I’ve been saving this little carved cameo with a beautifully carved image of an elk for YEARS. Every so often, I’d take it out of its little plastic storage container and hold it in my hand, admire the detail of the image and try to think of ways to incorporate it into a design. Most of the cameos that have crossed my path are traditional profiles of women, some men and a few mythological references. The elk, however, was one I had not seen.
Cameos are not an unusual element in jewelry history. As far back as 300 BCE (and earlier), cameo images, carved in a variety of materials such as shell, stone and glass were used as seals for correspondence and commemoration of status, ideology and personal relationships. Primarily seen today as a woman’s jewelry item, the cameo actually was a popular element of men’s jewelry and accessories (tie pins, cuff links, pocket watch fobs, etc.) During the 19th century and beginning of the 20th, the image of the elk was likely popularized for several reasons. In 1909, President Teddy Roosevelt erected the Mount Olympus National Monument that championed conservation efforts to restore declining elk populations. President Roosevelt contributed to the romanticized image American West (think Rough Riders, manifest destiny and the last frontier, cowboys and Indians) themes that appeared in decorative and fine arts en masse at the turn of the century. I also learned that elk hold a special place in many American Indian traditions, specifically the Pacific Northwest tribes. That elk came to symbolize love and are seen as a protector of women is especially interesting and appealing. (I’m going to have to find out more about this!) In the Plains Indians’ tradition, elk were seen as symbols of bravery, endurance and masculinity.
Again and again, I am amazed at the history revealed in the tiny objects that share my space. Here’s the link to the pendant that features the elk cameo: Tinacity Elk Cameo Pendant
Thanks for “listening”!
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