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Mary Marie Yazzie Lincoln

Mary Marie Yazzie Lincoln (1943 – ) Mary Marie is the current matriarch of the skilled and prolific Yazzie family of Gallup, New Mexico which is among the most celebrated Navajo jewelry making families of our time. Mary Marie is also a member of the Folding Arms Clan. She has been active silversmithing since the 1970’s and is the sister of noted jewelers Raymond and Lee Yazzie. Mary Marie is known for her traditional design work that are fashioned in simple, yet elegant handiwork. Among her specialties are impeccably formed silver beads.

She was the first in the Yazzie family to work with Joe Tanner, a fourth generation Southwest Indian art dealer. By 1975, While Mary Marie crafts jewelry, she is also was responsible for the quality control of all jewelry produced at Tannerʼs Indian Arts. Her attention to detail has earned a respected reputation and her pieces meet and exceed client expectations even as they enhance the artistic heritage of her family

The Yazzie family has been creating jewelry for generations, beginning in the early 1900s with Elsa and Chee Yazzie. Elsa taught the craft to their 12 children, nine of whom are in the jewelry-making business. Mary works closely with her brothers, Lee and Raymond Yazzie, who are both very well-known, award-winning jewelers. Mary and her work are featured in several of the most dependable reference books on Native American jewelry.

A recent exhibition at New York’s National Museum of the American Indian was on display through January 2016 and called Glittering Worlds – Wearable Heritage: Navajo Jewelry of the Yazzie Family. The presentation highlighted the silver, gold, and stone inlay work of Lee Yazzie and his younger brother, Raymond. Sister Mary Marie Lincoln’s displayed pieces included jewelry that combined fine bead and stonework. Also included were handmade, silver beads made in a time-consuming and exacting process by several of the Yazzie sisters.

Mary Marie makes stamped and unstamped silver necklaces of varying length. To begin these, she stamps designs on blank silver disks by hammering metal punches (or dies) onto the surfaces. Most designs require a number of different small, detailed stamps to create the overall image. The stamped disks are then domed by punching them into a concave wooden block with a cone punch. Marie’s process is different from the embossing technique, where an entire pre-formed design is stamped with one punch at the same time the disk is domed.

Each bead is hand filed after the doming to smooth the edges and fit evenly with the other beads. If the necklace is designed to have beads of graduated size, the beads are domed in a set of graduated concave forms. Using hand tools, a hole is punched in the center of each bead. To create the bead, two halves are soldered together using narrow strips of silver solder and flux. Soldered edges are then filed smooth and the beads are polished.

Besides necklaces, which may contain as many as 120 individual hand forged beads, Marie also makes stamped earrings. Her earrings are made of one half of the necklace bead, domed on one side and flat on the other.

Experts have called her creations timeless. She often combines various colored stones such as coral and turquoise, in her popular “cluster work” pieces. In addition to designing and fabricating metalwork and cutting and setting stones, Mary Marie is also a highly skilled bead arranger and stringer.

Like the work of her siblings, Mary Marie is inspired by the land, the people, and Navajo deities that appear in the Hozho concepts of harmony, beauty, and balance that guide Navajo beliefs about health, nature, and art. The colors white, blue, yellow, and black each represent a time of day and a cardinal direction.

Mary Marie’s materials are consistent with traditional Navajo jewelry: silver, turquoise, and coral, with an occasional sprinkling of other semi-precious stones like opal, lapis lazuli, and jade. Turquoise, the sky stone, has special prominence in Navajo traditions.

To be considered gem quality and Yazzie-approved, turquoise must be hard enough to cut and polish. Such stones are rarer than diamonds. About three dozen turquoise mines exist in the American Southwest and many of them are almost depleted.

Among classic motifs used are squash blossoms with a horseshoe and the famous design of bugle-shaped blooms that usually run along the length of the necklaces. The horseshoe element (called naja) can also be worn as a pendant.

Reticulated designs mimic rolling hills and inlaid stones are arranged like petals. Ears of corn “bent” around a wrist can form a bracelet. Whether making belt buckles, necklaces, rings, bangles, or bolo ties, the Yazzies, Mary Marie included, take pains to balance what the stone wants to become and what the artist desires.

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