Nick Rosetta

  • Jewelry Artist
  • Santo Domingo (Kewa)
  • Known for his exquisite handcrafted heishi bead and inlay work

Nick Rosetta and his wife, Me-Wee, live in Kewa Pueblo (pronounced “kay wa”), formerly known as Santo Domingo Pueblo, in northern New Mexico halfway between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Using all-natural materials and handmade processes, they collaborate to make gorgeous heishi (pronounce “hee shee”) necklaces. Nick learned the art from his parents Ray and Mary Rosetta, while Me-Wee learned from her grandfather Tomasito Tenorio. Though they use modern tools, the Rosettas continue to craft all of their stone, shell, and silver beads with laborious hand processes.

The heishi artform reaches back to prehistoric times, long before the arrival of the Spanish in Pueblo lands. In fact, Kewa stone and shell jewelry is believed by many archeologists to be the oldest form of jewelry in the Southwest. Age-old techniques were passed down within the Pueblo, but like any vital craft, heishi evolved over time. For instance, when the Spanish introduced silver to the region, most Southwestern Indian jewelry-makers added that material to their traditional prehistoric materials of stone and shell.

Nick’s parents played an important role in the evolution of heishi when they pioneered the art of “liquid silver.” He continues the tradition today by “hand drawing” the tiny silver beads that make up his liquid silver necklaces. In this process, narrow, flat silver strips are pulled by hand through progressively smaller holes in a draw plate until the edges curl around and meet, leaving a tiny hole in the center. Such handmade silver beads have a thin line, nearly impossible to see with the naked eye, where the two edges have come together.

Meanwhile, stone and shell beads are ground from rough materials on a grinding wheel. During this latter process, Nick sometimes closes his eyes and relies on the feel of the beads in his hand to get the desired size and consistency. Turquoise can be especially difficult to work. Normally, sixty to eighty percent of a natural turquoise stone is lost in the grinding process, and many varieties of shell and stone beads crack and fly off when the grinder catches a burr. After they are sculpted to perfection, Nick’s beads are strung on a fine wire to form the final necklace, sometimes of one kind of material, sometimes of many textures and colors.

As in prehistoric times, when Pueblo peoples obtained their materials by means of a vast trade network, the Rosettas obtain their materials from many different places. They acquire turquoise from Nevada and Arizona, serpentine from South Dakota, pipestone from Minnesota, as well as stones from Canada, Peru, and Australia. Nick does most of the lapidary work, cutting, grinding, sanding, and polishing beads for Me-Wee to string in stunningly imaginative ways.