiful Zuni Jewelry for many years. They knew both my grandfathers. We continue to remain good friends with the Weebothee family today. This beauty features vibrant MEDITERRANEAN CORAL and SLEEPING BEAUTY TURQUOISE. The design on this ring is particularly noteworthy because such rings typically feature turquoise surrounding the coral.
The second CEREMONIAL Ring is a Sleeping Beauty BEAUTY!! Made by DORIS ONDELACY in the last part of 1940’s or early 1950s. Doris and her husband Warren were also highly regarded artists. They developed a distinct Zuni Cluster Turquoise Style. C.G. Wallace sold and collected many of their pieces. Their stones are precisely cut and beautifully placed.
But the Ondelacys also created even more SPECTACULAR PIECES. Made in the 1950s the cuff below is adorned with 81 VIBRANT #8 SPIDERWEB TURQUOISE STONES. Every Single Stone in this  Cuff is Incredible!! This Beauty was probably commissioned for a Private Collection in the 1950s. Pieces like this were kept in Wallace’s own private collection for many years. Just imagining the time they dedicated to design, cut and place each stone is awe inspiring!
I began this Newsletter with one WOMAN SILVERSMITH and will close with another and her SHOW STOPPER, A STUNNING MARY KALLESTEWA SUN MAIDEN CUFF!!!! Mary Kallestewa was one of C.G. Wallace’s and Zuni’s greatest silversmiths! Many of her pieces are and have been showcased in museums throughout the WORLD. This Unique CHANNEL INLAY CUFF, created in the 1950’s, features Onyx, Mother of Pearl, Spiny Oyster, Coral and Turquoise. It is also adorned with thickly twisted silver. Cuff’s of this caliber, especially made by Kallestewa, are very difficult to obtain. Treasures, like these, in fact, are more than often saved by true collectors and traders. Usually, her necklaces and pins are easier to come across.  We are thrilled to offer THIS ABSOLUTELY ENCHANTING CUFF for sale!!!
There is much more to see online and more detailed descriptions of pieces that were originally parts of private collections. These include: Lambert Homer Sr. necklaces and bracelets, as well as other amazing cuffs, earrings and even a rare vintage HOPI jewelry box. Please Visit Our Website, www.ortegasontheplaza.com, and follow us on Instagram and Facebook to SEE More and to receive our Special 10% Discount on all of THESE LOVELY MUSEUM CALIBER VINTAGE Items. In the meantime, I am giving thanks for being able to witness and share such amazing skill and timeless beauty with you all.

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