Handcrafted by Lita Atencio of Santo Domingo Pueblo, this heishi bead necklace is a bold and one-of-a-kind representation of an ancient art. Beautifully preserved branches of coral and small beads of turquoise are showcased in this single-strand necklace. Each branch has been hand-cut, ground, and polished by the artist.
It is a sophisticated piece that complements modern fashion while carrying on Santo Domingo's distinguished legacy of jewelry-making.
- Necklace handcrafted by Lita Atencio (Santo Domingo Pueblo)
- Branch coral
- Hook and eye closure
- Necklace measures 21-1/2” long x Graduated branches from 1/2" to 2” wide
- Comes with a signed Certificate of Authenticity
Handcrafted works of Native American art require special care. For more information about proper care and cleaning, please read our Care Guide.
Lita Atencio is an accomplished jeweler from Santo Domingo Pueblo, known for finely crafted traditional heishi and stone bead jewelry.
Native Americans of the Southwest were introduced to Mediterranean coral by the Spanish. For centuries, Native people had been fashioning beads from shells like spiny oyster, and the deep red Mediterranean coral quickly became a prized material. Santo Domingo Pueblo incorporated coral into heishi bead necklaces used for trade or adornment. Hopi, Zuni, and Navajo artists used the gem for ornament, and in necklaces worn in ceremonial dances. Coral was first set in silver in the late 19th century after the Navajo, Zuni, and Pueblo people learned silversmithing.
In the 1930s, traders encouraged its use by supplying it to Native artists, particularly the Zuni. Red is a sacred color for the Zuni, and they believe coral brings good luck and longevity to the wearer. Native Americans also consider the gem a sign of wealth and status because of its expense and rarity. Whether used alone or in combination with other valuable gems like turquoise, coral remains one of the iconic gemstones of Native American jewelry in the Southwest.
In Santo Domingo Pueblo, bead-making has been a central part of life for centuries. These beads are known as “heishi,” which means “shell” in the Santo Domingo language, Keres. Most heishi beads are rolled into smooth flat discs, but heishi can refer to any small beads that have been made by hand.
Heishi may be the oldest form of jewelry in New Mexico, and necklaces with similar bead styles have been found in the Ancestral Pueblo (formerly referred to as Anasazi) sites of Chaco Canyon and Mesa Verde.
The process is extremely labor intensive, and it can take up to two weeks to make a single strand of heishi beads. First, the shell or gemstone is sliced into strips, then clipped by hand into small squares. These unfinished beads are drilled and strung on a fine wire. Next, the artist turns the string of beads against a stone wheel to make them round, further shaping and smoothing with sandpaper. Finally, the beads are run against a leather belt to achieve a fine polish.
Today, fewer and fewer artists are creating their beads by hand, making true handcrafted heishi necklaces an extremely valuable piece for art and jewelry collectors.Read our Native American Jewelry Collector's Guide.
At Shumakolowa Native Arts, we guarantee that your purchase is an original and authentic work handcrafted by Native American artists as defined by the Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990. We ask our artists to complete an extensive certification process, and to provide a CIB (Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood) card and other documentation of their Native American heritage. Our team of experts carefully inspects every product to guarantee it is handcrafted using traditional, sustainable processes, and natural materials of only the highest quality. We record the place and date of each purchase and pride ourselves in paying a fair price that allows artists to make a living practicing their craft.
Every work of handcrafted art comes with a Certificate of Authenticity signed by an artist or buyer. At a time when many commercially made products are being sold as handcrafted Native American art, our in-depth purchase process allows us to guarantee the authenticity of every unique piece of fine art we offer. For more than 35 years, we have made it a priority to visit artists in their studio or home to purchase their latest handcrafted pieces and learn about their work. We have developed lasting relationships with artists, as well as dealers and collectors, and we take pride in being a trusted destination for fine Native American art.