Located between Albuquerque and Santa Fe, Santo Domingo Pueblo (Kewa) is one of the largest (3200) and most conservative of the Rio Grande Indian Pueblo tribes in New Mexico. When Don Juan de Onate visited Santo Domingo in 1598, the pueblo was located on the north bank of the Galisteo Creek, a few miles east of the present village. Galisteo floodwaters washed this village away shortly afterwards and the survivors established a new Pueblo on the Rio Grande. Flood waters struck Santo Domingo in 1692 and again in 1886, washing away much of the Pueblo each time. Most of the present pueblo and the present mission church were built since the disastrous flood of 1886.
During much of the Spanish colonial period, Santo Domingo was an important Franciscan mission center and the ecclesiastical capital of New Mexico. A mission church erected here before 1607 by Fray Juan de Escalona, was considered one of the largest and finest in New Mexico. It was washed away in the 1886 flood, but most of the records and religious objects were saved.
Santo Domingo is known for the tiny handmade Olivia Shell beads known as heishi (from the Santo Domingo word meaning “shell”). Some heishi necklaces contain over 10,000 miniscule beads and look like strands of hair. Today, the word heishi is used to describe tiny, handmade beads of any material. In the ancient necklaces made by Ancestral Pueblo people each hole was drilled with a cactus needle and sand. Modern innovations include power tools and large beads featuring inlaid patterns of other stones.
Santo Domingo artists are also famous for inlaid/overlaid pieces, featuring turquoise and other stones set on a shell base. Shell mosaic is a trademark style of Santo Domingo jewelry, drawing on a tradition dating back many centuries. Many modern Pueblo artists consciously style their inlaid jewelry after styles and patterns unearthed by archaeological research, found in rock art or on display in museums. Much of Santo Domingo’s jewelry is strikingly similar to Ancestral Pueblo, or Anasazi, jewelry unearthed at Chaco Canyon and Mesa Verde. Modern day artists break from the past by using nontraditional stones such as green Gaspeite and purple Sugilite in more contemporary designs.