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In the early 1930’s, the Great Depression caused great strife and struggle for many people within the Pueblos of the Southwest, surrounding reservations, and the country as a whole. The effects of this low point carried into 1939, the start of World War II, and beyond. The intersection of a depressed economy, tourists traveling via automobiles and trains, and the location of the Santo Domingo Pueblo saw the innovative development of a one-of-a-kind jewelry art form.


For hundreds of years craftspeople at Santo Domingo Pueblo, New Mexico (now known by its traditional name, Kewa) utilized prized turquoise stones, jet, and shell in their jewelry. However, in times of economic duress, these materials became too expensive and scarce. Due to a lack of desirable materials, and partly a response to seeing the new yet inexpensive Bakelite jewelry worn by so many visitors in the rapidly shrinking Depression-era tourist market, artisans of Santo Domingo Pueblo adapted the use of found objects. Small leftover turquoise chips and pieces were inlayed with bright colorful celluloid from combs, plastic spoons and forks, and other household goods. Sun bleached bone or gypsum were fashioned into beads. The support for each, and the most innovative use of discarded material were pieces of black rubber from abandoned car battery casings (and with Route 66 bringing throngs of motorists into the West, they were abundant), to substitute the traditional jet. Later, broken phonograph records were also used. All of these materials were assembled into colorful pendants, teardrop shaped earrings, and the central figure and namesake – the thunderbird.


Each piece of turquoise, plastic, thick battery casing, bone, and gypsum were hand cut, shaped, and ground with stone and refined with leather straps. The Santo Domingo Pueblo jewelry makers continued to produce their wares in virtually the same way as before, using the same hand-made tools the culture had known for generations. They made holes with hand drills and punches just as their grandparents had, and they rolled beads into round shapes with stones whose use dated back even further. Duce Cement was the adhesive of choice for many of the families, whose members would cut, then piece their materials together using a variety of distinctive forms and patterns. The character of each thunderbird shape reflects an individual artist’s creative aesthetic and personality. Some have wings facing up as if in flight, or relaxed at the side.


Great collectible piece of a vanishing history, and truely one-of-a-kind.


Circa 1930's

Length 57cm - 22 1/2”



* the other thunderbird necklace, adn turquoise & heishi necklace are not included and can be found in another listing.

1930's Santo Domingo Thunderbird Necklace

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