Since time memorial, the Santo Domingo Pueblo has traded seashells from the gulf of California and the Pacific over regular trade routes. Pendants cut from these glossy shells in various forms were overlaid with designs in abalone, jet, and turquoise.
Mary Coriz Lovato, daughter of Santiago Leo Coriz, was born to the Corn Clan in 1936. She is the third generation from the pueblo of Santa Domingo. In addition to raising five children, she has become an accomplished artist.
Mary Lovato is known for her unique mosaic inlay, shellwork, cast, and stamp-work jewelry. Her forte is inlaid shell earrings and pendants. These lovely pieces are a blend of the contemporary and traditional styles, but Mary strives to maintain tradition above all. “My mother and mostly my father were my teachers. I was brought up very traditional,” she recalls.
“We have kept traditional jewelry going here because it is worn for our dances,” says Mary, who lives at her Santo Domingo Pueblo home outside of Albuquerque. Although Mary reintroduced stone-in-shell mosaics during the 1950s, Santo Domingans have crafted turquoise and shell heishi beads for at least a thousand years. “I came up with the shell mosaic work myself. I started in the late ‘50s, in black, white and orange.” Mary then began to add more contemporary touches, such as putting in silver to her work and adding more colors. The slivers of turquoise, pipestone, serpentine, coral, and mother of pearl, reflect the colors of the sun’s glow.
Making jewelry has become a part of Mary Lovato’s soul. “[While making a piece] I’m praying for everybody-not for myself, but for the whole universe. I talk to my jewelry when I make it. I don’t just make them to make them. After it’s done, I say, ‘Whoever it may go to, may they have strength, may they have a good, happy life.’ So that is the way I do my work.”
Mary Lovato’s work is so phenomenal that many say it has become a standard by which shell inlaid jewelry is measured.