Tag Archive | Jewelry

Exhibit floor highlight



Object: Ring


Finger Ring
Mexican American
United States
Materials: Metal, rhinestones, synthetic emeralds

When visiting the San Antonio Riverwalk you might see the occasional teenage girl dressed in a ball gown. Usually she will be with other young boys and girls, also dressed in formal attire. Unless you happen to be visiting during prom season, you have likely stumbled into a celebration called a quinceañera, or a girl’s fifteenth birthday party. The birthday girl is also referred to as the quinceañera. During the quinceañera the young girl will usually wear a ball gown, a tiara, and other forms of jewelry. This object is a 10ct gold birthstone ring; it has 2 rhinestone and 5 synthetic emeralds.

A quinceañera is an elaborate celebration marking a girl’s 15th birthday. This birthday party is a milestone in the young girl’s life. The celebration involves a mass and an extravagant party afterwards. Throughout the mass and party different traditions are performed. The tradition of the quinceañera is practiced in the Mexican culture but also seen in Central and South America, as well as places like Cuba and the Dominican Republic. The origin of the quinceañera is not known, but has been associated with ancient Aztec, Maya, and Toltec traditions. In the Aztec culture a girl turning 15 meant she was ready for marriage. During this time, different ceremonies were performed to ensure the young woman was prepared for her duties in society. When Maximilian I and Carlota occupied Mexico, it is said that the court atmosphere influenced the tradition of the quinceañera and aspects of a traditional European debutantecoming out” were incorporated into this coming of age event.

Qunice Gown

Just one type of dress that could be worn during a quincaenera. Image from merledress.com

In the Mexican culture a quinceañera is planned months in advance. Things like the reception hall, music, food, and decorations must be picked out early. The young girl and her mother will pick out the dress that she is to wear far in advance of the event, so that it can be specially tailored to the girl’s figure, if needed. The dress is typically a solid color ball gown. The color of the dress depends on the girl’s preference. The ball gown is supposed to be the first adult gown worn. However, in the modern world, most girls will have probably already worn adult style dresses.

The first event to take place on the day of the quinceañera is a Catholic mass in which friends and family accompany the girl to renew her baptismal vows. This is meant to show that the girl is committed to God by her own free will. During the mass she also takes a bouquet of flowers to the Virgin Mary and asks for guidance. A quinceañera mass has evolved over time. In earlier traditions the whole ceremony would only consist of the saying of the rosary, a prayer and meditation session.

There are other items the girl receives for her quinceañera. For example a birthstone ring like the one shown here is often given to the girl by padrinos (godfather) and madrinas (godmother) or sponsors. The birthstone ring symbolizes the girl’s commitment to her community and to God. The family of the girl anticipates the ring eventually being replaced by a wedding band during her next stage in life.

Quinceanera Sarah Doll in Black & Fuchsia

A Quincaenera Doll. Image from quinceanera-boutique.com

After the mass, a party or fiesta is held in honor of the young girl. During the party the girl has a first dance with her father, or a father figure. The girl also dances with her court of damas (dames) and chambelanes (chamberlains). A toast is made in honor of the young girl and her accomplishments up until this point in her life. The birthday girl also makes a small speech to thank everyone for accompanying her on the special day. Some traditional activities performed during the party involve the changing of the shoes. This is where the father gives the girl her first pair of high heels. In this event the father takes the girls flats off and replaces them with heels. Another tradition involves giving the quinceañera her last doll. The doll represents the girl leaving childhood and entering a new stage in her life, which is basically what the whole celebration is about.


Bullet ant “glove.” Image from odditycentral.com.

A quinceañera is one of many coming of age traditions practiced in different cultures. For example in the Jewish tradition a Bar and Bat Mitzvah is celebrated when a boy turns 13 and a girl 12. In this tradition a young man or woman demonstrates their commitment to their faith and recognize Jewish law. In places like the Brazilian Amazon the Satere-Mawe Tribe have a coming of age ritual in which a boy places his hands inside bullet ant lined mittens. This ritual is said to transform young boys into men. The young boy must leave his hands inside the mittens for 10 minutes and repeat the ritual a total of 20 times. The ant bite is said to be as painful as being shot by a gun, which is where the name bullet ant comes from. In Amish communities a period called Rumspringa is practiced. This is a time between the ages of 14-16 in which a young boy or girl are allowed certain freedoms. These freedoms vary by community, but often include being allowed to dress like a non-Amish person, going to the movies, or buying electronic devices. At the end of Rumspringa the young boy or girl must decide to either get baptized and stay in the Amish community, or leave the community altogether.

The celebration of a quinceañera has evolved and continues to evolve as the years go by. Many young girls who live in the United States have even changed the year and celebrate a “sweet sixteen” with the traditions of the quinceañera. For a young girl, her quinceañera is one of the most special events in her life and a day she will never forget. [Joscelynn Garcia, edited by Jennifer McPhail]

Additional Resources:
Alvarez, Julia. 2007. Once upon a quinceañera: coming of age in the USA. New York: Viking.

Lopez, Adriana. 2007. Fifteen candles: 15 tales of taffeta, hairspray, drunk uncles, and other Quinceañera stories : an anthology. New York: Rayo.

Hilton, Michael. 2014. Bar mitzvah: a history.

Stevick, Richard A. 2007. Growing up Amish: the teenage years. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Object: Necklace

I-0432c (3)
20th Century
Materials: Glass, plastic, and leather

alabama-coushatta tribal seal

The tribal seal of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas. Image from the Tribe’s Facebook page.

This item is a necklace made by a member of the Alabama-Coushatta tribe of East Texas. It is made of multi-colored glass beads, plastic “hairpipe” beads, and leather. The Alabama and Coushatta are actually two separate tribes, who came together after Europeans forced them out of their homelands. Even before they officially came together, the Alabama and Coushatta were closely related through intermarriage and shared customs. While the native language of each tribe is different; they developed from the same root language. Alabama and Coushatta are called Alibamu and Koasati in their own languages. Alibamu derives from the words for “vegetation gatherers” and “Koasati” is thought to contain the words for “cane” and “reed,” important plants for the Native Americans.

The Alibamu and Koasati were farmers who heavily depended on crops. To support their agricultural life, both tribes and other Native Americans lived near rivers, lakes, and streams. Their main crops included maize, squash, and beans. They also hunted and gathered wild vegetation, which is more efficient near water. Because they lived near the coast, the Koasati had contact with Europeans early on. Their first encounter with Europeans was when Hernando de Soto and his men passed through Koasati territory while following along rivers and streams.

De Soto was a Spanish Conquistador who arrived off the coast of Florida in 1539 with over 600 men (including priests and slaves) and nearly 250 horses. Their goals were to explore the New World, discover gold, and gather slaves. For three years they traveled across the American Southeast. After traveling 1,600 miles they finally reached the Panuco River in Mexico. During the expedition the explorers documented their adventures and experiences with the natives. These documents are still read today and help scientists better understand Native American lifestyle and the historic territories of some tribes. They also give eye witness accounts of certain ceremonies and architecture, helping us link together different American Indian cultures.

De Soto

Engraving of Hernando De Soto by John Sartain (1808-1897), prior to 1858. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

De Soto and his crew came across both the Alibamu and the Koasati during the expedition. They actually were welcomed as guests by the Koasati upon their first encounter. After some of De Soto’s men stole the tribe’s maize, the Koasati attacked the Spaniards. Because De Soto had no back up during the attack he pretended to be on the Koasati’s side. He supposedly beat his own men to make it seem like he was upset with their actions. The chief believed his trick and stopped the attack. De Soto offered to take a walk with the chief and some council members to apologize for the theft. Once De Soto had the Koasati men alone he kidnapped the Native Americans and ordered that his men be appointed a guide for their travels.

After the De Soto expedition Europeans kept coming back, eventually forcing Native Americans to migrate. Later on Europeans began to settle America, further pushing out tribes. Ultimately, the Alibamu and the Koasati began to move westward. Unfortunately, the warfare with the Europeans and the introduction of European diseases killed many of the Native Americans. In fact, after De Soto and other early expeditions, 80% to 90% of Native Americans in some areas of North America were killed by European diseases alone. Due to the extreme conditions, many new alliances were formed and some tribes permanently merged. This is how the Alibamu and Koasati became the Alabama-Coushatta tribe. They were eventually granted land in Texas where they built a reservation called the Alabama-Coushatta Indian Reservation, outside of Livingston. The Alabama-Coushatta is one of only three remaining Native American tribes in the state of Texas. (McKayla McCarty, edited by Jennifer McPhail)

Additional Resources
Jacobson, Daniel, Howard N. Martin, and Ralph Henry Marsh. 1974. (Creek) Indians Alabama-Coushatta. New York: Garland.

Martin, Howard N. 1977. Myths & folktales of the Alabama-Coushatta Indians of Texas. Austin, Tex: Encino Press.

Sloan, David. 1992. “The Expedition of Hernando De Soto: A Post-Mortem Report”. The Arkansas Historical Quarterly. 51 (1): 1-29.

Sloan, David. 1992. “The Expedition of Hernando de Soto: A Post-Mortem Report Part II”. The Arkansas Historical Quarterly. 51 (4): 297-327.

Shuck-Hall, Sheri Marie. 2008. Journey to the west: the Alabama and Coushatta Indians. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.


Object: Brooch

2012_3_1 front

2012.3.1 a
ca. late 18th century
Materials: Metal, Gemstone

This item is a brooch that was purchased by John King (1758-1842) and then passed down from granddaughter-to-granddaughter until it was given to the donor. The brooch is made of a dark gray colored metal, that may have been gold plated originally, and there are 23 reddish-purple colored square gemstones set into the front of the brooch that are believed to be amethysts. The clasp on the back of the brooch is a single straight pin on a hinge, but there is no longer a latch to place the pin in.

John King fought in the American Revolutionary War from 1777-1780 and served as a member of George Washington’s Commander-in-Chief Guard, also known as Washington’s Life Guard. King is listed in the “Muster Roll Returns” which is the most comprehensive list of those who served in the guard. The guard was formed by Washington on March 11, 1776 when he realized that his army was about to become mobile and he would need a guard to protect himself and the headquarters staff. Washington sent out a General Order detailing the type of men he needed to form this guard. He wanted four men sent from each regiment, excepting the artillery and riflemen; these men were to be of good character, sober, well-made and clean. He even described the height he wanted these men to be, which was between five foot, eight inches and five foot, ten inches tall. He also included in this order that if the men selected were not willing to be in his guard then they were not to be sent and another should be selected.

The Commander-in-Chief Guard Uniform Image created by Tim Reese

The Commander-in-Chief Guard Uniform
Image created by Tim Reese

Captain Caleb Gibbs was selected by General Washington to command the new unit. Gibbs was promoted to the rank of Major, and was given the title Captain Commandant. Gibbs’s task was to organize the new unite and to get them ready for their mission, which was to protect Washington, his staff, the army’s cash and official papers. Washington’s nephew Lieutenant George Lewis was a member of Gibbs’s immediate staff of officers. Not only was Gibbs to organize them but he was to procure the unit a uniform. Washington wanted his guard to match him with a blue and beige uniform, but Washington said any color would be fine except for red. In the end the uniform consisted of a blue and beige uniform with a red waistcoat (they were the only ones available) and helmets that were actually British Dragoon helmets that had been captured by a privateer. The helmets had a blue turban added to them and a white plume that was tipped royal blue. A white cockade, known as the French Alliance cockade, was added to the helmet as well. The red waistcoat and the unique helmet set the guard apart from the rest of the Army which was Gibbs’s goal.

These men not only served their role as guards, but they were considered an elite unit in the Army. This is because they were Baron Frederick von Steuben’s demonstration unit for the new American Drill. Once these men were trained, they then trained the other regiments of the Army that was camped at Valley Forge. Once the Army left Valley Forge, the Guard was frequently employed in the role of light infantry and were attached to larger military units for engagements. Each time the Guard distinguished themselves as an elite force and their reputation grew. When the War came to a close, the guard was furloughed after completing one final mission, which was to escort Washington’s personal belongings and records back to his home of Mount Vernon on December 20, 1783.

The following video shows a modern United States Army drill team performing a routine.

Sadly most the records about these guardsmen were lost in1815 when the Charlestown Navy Yard caught fire which was where Gibbs had stored them after his retirement. Tomorrow marks the 238th anniversary of the formation of Washington’s Commander-in-Chief Guard. [Jennifer McPhail]

Additional Resources:

Chernow, Ron. 2010. Washington: a life. New York: Penguin Press.

Fremont-Barnes, Gregory, Richard Alan Ryerson, James R. Arnold, and Roberta Wiener. 2006. The encyclopedia of the American Revolutionary War: a political, social, and military history. Santa Barbara, Calif: ABC-CLIO.

Godfrey, Carlos E. 1972. The Commander-in-Chief’s Guard, Revolutionary War. Baltimore: Geneal. Pub. Co.

Irving, Washington, Allen Guttmann, and James A. Sappenfield. 1982. Life of George Washington. Boston: Twayne Publishers.

Lossing, Benson John. 1972. The pictorial field-book of the revolution or, Illustrations, by pen and pencil, of the history, biography, scenery, relics, and traditions of the war for independence. New York: Harper & Bros.

Wright, Robert K. 1983. The Continental Army. Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History, U.S. Army.

Object: Necklace

I-0432d scan
Lucille Alexander
Date: ca. 1989
Materials: Leather & glass


Photo via: OLChemist, Pow Wow Committee on forums.powwows.com

This object is a necklace made by Lucille Alexander. This necklace has a brown woven cord with a circular medallion fastened to it. The medallion is bead-covered leather with a design of a black and white abstract bird on a red background, currently used as the logo for the Alabama-Coushatta tribe. The beading on this medallion was done in the “double needle applique” technique, sometimes referred to as “spot stitch.”

The following video illustrates how this type of stitching is used to bead rosettes using contemporary materials.

Lucille Alexander, the artist who made this necklace, was a member of the Alabama-Coushatta tribe. The Alabama and Coushatta were originally two separate tribes that both lived near Montgomery, Alabama. In 1763, both tribes began to migrate west because of settlers encroaching on their land. They both eventually settled in Texas, the Alabama on the Neches River and the Coushatta on the Trinity River. Both tribes participated in the Mexican War of Independence from Spain.


Photo via: Texas Politics, University of Texas

Over three hundred Alabama and Coushatta men fought at the battles of Salado and San Antonio with Samuel Kemper’s Republican Army. When Texas became a Republic, President Lamar set aside land for both tribes, however, it was not until six years later that the Alabama Indians received their reservation. Fourteen years after the Alabama tribe moved onto their reservation, the Coushatta tribe joined them and shared the reservation land. The tribes were effectively joined in 1918 when they were federally recognized. The reservation is located seventeen miles east of Livingston, Texas. [Amber Beck, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]

Additional Resources:

Callaway, Mindy. 2001. Native American Beadwork: Techniques and Samples, Glass Beads. Austin: Graduate School of Library and Information Science, University of Texas at Austin.

Prindle, Tara. Native American Technology and Art Glass Beadwork: Applique Techniques with Glass Beads.

Howard N. Martin, “ALABAMA-COUSHATTA INDIANS,” Handbook of Texas Online

A Brief History of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas.

Hook, Jonathan B. 1997. The Alabama-Coushatta Indians. College Station: Texas A & M University Press.

Stanley-Millner, Pamela. 1996. North American Indian Beadwork Patterns. [S.l.]: Dover Publications.

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