“Hózhó,” a Navajo word that doesn’t have one meaning in particular, but has been used to describe the fundamental philosophy behind Navajo and Diné belief. People that are familiar with Native American culture might be aware of how artists within the community take their material from the Earth, clay for pottery, wood for Kachina dolls, and turquoise for jewelry. These pieces are often imbued with beliefs that have stood for centuries.
No piece is more iconic than turquoise. When people think of Native American jewelry, their minds drift to the smooth surface of a turquoise necklace or bracelet set into sterling silver.
If Native art is centered on belief and their connection to nature, where then does turquoise tie into that concept? Yes, turquoise is formed in mines and made naturally by the elements, but is there a deeper meaning to the gemstone?
Experts believe many cultures have found spiritual value in this gemstone. The blue stone is often associated with the life-giving power of water or the holy serenity of the sky above.
Similarly, Native Americans believe wearing turquoise can cure illness, bring luck, and keep evil spirits at bay. It’s a stone of pure positivity and has the glowing sheen to prove it.
The meticulous nature in which tribes like the Navajo, shape and harden turquoise is done with the same level of attention and care as a pastor preaching. Their culture and history reside in these stones, taking centuries to form and mature. Since their beginning, Native Americans have passed down their stories through art and symbolism. That idea persists, even today, as families teach their children to work with raw materials to make art for the ages.
It’s within this balance and drive to achieve something beyond art, that connects Native art to the spiritual world of nature.
There are a few different approaches Native artists take to achieve the desired effect of interwoven art and religion. One way is to use tradition, keeping with the techniques their ancestors have allotted them through the ages. This can take the form of beautiful inlay (cutting gemstones to fit perfectly into silver channels) pieces or it can be as simple as the repetition of a traditional Native symbol.
Contemporary Native jewelry artists also use traditional motifs of their culture. While the techniques, cuts, and styles of the jewelry might change to fit the modern era, they still carry the essence of Native American culture with them like the materials used, the patterns, and colors.
Whichever the case, Native artists continue to use turquoise in their work, not just because of its beauty and connectivity to nature, but because of the rich history it shares with their culture.