Allegheny Ludlum Steel Corporation, Oliver Building, Pittsburgh,
Add ‘paleface’ technology to a fine old Indian craft and
the result is an attractive and unusual kind of jewelry which costs
so little wampum any maiden or brave can afford it.
That, in a trinket, is the story of Lorena White of Monroe,
Ohio, and her increasingly successful ‘Mohawk Made’
Mrs. White is a Mohawk Indian who learned traditional Indian
crafts at her mother’s knee. In 1936 she married a
‘paleface’ metallurgist and chemist who had come to Niagara
Falls, near her home, to work.
Today, the Whites have ‘ten little Indians,’ one of whom
is now serving his country in Vietnam. In the 38 by 40-foot
basement of their home on quiet Elm Street, Mrs. White handcrafts
her delicate stainless steel jewelry.
The Whites went into the jewelry business in 1950. The big idea
was to combine the husband’s technical knowledge of metallurgy
and chemistry with the wife’s special skills in Indian crafts.
Together, they concluded, they had the makings of a distinctive
Although Mrs. White sometimes makes rhodium and gold plated
items, most of her jewelry is fabricated from type 304 stainless
steel wire from .023 to .047 of an inch thick, produced by
Allegheny Ludlum Steel Corporation.
According to Mr. White: ‘We prefer to use stainless because
it is a durable, lifetime metal which will take a pleasant finish.
We sometimes work in other metals, but for strength and durability
you just can’t beat stainless.’
After the wire has been twisted and braided into jewelry, the
metal is cleaned and shined by a special patented electrochemical
polishing process invented by Mr. White in 1934.
In general terms, Mohawk jewelry falls into two distinct design
patterns. One is a cup-shaped spiral which is fashioned into
earrings and necklaces. The other is a braid pattern made of
parallel strands of twisted wire which is used in the design of
rings, bracelets, and tie clasps.
Success of the business is directly attributable to Mrs.
White’s exceptional skill at twisting and interlacing the
strands of stainless wire and making them into evenly spaced,
attractive braids. This is so difficult that she has never been
able to teach any of her own little Indians how to do it, or for
that matter, anyone else. Except for a simple eight-wire
child’s bracelet, the White’s have not been able to adapt
Lorena’s delicate patterns to machine production. With the
exception of the one child’s bracelet, all Mohawk Made jewelry
is handcrafted and designed by Mrs. White.
Mrs. White sometimes demonstrates her weaving and braiding
skills at hospitals and charity bazaars. In the summertime the
family travels to the threshing machine shows which are popular
throughout the mid-west. During these travels, the Whites live in a
traditional 16-foot diameter tepee which they claim has more
efficient air conditioning than most homes.
The weaving and braiding performed by Mrs. White is so even that
some buyers complain that it doesn’t look handcrafted.
‘I only wish it were machine made,’ say Mr. White,’
that would save Lorena a lot of work.’
Although ‘paleface’ technology made the stainless steel
and the electro-chemical process by which it was polished, the
jewelry still had to be handcrafted, just as it always has been by
generations of Mohawk women.