Heishi Beading

At Palms Trading Company, we offer beautiful pieces of art from Native American Indian artisans. Many of these pieces of art are hand-crafted using techniques passed down through generations, just like the techniques used to create the heishi beads.

Ancient Traditions and Modern Practices

Heishi (hee shee) beads were being made long before the introduction of silversmithing and metalwork by the Europeans. The word heishi means “shell necklace” in the Keres language spoken in Kewa Pueblo. It refers specifically to single or multi-strand necklaces of pieces of shell that were ground into beads and strung. The ancient Pueblo peoples obtained their shells through extensive trade networks that extended from the Gulf of California down to South America.

Today, heishi beading is a specialty of Kewa Pueblo (formerly Santo Domingo Pueblo), although it is also practiced in several other pueblos, including San Felipe. Today’s beads can also be made from other natural materials, including:

  • Dark olive or olivella shells
  • Light olive shells
  • Clam shell
  • Red, orange or yellow spiny oyster
  • Coral
  • Lapis
  • Pipestone
  • Sugalite

Turquoise can be used to make the beads; however the stone is difficult to work with, so it is rarely used.

Creating Heishi Beads

True heishi bead jewelry is hand-made from beginning to end by skilled artisans in a labor-intensive process.

The process begins when the artisan snips small, rough squares off of a strip of material. He or she carefully drills a small hole into the center of each square, then strings the squares onto fine wire.

The next step it to shape the string of beads. The artisan moves the string repeatedly against a turning stone or grinding wheel, using his or her hands to control the shape and diameter of the beads. Different materials require different shaping techniques. Pipestone, for example, can be ground down much faster than a harder material like lapis. Once the string is ground and shaped, the artisan further shapes and smoothes the beads on a sanding wheel with increasingly finer grades of sandpaper.

The last step is to wash and air dry the beads before polishing them with wax on a leather turning belt. The beads are then strung to create the finished piece of jewelry. They can be strung in a combination of colors to create patterns, on multiple strings to make a multi-strand piece of jewelry, or strung with other types of beads.

The finished product is a beautiful, unique piece of hand-made jewelry. You can see and purchase these exquisite pieces our store and online!

Posted: January 27, 2014 By:

Pottery Patterns: Feathers

At Palms Trading Company, we offer unique, hand-made pieces crafted by local Native American Indian artists, potters and silversmiths. Whether simplistic or highly decorative, these pieces are beautiful works of art. In many instances, their intricate patterns are more than just decorative — they are symbolic of a rich history deeply rooted in tradition, myth and even the sacred, such as the eagle feather design. Read More

Posted: January 20, 2014 By:

Featured Artist: Erik Fender

 Palms Trading Company is proud to offer the work of many celebrated Native American Indian artists. This month, we’re featuring award-winning San Ildefonso potter Erik Fender!

His Life

Erik Sunbird Fender (Than Tsidéh) was born in 1970 to an illustrious family of San Ildefonso potters.  At age 10, Erik began to learn the art of pottery from his mother and his grandmother.

Erik’s interest in color and painting earned him an award at a Congressional art competition. But it wasn’t until 1992 that he began to work closely with his mother in the traditional black-on-black style of San Ildefonso pottery.

His Family

Erik comes from a long line of San Ildefonso potters. His great grandmother, the famous Maria Martinez, helped preserve traditional pottery making techniques that were being lost in the advent of ready-made materials.

In the early 1900s, a professor of archeology and director of the Laboratory of Anthropology in Santa Fe, Edgar Lee Hewett, approached Maria. His request was to help him revive the traditional pottery-making techniques that had created the pots and pot shards he had found at nearby archeological sites. Through observation of the pottery-making techniques in nearby Santa Clara Pueblo and experimentation, Maria was able to bring the ancient art back to life while adding her own techniques and designs.

Maria passed these techniques down to her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, including Erik Fender, his mother Martha Appleleaf, and his grandmother Carmelita Dunlap, both well-known potters in their own rights.

His Pottery

Erik specializes in both traditional and contemporary San Ildefonso pottery. He uses various techniques and clays to produce traditional black-on-black pottery as well as innovative two-tone and polychrome pots.

Each pot is hand-coiled using clay he mixes himself, as well as hand-sanded and hand-polished once the clay is dry. Natural paints made from native vegetation are used to decorate the two-tone and polychrome pots.

Erik Fender remains true to his great-grandmother’s spirit of experimentation and innovation, and at Palms Trading Company, we are proud to offer his incredible works of art!

Posted: January 13, 2014 By:

San Ildefonso’s Feast Day

Pueblo feast days are sacred festivals that serve as a time for tribal members to come together to share their rich traditions, language and religion. The pueblos are also opened to the public on feast days as an invitation to view and share in their sacred traditions. Read More

Posted: January 6, 2014 By:

Silversmithing Technique: Sandcasting

The value of Native American Indian jewelry does not just come from the cost of the materials—the silver and the stones—used to make the piece. The value of each piece is also derived from the artistic tradition that inspired the piece and the craftsmanship that brought it to life. Read More

Posted: December 30, 2013 By:

Last Minute Holiday Help from Our Personal Shopper

Everyone has that hard-to-shop for friend or family member—the person who already has everything or doesn’t like “the usual” or for whom you just want to buy something other than a scarf. If you’re having trouble finding that perfect holiday gift for that special someone, we suggest giving the magic of Southwest art…and our Personal Shopper can help you find just the right piece! Read More

Posted: December 16, 2013 By:

We’re Thankful for…

Palms Trading Company has grown and thrived in Old Town Albuquerque for over 80 years thanks to our wonderful customers. But the success of our business is just a tiny fraction of all we’re thankful for. We have taken the time to reflect on what has brought us the most joy, and we want to share it with you! Read More

Posted: November 25, 2013 By: