Southwest Traditions:
Bead Necklaces

Bead necklaces have been worn by people in the Southwest for thousands of years and are still made and worn today. Forms vary from simply stringing nuggets or beads to creating heishi and perhaps adding turquoise tabs, shells, or silver.

Making heishi is a time-consuming procedure that dates back many hundreds of years to the occupants of Chaco Canyon and earlier. The process starts by roughly shaping beads. The unfinished beads are drilled and threaded into strands, which are then ground and shaped as a whole. The process yields smooth, sinuous strings that could not have been created using preformed beads.

Artists from Santo Domingo Pueblo are famous for their heist. In fact, the name “heishi” is a Keres word meaning “shell bead.” (Keres is spoken at Santo Domingo and six other pueblos.) As the name suggests, shell heist is most traditional, but turquoise strands made using the same process have long been common.

Domingo Valencia, former Governor of San Felipe Pueblo, ca. 1935 (Courtesy Palace of the Governors Photo Archives (NMHM/DCA), Neg. No. 47259. Origin/Artist: Photograph by T. Harmon Parkhurst)