A display of the Woven stainless steel jewelry made by Lorena White.
Allegheny Ludlum Steel Corporation, Oliver Building, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15222
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' jewelry.
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 jewelry business.
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.