Heidi Abrahamson taps on her couch, retro turntable spinning in the background, and invites her Siamese cat to jump up beside her. She produces a stylish cat collar, made of silver Native American beads strung along a bright red band, from behind her back and ties it around the impatient feline's neck. Her cat may be a grudging model, but its stunning collar is one of many ways that Native American silver and turquoise jewelry has worked its way into Abrahamson's home.
A Phoenix resident for 18 years, Abrahamson began collecting Native American jewelry as a high schooler in the early '70s, long before she moved to Arizona. She's largely influenced by her mother and remembers acquiring the first pieces of her collection at flea markets and old pawn shops in Friendship, Indiana. From there, Abrahamson has added to her menagerie of turquoise in Seattle, Miami, and many places in between. Colorful and diverse, her collection represents jewelry from Hopi, Navajo, and Zuni tribes.
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It's obvious that Abrahamson has an attachment to each piece in her collection, and for a variety of reasons. Her oldest piece — of which she's particularly fond — is a pair of turquoise earrings from the late '40s. A few pieces, including a "scrimshaw," belonged to her parents. Among her more conventional jewelry items, Abrahamson also shows off belts, a comb, and giant bangles.
Abrahamson remains fascinated by the handiwork that goes into creating the jewelry, and her awe is visible as she describes the tedious bead-making processes that are an integral in its making. A turquoise and squash-blossom silver necklace is particularly impressive when you know that each of its elaborate beads is handcrafted. Abrahamson is quite skilled at making jewelry of her own — which you can see (and boy) at heidiabrahamson.com — but for the most part, she refrains from using turquoise. It's her respect for the cultural significance of turquoise Native American jewelry making that keeps her from trying to create anything like it.