Culture/People: Natinixwe / Hupa
Dims: 2.75 x 2.5 in. (6.9 x 6.3 cm).
We often associate fine jewelry with gold and gemstones—if you live in the Southwest then perhaps your mind goes to silver and turquoise. It is always exciting to see pieces of jewelry that elevate more humble materials into elegantly refined forms. The simplicity of this brass cuff, with its strong geometric design etched onto its surface does just that. The etching marks show the “imperfections” of the hand over the machine, with uneven lines and irregular shapes, but that only adds to the appeal.
This portable snuff calabash container (3.5 x 2 in.) is noted to have been made by the original owner, Ndzaleni Dlamini when he was still a young man—although there is no further information on when it was created or by whom it was used. It became part of the Coe collection in 2010. Decorative brass and copper wire snuff containers such as this were carried around everywhere with the user and made to store and access powdered plant snuff. Usually made for tobacco snuff, it was used for hundreds of years in South Africa after tobacco was introduced in the 16th century by the Europeans. It was only used as a pastime, but more accurately, was linked to the practice of traditional medicine.
Brass is nowhere near as dense as gold, so a cuff this large would be much lighter and, of course, much less expensive. Brass oxidizes faster than gold or even silver, in a way it reacts to the individual wearer’s natural pH, adding another layer to the story of a piece of jewelry.
This work is one of the many examples in the Coe collection that is lacking all but the most basic information. The artist stamped the piece with C.C.M and is noted as being Hupa, but we don’t know when or where it was purchased or who C.C.M. is. As always, if you would like to share any thoughts or information about this cuff, we would love to hear from you.
RTC No: NA1339
Gift of Ralph T. Coe, 2011
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