Squash blossom necklace by A:shiwi (Zuni) artist Josephine Buqua (MMA 77.49.66)
This silver and turquoise necklace is known as a “Squash Blossom Necklace,” an iconic style of jewelry made by Native American artisans in the US Southwest. This piece features fourteen silver “squash blossom” beads, each set with four oval Colorado turquoise stones. The central inverted crescent, or naja, a Navajo term for crescent, is the centerpiece of the necklace. It is set with round turquoise stones and two drop stones in the center. The necklace also includes 126 plain, round silver beads. It was made ca. 1942 by A:shiwi artist Josephine Buqua.
The history of the origins of squash blossom necklaces is unclear, but they are believed to have been first made in the late 19th century by Native artists. Scholars think that the naja design is North African in origin and was adopted by the Spanish, who brought it to the Southwest through colonization beginning in the 16th century. Another theory of its origin is via Plains peoples with whom Navajos came into contact and traded. The Navajo or Diné were the first to use the design, although it spread quickly to other tribes and pueblos in the region. Early squash blossom necklaces were made from melted Spanish and American coins.
“Squash blossom” beads, which are interspersed with plain round beads, resemble the blossoms of flowering squash plants, an important staple crop of Native people in the region. The beads also resemble pomegranate fruit, an important symbol and a common design motif for Spanish people, including on the buttons of soldiers’ uniforms. In either case, the blossoms represent flowering, fruitful plants that were celebrated by Native and Hispanic peoples in the Southwest. Whether on necklaces adorning humans or on elaborate bridles adorning horses, these objects were signs of wealth and status and have become very popular outside of these communities.