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Object Monday: Washington Talayumptewa earrings

Earrings by Washngton Talayumptewa (MMA 63.32.18)

Earrings by Washngton Talayumptewa (MMA 63.32.18)


These cottonwood, turquoise, and mother of pearl or abalone earrings were made by Washington Talayumptewa, a noted Hopi jeweler who was principally known for his silverwork. Turquoise and shell were attached to the wooden base with pine pitch or other adherent. This old style of earring is often seen in historic photographs and found in Ancestral Puebloan archaeological sites. Still made today, they are given to young girls after they complete their corn grinding rite at puberty.

The Hopi term form this style of earring is tu'oynàaqa, meaning “stacked up corn earring.” The turquoise symbolizes blue corn, for which Hopis are known; the center element is a sea shell that symbolizes water.

There were few known Hopi silversmiths during Washington Talayumptewa’s lifetime. Born in 1889 in Songòopavi (Shungopavi) on Second Mesa in Arizona, he was a member of the Sun Clan. As young men, he and his four older brothers were removed from their home and community and forced to attend the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in western Pennsylvania. Washington was at Carlisle from 1907 to 1912. All of the brothers were jewelers and silversmiths.

Throughout his life, Washington Talayumptewa taught silver-working to other Hopi artists, including his nephew Bernard Dawahoya. Talayumptewa was featured in many of the Hopi Craftsman Shows (now Hopi Festival of Arts & Culture) at the Museum of Northern Arizona (MNA).

Talayumptewa continued making jewelry until his death in 1963. Although best known for his silverwork, the last year he attended MNA’s Hopi Show his entries were all earrings of wood inlaid with turquoise and shell, inspired by prehistoric jewelry styles.

The earrings were donated to the Maxwell Museum in 1963 by Tom Bahti, a prominent collector, dealer, and authority on Native American art who was also a UNM alumnus. Mr. Bahti’s son, Mark, continues the family tradition today operating both the original gallery in Tucson, AZ and one in Santa Fe, NM.

A photo of Washington Talayumptewa from 1944 can be found in this online archive:

Additional Reading:  Wright, Margaret Nickelson. Hopi Silver: The History and Hallmarks of Hopi Silversmithing. University of New Mexico Press, 2003.

We gratefully acknowledge the contributions of Joe and Janice Day of Songòopavi, Arizona.

Name: Earrings
Artist: Washington Talayumptewa
Date: Early 1960s
Culture: Hopi
Collection: Ethnology
Object: 63.32.18
Post by: Lauren Fuka and Lea McChesney