Gold Digging: The Mica Hand

This is a post about fine jewelry,  but you have to follow the trail that led me here. The Chicago Field Museum has this amazing section on Ancient Americas that connects to a vast exhibit on Native Americans. I was trying to rush my dad through Ancient Americas, at least get him through the Aztecs, when I was drawn in by the beautiful work of the Hopewell culture. This group of people lived in the midwest and had an elaborate woodland trade route set up. They were in existence from 200 B.C. to 500 A.D.. This group of people did magnificent things with the materials they received in trade. The first craft that stopped me in my tracks was a collection of hundreds of beads ranging in size from small grape to course coffee grounds. Imagine the work it took to shape, polish, and pierce materials by hand and amass that quantity, bowls full of beads.

As I kept walking, I noticed the icons of abstract body parts, and wondered what the meaning is. Apparently no researches are comfortable taking a wild guess as to why, but the Hopewell frequently traded for precious metals and stones and cut images of hands or thumbs. Here is the piece I was entranced by at the Chicago Field Museum:


This hand is just smaller than a sheet of printer paper, and it was cut as one piece from a single sheet of mica. Notice the bend of the opposable thumb. I wonder if they held the hand or opposable thumb in high regard as we hold the heart or the brain. At that time, it must have seemed that your working hands were the only thing keeping you alive. In their replica of bird talons, they highlight the back claw as a sort of thumb, as well. We would not have evolved in the way that we have without those hands and special thumbs.

After I left that exhibit, I found a pair of silver, native-made earrings in the shape of a flat hand. I was not ready to drop a hundred dollars at the museum that day, but I cannot stop thinking about the hand icons and the beautiful representation in those silver earrings. So, finally, here is a tribute to hands as an icon of strength and ingenuity, or as a symbol of craft and nurturing. A roundup of metallic hand jewelry.


Something I learned while researching this jewelry: Frida Kahlo famously wore and painted herself in a pair of hand earrings made for her by Picasso, and many featured below emulate these. So hurrah for the artists and eclectics of the world.

Additionally, many of these hands are emulating the Hamasa hand, which bears the evil eye and is an icon to promote good fortune in seen in many cultures in the Middle East and Northern Africa.

















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