Pipestone is a type of carvable rock which has been used by Native Americans for centuries. Its colour ranges from pink to brick red and this redness is due to its high iron content. It also has tiny spots known as stars which dot it all over making it even more unique in comparison to other stones. Pipestone has mainly been used by the Native Americans for making ceremonial pipes and effigies but with time, its uses have evolved to include making beads for jewelry. Pipestone is also known as catlinite. It was named after an American artist, George Catlin who recorded a legend about this stone.
Aside from iron, pipestone also comprises of metamorphic clay. The clay content
in pipestone makes its soft and easy to carve. Pipestone formation began 1.2
billion years ago in Minesota. Minesota at that time was covered in oceans with
sand and clay beneath the ocean waters. The sand and clay were in turn covered
with other sedimentary materials and with time, pressure from the water above
as well as chemical reactions changed the clay into pipestone. Pipestone is
mainly mined from the Pipestone National Monument in Minesota.
The Pipestone National Monument in Minesota sits on a 283 acres piece of land. The area surrounding the mine is largely covered in tall prairie grass. Pipestone National Monument houses a group of pipestone quarries which contain the best quality of pipestone deposits in the world. In order to be allowed to mine from the site, one has to apply to the Federal Government seeking permission to mine at a quarry there. Only people who are enrolled in a recognised Native American tribe are allowed to apply. One can only be issued a quarry permit after the Pipestone National Monument Superintendent has verified their enrolment in a tribe that is recognised by the US government. The need for a quarry permit is a contrast to the olden days where Native Americans used to mine pipestone freely in Minesota.
Only hand tools are tools are allowed to be used at the quarry, machines are not permitted. The tools which are currently being used at the Pipestone National Monument include wedges, heavy pry bars, chisels, and sledge hammers. The Native Americans who used to mine pipestone in the olden days however used crooked means such as harder stones and long sticks. . It may take upto several days to extract pipestone from the quarries.
Pipestone is used in jewelry making due to its softness, smoothness and ability to be polished to a high sheen. Its brick red color and stars which dot it all over also add to its beauty making it a preference of jewelry designers. Pipestone is cut into beads of various sizes and these beads are in turn used to make various jewelry items including earrings, necklaces, and bracelets among others. The beads are purchased by jewelry makers in the form of strands which are available in various lengths.