Small Wonders
Text by Diana F. Pardue

Above: The exhibition Small Wonders is now on view at the Heard Museum.

The exhibition Small Wonders provides the opportunity to see a range of intricately made small-format works including jewelry (rings, brooches, earrings and buckles) and specialty items such as silver seed pots, fetishes or stone carvings, and silver items in miniature. Each is shaped in silver, gold or from a variety of gemstones, and all are from the Heard Museum’s permanent collection.

Above: Shawn Bluejacket (Shawnee), Beau Monde series, Miniature Table and Chairs, 2000. Silver, 18k gold, and paint.

Some examples of the little treasures in the exhibition are the miniatures fabricated in silver. Some of these were made by jeweler Shawn Bluejacket (Shawnee), whose jewelry is know for its complexity of design and the myriad stones she adds to her silver and gold creations. Some 20 years ago, Bluejacket was looking at the spare metal parts that remained after she made her signature earrings, necklaces, and brooches, and she wanted to find a way to use them. She got the idea to make little houses on stilts. She began to fabricate the small houses, as well as furniture, flowerpots and other miniature shapes, out of her scrap silver. When completed, the miniatures also function as small boxes or containers. Bluejacket found that making the miniatures offered a respite from the other jewelry items she fabricated and allowed her to explore working creatively in metal but in a different format. One feels much like Alice in Wonderland when surveying these tiny works.

Above, left: Darrell Jumbo (Navajo), The Queen’s Pot, 2005.Coral, sugilite, and silver. Right: Liz Wallace (Navajo/Washoe/Maidu), Brooch, 2008. Black pearl, opal, plique à jour, silver, and 14k gold.

Bluejacket made preliminary drawings of the miniatures before fabricating them, which is in keeping with her other metalworks. She has sketched since she was a small child and continued sketching throughout her teenage years. She took formal art classes in drawing and in metalsmithing at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe. Bluejacket sketches all of her jewelry designs in advance of actually fabricating the works, including details such as which gemstones she will use and where she will place them.

Once Bluejacket came up with the idea for the miniatures, she also decided to paint the silver in bright colors. In a Santa Fe shop, she found some pens that allowed her to paint and draw on the metal. When asked about the brightly colored paints she utilizes, Bluejacket notes that her choice of vivid paints is in keeping with the brilliant gemstones she adds to her jewelry.

Above: Yazzie Johnson (Navajo) and Gail Bird (Santa Domingo/ Laguna Pueblo), Butterfly Pins, 2005. Morenci turquoise, and 18k gold.

Some of Bluejacket’s miniatures hold little surprises. The treehouse has a removable roof and is fully equipped with a slide. Included in the exhibition is also a miniature table with two chairs. A candelabra is firmly secured to the tabletop. The table is also hinged and transforms into a small container. When opened, it reveals a bundle of carrots that Bluejacket painted on the interior.

 These are just two examples of the variety of items on display in the Small Wonders exhibition. Other miniatures include a silver yo-yo by Daniel Sunshine Reeves (Navajo), a silver teapot with coral inlay by Darrell Jumbo

(Navajo), and silver spoons by Kenneth Begay (Navajo) and Awa Tsireh (San Ildefonso Pueblo). Silver seed pots include works by a number of artisans, such as Norbert Peshlakai (Navajo), who was one of the first to make the pottery shape in silver. 

For those who enjoy jewelry, there is an assortment of brooches, many in animal or insect shapes, as well as complex figurative works by Denise Wallace (Aleut) and more traditional shapes in silver with inset turquoise. Additionally, there are rings, earrings, buckles and small stone carvings by artists from Zuni Pueblo.

Diana F. Pardue is a Chief Curator at the Heard Museum. She received a Master of Arts degree from Arizona State University.

Small Wonders
Through Fall 2021
Heard Museum