1940s Santo Domingo Thunderbird Necklace
Santo Domingo Thunderbird Necklace Circa 1940.
Born in the late 1920s, Thunderbird jewelry was partly a response to the increasing cost and scarcity of such traditional materials as shell and jet — and partly a response to seeing the new yet inexpensive Bakelite jewelry worn by so many visitors in the rapidly shrinking Depression-era tourist market.
Soon the Santo Domingo Pueblo jewelry makers were meshing the nation's oldest native jewelry-making tradition with cheaper alternative materials, including black plastic salvaged from car batteries and 78-rpm vinyl records as well as colored plastic salvaged from hair combs, kitchenware and eating utensils.
Since small turquoise chips remained readily available from local mines, the newly created Thunderbird form offered the jewelry makers a way to cut costs dramatically while still retaining one of the signature materials of an age-old tradition.