Published on August 15, 2014 by Amy
If you love Turquoise, make your way to Santa Fe for a new exhibit. The Turquoise, Water, Sky: The Stone and Its Meaning exhibit opens at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture on April 13, 2014, in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and will run through March 2016. The exhibit showcases the museum’s ample collection of southwestern jewelry and addresses all aspects of the stone.
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In the Southwest, people have used turquoise to make jewelry and for ceremonial purposes for over a thousand years and may have traded it to the great population centers of Mexico. The Navajo, Zuni, Hopi, and Santo Domingo developed distinctive jewelry-making traditions over the past couple of centuries, producing world-renowned and highly desired objects. Turquoise, Water, Sky presents hundreds of necklaces, bracelets, belts, rings, earrings, silver boxes, and other objects illustrating how the stone was used and its deep significance to the people of the region.
Despite its close identification in the US with the Southwest, turquoise has long been esteemed in other parts of the world. Turquoise was one of the stones used in the gold funeral mask of King Tutankhamen in Ancient Egypt and it is prized by Iranians, the Chinese, Tibetans, Uzbeks, and by South American indigenous groups. The oldest turquoise mines in the world, operated for thousands of years, are in Iran. The word “turquoise” comes from the French name for a beautiful blue stone they thought came from Turkey, but was actually from Persia.
The regions where turquoise is highly valued as a gem stone, the US Southwest, central and northern Mexico, Tibet, Andean South America, and Uzbekistan, are all arid regions. This is no coincidence as turquoise and its color symbolize water and sky and sometimes both.
The Zuni word for turquoise can be translated as “sky stone.” This link between turquoise and sky is true outside the Southwest, for example in Tibet, where the sky is sometimes called “the turquoise of Heaven.”
Turquoise’s stronger symbolism in the Southwest is to water, a scarce but essential resource. Turquoise has an almost poetic connection to water. It is formed in arid lands by infrequent precipitation flowing through host rock and depositing minerals and salts. It’s fitting that the resulting stone’s color echoes its origin.
Pueblo dances during the summer growing season are performed to ensure rain for crops with the dancers’ wearing turquoise regalia alluding to rain.
Southwestern turquoise has been mined for over a thousand years at various locations in Arizona, New Mexico, and Nevada.
Turquoise, the stone, ranges from white (also called “chalk”), to deep blue, pale blue, florescent yellow-green, deep green, and everything in between.
Turquoise is a soft stone and changes color as it is worn, becoming darker and greener. In many parts of the world it is believed that turquoise can absorb poisons and protect the wearer, or alternatively, that its color reflects the health of its wearer.
While the color of turquoise is important, the color and shape of the matrix, the veins of host rock that run through turquoise, contribute to its prestige and value.
Shell and turquoise are often used together. Both allude to water, one based on origin and the other on color with the pairing intensifying the water symbolism.
For the Navajo, turquoise is linked to protection and health. At birth, babies receive their first turquoise beads. The stone, in both whole and crushed form, is also included in puberty rites, marriage and initiation ceremonies, and in healing ceremonies and other rituals. With the stone so intertwined with every stage of Navajo life it is no accident that they are famed for their turquoise jewelry.