The Smithsonian may have the original Marco Island artifacts, but here is the next best thing: a line of fine jewelry fashioned after some of the Island’s most famous archeological finds.
A collaborative effort of the Marco Island Historical Society’s Gift Store (MIHS) and Golden Gate Jewelers, the jewelry includes a Key Marco Cat pendant, a favorite mascot of Islanders, as well as a Calusa mask made into necklaces, earrings, rings, and cufflinks. The jewelry is available in several different sizes, in either solid sterling silver or 14kt. gold, and can be customized with precious or semi-precious gems (diamonds, sapphires, rubies) or vermeil (gold) accents.
The original Key Marco Cat, and hundreds of other artifacts, were discovered on Marco in 1896 by archeologist Frank H. Cushing and members of the Pepper-Hearst expedition. The half-human, half-panther figurine, carved out of Florida buttonwood, is thought to be a spiritual icon of the Calusa Indians, Marco’s most famous residents, and is estimated to date back to 900 A.D. or earlier. Although the bulk of the artifacts are housed in the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History in Washington, an effort is being made to get them back where they belong, at the Marco Island Historical Museum.
Using unpublished photographs of the original artifacts and archeological records, Naples artist Peter Sottong carved an accurate replica of the Marco Cat and several of the masks. “Our jewelry is an exact miniaturization of those Sottong carvings. A CAD (Computer-aided Design) programallows our talented jewelers to precisely measure and recreate these artifacts down to the last line or imperfection,” says Ari Kathein, a graduate gemologist, and one of the owners of Golden Gate Jewelers. “For example, few people even realize that one of the Cat’s ears is smaller than the other.”
Several other pieces of jewelry are planned for the future: a bracelet made of linked masks with the Marco Cat as the centerpiece or perhaps even a selection of charms. “Charm bracelets are popular again. .and there are endless possibilities for designs. Even a replica of the Calusa’s shark tooth weapon would make a striking pendant,” claims Lori Wagor, MIHS Enterprise Manager. Wagor herself wears a sterling silver Calusa mask accented with diamond eyes and touches of gold (vermeil), a combination Valentines’ and birthday gift from her husband.
A percentage of each sale goes directly to the Museum whether purchased at the Gift Shop or at Golden Gate Jewelers. “As symbols, this jewelry is so meaningful to our Island and represents such a significant part of our history. Best of all, part of the sale price will go toward efforts to bringing back our artifacts,” says Wagor. “What a perfect gift for Mother’s or Father’s day, another occasion or just because.”
To see this unique jewelry, visit the MIHS Gift Shop at the Museum (239-389-6447) on 180 Heathwood Drive or Golden Gate Jewelers at the Shops of Marco off Barfield Drive and San Marco Road (239-259-8937).