The horse is a very popular design in Zuni jewelry but they can be confusing if they are not cleanly signed. Two types are especially difficult.
Overlay inlay—once called Zuni inlay because nobody else did it—would be difficult to attribute if they are not signed.
The Simplicio brothers seem to make almost identical horse pieces, but they are different. The pieces seen most often are the ones by Isabel and Chauncy, but some are signed by just Isabel. The most obvious element of their horse is the nugget, or nuggets. More importantly they don’t put a forelock on them.
The hair on the forehead belongs to Dan. The forelock is very consistent so it is quite reliable. Bracelets and buckles are more problematic. Contrary to popular belief, stamps are not a good marker. Smiths shared tools all the time, and certain stamps that were popular were owned by many jewelers.
For Dan the best marker is his leaf. Unfortunately he didn’t always make the same leaf, especially later in his career. But the leaf is certainly important. Recently a watchband made by Francis Leekya, very clean random inlay and the Leekya leaf, was attributed to Dan. That piece is pretty easy to identify and shouldn’t be misattributed.
The forelock on his horses separates his pieces from Chauncy and Isabel. Mike Simplicio is more difficult. There is a buckle signed by him using the Chauncy horse and nuggets but adding Dan’s leaves. Probably he just borrowed the stamp. His leaves are not cleanly stamped, but it is the Dan leaf. Mike’s horse also has a rather chiseled muzzle.
The Qualo horse is very similar to those of the Simplicios with a simple horsehead done in white shell. Qualos, Elliott and Effie, usually signed their work. The family says that even though they have exactly the same pieces, they worked separately.
Elliott’s round pieces almost always have the same stamped border. Effie’s border is similar, but she used a different stamp. She didn’t always do exactly the same horse and there is one that has more engraving and an applique silver rein. That same piece has been attributed to Elliott.
Double attributions are not uncommon. A Nora Leekity style horsehead had been attributed to her and Paul Luna. Her horses have a multi-colored band at the base, usually three tufts of mane hair, and reins that are used for stabilizing the parts. There is a very similar one without the rein attributed to Roberta Benketewa.
Bobby Concho’s horses are extravagant and detailed, but his horsehead is well within the tradition, if somewhat better made than some.
The horse is a very popular image and many people at Zuni have tried it.