The classic squash blossom necklace design in sterling silver—distinctive sprouting beads, bright turquoise elements, and a crescent-shape pendant (also known as the Naja)—originated with the Navajo artists in the late 19th century. It was later adopted by the Zuni and Pueblo tribes and has since become one of the jewelry world’s most celebrated and enduringly chic icons.
Today, squash blossom necklaces remain an emblem of truly outstanding Native American jewelry craft. They’re widely available in vintage and newly minted forms—you tend to see an abundance of them at the Tucson Gem Show.
What you don’t often see? A Scottish American jewelry designer adapting the classic design with her distinctive point of view, adding details that honor her homeland’s natural resources while celebrating Native American traditions.
Enter the Superquarry Squash Blossom necklace, a one-of-a-kind jewel by designer Maeve Gillies, cofounder and creative director of U.S. bridal brand Maevona. The piece was unveiled this month at the Kiosk art exhibition at An Lanntair, a cultural center located in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides islands.
The jewel was inspired by the Harris superquarry conflict, an environmental fracas spurred by corporate interests vying to turn a sacred mountain on the Outer Hebrides’ Isle of Harris into a superquarry site. Gillies was moved by a small but powerful part of the story involving the Native American warrior chief Sulian Stone Eagle Herney, who was prompted to fly from Canada to Scotland to help save the beloved Mount Roineabhal from destruction.
As Stone Eagle, a prominent member of the Mi’Kmaq First Nations people, testified in Scotland at the peak of the conflict: “The destruction of any mountain, river, or forest is horrifying to all of us.… It is no longer tolerable to pretend or ignore these assaults. Your mountain, your shorelines, your rivers, and your air are just as much mine and my grandchildren as ours is yours.”
Though the conflict was resolved in 2004—in favor of the environmentalist concerns—Gillies revisited the Harris superquarry story earlier this year because the An Lanntair exhibit is themed around the idea of souvenirs. “Instead of cheap, mass produced items, [it’s a showcase of] meaningful objects that have the power to relay, highlight, and preserve important island culture, memories, and events that resonate today,” Gillies tells JCK. “The superquarry saga was one of the longest-running inquiries in Scottish history, lasting over 10 years. I was inspired to choose this story due to the urgent and ongoing relevance of these environmental land reform issues to the fragile Scottish island culture.”
Made in sterling silver, the squash blossom necklace is set with black and white Harris anorthosite—a rare Scottish island rock also found on the moon—that was vulnerable to the proposed destruction of the mountain. A thriving golden eagle habitat was likewise threatened by the proposed superquarry, and Gillies has added two carved Celtic-inspired eagles as the necklace’s crescent-shaped Naja, representing the golden eagles nesting on the sacred mountain that activists sought to protect.
Gillies would be the first to admit that the necklace, with its robust proportions and undeniable gravitas, is a complete departure from her signature Celtic-inspired wedding rings, which tend to incorporate delicate floral elements, swoops, and lacy openwork.
But she was moved to create the piece as a kind of teaching tool for her two daughters. Her husband is of Native American lineage, and together they are teaching their daughters a reverence for the indigenous cultures of Scotland and America. For Gillies, the jewel has become a way to unite these two worlds and share them with a larger audience (the An Lanntair exhibit is on view through the end of the month).
“It was an honor to create this one-of-a-kind necklace with rare native stone, telling a story of such significance to the Scottish islands, [weaving in] my admiration for vintage Squash Blossoms as a Native American indigenous souvenir that uses local rock like turquoise,” adds Gillies. “I wanted to bring all of these factors together in a powerful, meaningful jewel.”
Top: The Superquarry Squash Blossom necklace is double-sided to showcase the light (pictured) and dark sides of the moon rock and can be worn with either side facing out, $9,750; maevegillies.com. All profits will be donated to GalGael, a nonprofit serving the community of Glasgow, Scotland.
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