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Nick Rosetta
Kewa Pueblo

NICK ROSETTA and his wife, Me-Wee, live in Kewa Pueblo (KayWa)--formerly known as Santo Domingo Pueblo. Using all natural materials and handmade processes, they collaborate to make gorgeous heishi (HeeShee) necklaces and earrings. Nick learned the art from his parents, Ray and Mary Rosetta. Me-Wee learned from her grandfather, Tomasito Tenorio. Their pieces echo the ancestral history of Kewa Pueblo.

The heishi art form reaches back to prehistoric times, long before the arrival of the Spanish in the Southwest, when Kewa stone and shell jewelry—believed by many archaeologists to be the oldest form of jewelry in the Southwest—was highly prized and widely traded. Found within the prehistoric ruins is the work of their ancestors, the Anasazi—turquoise bead necklaces and inlaid shell pendants set with beautiful mosaics of turquoise and shell.

Though they use modern tools, the Rosettas continue to make by laborious hand processes all of their beads: stone, shell and silver. Stone and shell beads are ground from rough materials on a grinding wheel. During this latter process, Nick sometimes closes his eyes and relies on the “feel” of the beads in his hands to get the desired size and consistency. Turquoise can be especially difficult to work. Normally, sixty to eighty percent of a natural turquoise stone is lost in the grinding process, and many varieties of shell and stone beads crack and fly off when the grinder catches a burr. After they are finally completed, the beads are strung on a fine wire into a necklace.

Nick does most of the lapidary work—cutting, grinding, sanding and polishing a wide variety of stones for the inlay work on his earrings and pendants. His earrings are unlike any other, with tiny mosaics of inlay going all the way around, front and back of the earrings. As in prehistoric times, when pueblo peoples obtained their materials by means of a vast trade network, the Rosettas, too, obtain their materials from many different places: serpentine from South Dakota, pipestone from Minnesota, turquoise from Nevada, gaspeite from Australia. He loves unusual stones and woods, like Costa Rican Purple Heart wood and Peruvian Cherry wood.