Object: German Silver Stickpin

E/2001/1/10
Stickpin by Murray Tonepahote
Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma
North America: Plains, Oklahoma
Date: 20th Century
Materials: German silver (aka Nickel silver)

This small German silver stickpin is only 3.25 inches long by 0.5 inches wide. It is in the shape of a tipi with a gourd rattle head on top and four slender pendants dangling below the base of the tipi. On the back, the pin portion is attached where the top of the tipi meets the bottom of the gourd rattle. This pin was made by master metalsmith Murray Tonepahote, a renowned Kiowa artist.

Figure 2    Navajo man wearing a German Silver Concho belt, photo by Don Blair in the 1950's

Figure 2 Navajo man wearing a German Silver Concho belt, photo by Don Blair in the 1950’s

German silver, also known as Nickel silver or electrum, is an alloy of copper, zinc, and nickel. Native American communities have used German silver in their jewelry and metalworking for centuries, ever since it was introduced into North America in the late 1800’s. Countless examples of German silver objects such as earrings, belts, conchos, tie slides, bracelets, and hair combs among others can be found throughout native communities today. To learn more about the production of German silver objects, take a look at a previous post from 2011.

Murray Tonepahote (1911-1968), a member of the Kiowa tribe, began his artistic training under the teachings of noted Kiowa artists Monroe Tsatoke and Harry Hokeah. An early member of the Oklahoma Indian Arts and Crafts Cooperative, Tonepahote excelled at designing religiously inspired jewelry such as stickpins and earrings, many of which have become masterpieces of Southern Plains Indian art.

Murray Tonepahote, along with George “Dutch” Silverhorn, Julius Caesar, Bruce Caesar, and Homer Lumpmouth, has become recognized as one of the greatest Native metalsmiths in the country. The work of these extraordinary artists is now widely collected and exhibited across the United States.

Many of Tonepahote’s objects, like this stickpin, relate specifically to the Native American Church, which traditionally incorporates many Peyote rituals. The Native American Church originated in Oklahoma in the 1800’s and spread to many different Native American tribes around the country. The use of peyote, a small cactus, in rituals such as healings and births is believed to allow communion with deities and spirits.

 

Take a look at this video to learn more about the history of the Native American Church and the importance of Peyote rituals to many Native artists:

[Stephanie Lynn Allen]

2 Responses to “Object: German Silver Stickpin”


  1. 1 Margaret March 8, 2013 at 11:16 am

    Very interesting post.

    Here’s a technical question. Does German silver tarnish? If so, how are these delicate pieces polished.

    • 2 stephanie.allen March 8, 2013 at 11:40 am

      Thanks for the great question! Overall, German silver is a very durable material and resists many forms of corrosion. Technically, since there is no actual silver in German silver, it does not officially tarnish in the same way that silver does. However, due to the copper content, it may turn a greenish color (think about pennies and how they can turn green over time). In addition, the zinc content in the German silver may slowly tarnish in the presence of sulfuric acid (which is contained in many household cleaners and paints. Trace amounts are even found in things like tissue paper, some plastics, and clothes with rayon). But, if German silver is kept clean, dry, and stored in something that is free of acids (such as acid-free tissue paper), it’ll look new for a very long time! If you are interested in more specific cleaning information, take a look at this website: http://preservapedia.org/Nickel_silver.


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Ethnology @ SNOMNH is an experimental weblog for sharing the collections of the Division of Ethnology at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.

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