Decades of Katsina Dolls

An iconic South­west­ern art form moves from cul­tural ar­ti­fact to mne art.

Native American Art - - COLUMNS/FEATURES - By De­bra Utacia Krol

An iconic South­west­ern art form moves from cul­tural ar­ti­fact to fine art.

Katsina dolls have fas­ci­nated col­lec­tors, schol­ars and fans of South­west­ern Na­tive cul­tures for decades. Carved by ini­ti­ated Hopi men for cen­turies, the dolls rep­re­sent the katsi­nam, the su­per­nat­u­ral be­ings who bring life-giv­ing rain to the dry Hopi mesas, and whose virtues are taught to chil­dren as the path to a good, rich life.

Al­though the katsina dolls are an es­sen­tial com­po­nent of an an­ces­tral cul­tural tra­di­tion, they’ve only been known to non-hopis for a bit more than a cen­tury. Peo­ple who want to learn more about one of the best-known arts in the South­west can see hun­dreds of them dat­ing from the late 1800s to the 21st cen­tury at Phoenix’s Heard Mu­seum.

“The Heard has two ma­jor katsina doll col­lec­tions— the Gold­wa­ter and Fred Har­vey col­lec­tions,” says Dr. Ann Mar­shall, di­rec­tor of re­search at the mu­seum. Har­vey ob­tained many dolls from H.R. Voth, a Men­non­ite mis­sion­ary; In­dian trader Fred­er­ick Volz; and oth­ers.

Orig­i­nally, the dolls were sim­ply carved and painted with nat­u­ral pig­ments. As teach­ing tools for Hopi girls grasp­ing the nu­ances of their an­ces­tral cul­ture, they were meant to be hung on a wall, and so lack a sta­ble base. How­ever, once Hopi carvers learned the dolls could be turned into cash or trade goods, they en­deav­ored to cre­ate pieces that would ap­peal to tourists trav­el­ing along the Atchi­son, Topeka and

Santa Fe Rail­road. One ex­am­ple of an early tourist­trade doll is a Tung­wivkatsina, or Whip­per, which Volz pur­chased for Har­vey. The late-19th-cen­tury doll is seated on a stand and dressed in a kilt re­pur­posed from a cro­cheted doily.

An­other early ex­am­ple of katsina dolls carved for the trav­el­ing pub­lic: a Honànkatsina, or Bad­ger, dated to the turn of the 20th cen­tury, also ac­quired by Volz for the Har­vey Com­pany. The doll sports a tiny con­cho belt crafted from tin, poster paints and a cloth sash com­plete with fringe. “Th­ese were made with the idea of sell­ing,” says Mar­shall.

One of the Heard’s ear­li­est katsina dolls came from the collection of two re­mark­able Ari­zona men. The 1890s-era Sa’lak­w­mana, or sha­lako, doll was given to the mu­seum by the late Ari­zona Sen. Barry Gold­wa­ter near the end of his 1964 pres­i­den­tial run. Much of the Gold­wa­ter Collection, though, was as­sem­bled by John Rinker “Rink” Kibbey, a noted Phoenix ar­chi­tect. Kibbey, a friend of the Gold­wa­ter fam­ily, in­tro­duced the then-7-year-old boy to the high mesas and an­cient vil­lages of Hopi­land dur­ing a 1916 col­lect­ing trip. “On that first visit to Hopi, I re­call that Rink pur­chased a large mud­head nearly 24 inches high for about $3,” Gold­wa­ter wrote in the in­tro­duc­tion to the 1975 Heard cat­a­log of his collection.

Gold­wa­ter was en­tranced—and hooked. As a young man, Gold­wa­ter en­deav­ored to as­sem­ble his own collection; how­ever, as he noted, “The war came along and in­ter­vened.” Af­ter re­turn­ing home from his World War II ser­vice, Gold­wa­ter learned that Kibbey wished to sell his collection. “He asked me what I could of­fer,” Gold­wa­ter wrote, “and I said I will give you what I have in my sav­ings ac­count, which was $1,200.” The deal was struck, and Gold­wa­ter’s life sav­ings be­came the core of his collection.

Gold­wa­ter con­tin­ued to visit the Hopi vil­lages reg­u­larly, where he was wel­comed into homes and ki­vas. He learned more about the reli­gious as­pects of the katsina spir­its and the dolls that teach the Hopi about the proper way to live. While there, he was granted the op­por­tu­nity to ob­serve katsina dances. “The few katsina dances I have seen in my life left me with about the same feel­ing I have when I at­tend com­mu­nion in my own church or mass in the Catholic Church,” Gold­wa­ter wrote.

That same sense of re­spect and awe in­formed Gold­wa­ter’s con­tin­ued collection ef­forts; ul­ti­mately,

the collection grew to 437 dolls span­ning the late 18th cen­tury to the early 1960s, in­clud­ing 70 dolls com­mis­sioned by Oswald White Bear Fred­er­icks. But, the time had come to pass on the col­lected his­tory of the Hopi carv­ing art to new ste­wards, and the Heard ac­cepted the gift.

The Gold­wa­ter Collection also show­cases the con­tin­u­ing evo­lu­tion of katsina doll carv­ing. Bruce Mcgee, the di­rec­tor of the Heard Mu­seum Shop, was lit­er­ally raised around katsina dolls. He’s a mem­ber of the Mcgee trad­ing fam­ily, and grew up on the Hopi Reser­va­tion. “Th­ese dolls are like books in wood,” says Mcgee. “But, when I was a kid, [the carv­ings] are noth­ing are like what we see to­day.”

Mcgee re­counts that dolls made for tourists, which in­cluded skirts made from table­cloths, real feath­ers, poster paints and more “ac­tion” ori­ented fig­ures, came into the trad­ing posts through the 1950s. They also started to ap­pear more hu­man, and were mounted on stands. “In the 1960s, dolls be­came more re­fined, but they still used lots of feath­ers,” he says.

That ended in the early 1970s, when the fed­eral govern­ment be­gan re­strict­ing the pos­ses­sion of ea­gle feath­ers by non-in­di­ans, and pros­e­cut­ing deal­ers who sold works with mi­gra­tory feath­ers. Alarmed that he and other deal­ers would get caught in the le­gal cross­fire, Mcgee worked to en­sure that he could continue legally sell­ing dolls—and that his carvers could continue to make a liv­ing, or at least sup­ple­ment their in­comes, with carv­ing. “I knew that Brian Hony­outi carved one-piece dolls,” Mcgee says. “I told him that we need to carve feath­ers now,” or face pos­si­ble fines, jail time or both. “Brian started show­ing oth­ers how to carve and groove feath­ers.”

In ad­di­tion to re­al­is­tic-ap­pear­ing feath­ers, the 1970s saw carv­ing mov­ing away from craft and to­ward fine art. “Alvin James from the Third Mesa started the foray into the art world,” Mcgee says. “I paid $200 for his first doll. My dad thought I’d lost my mind.” Chas­tised, Mcgee hid the carv­ing in the back of a case, in­tend­ing to pur­chase it him­self. But, “a lady came by, looked in the case and ad­mired it. I told her it was $275. ‘I’ll take it!’ she said.” And, the rest is his­tory. Th­ese dolls are painted with acrylic tints, are posed as if they’re danc­ing, and can range to more than 24 inches tall.

In ad­di­tion to Hony­outi and James, the lat­ter 20th cen­tury saw the rise of tal­ented artists such as Ce­cil Cal­nimptewa, Neil David, Dennis Tewa and other such carvers.

And, the art con­tin­ues to evolve. Aaron Fred­er­icks and Mike Jenk­ins are noted for their ul­tra-re­al­is­tic dolls. “We’re see­ing carv­ings com­ing out that would blow el­ders’ minds,” says Mcgee. “It’s like turn­ing the pages of a book to see the pro­gres­sion of the carv­ing art.”

But, just as the earth turns around the sun, katsina

doll carv­ing also runs in cy­cles. Led by artists such as Man­fred Susunkewa, some carvers are cre­at­ing “retro” style dolls—with flat carv­ings, no bases and nat­u­ral pig­ments. “In par­tic­u­lar, Tay­ron and Ryon Pole­quaptewa are push­ing the en­ve­lope,” Mcgee says. “They even treat their nat­u­ral pig­ments to make them ap­pear older.”

And, of course, carvers still cre­ate pieces for their orig­i­nal use—teach­ing Hopi chil­dren about their her­itage and re­in­forc­ing life lessons. “Even my sis­ter got a ‘grandma’ doll,” which is a flat doll with sug­ar­in­fused nat­u­ral pig­ment paints for ba­bies to chew on, Mcgee says.

Carvers like Wally Grover and Kevin Se­cakuku continue the tra­di­tion of cre­at­ing art from the hum­ble cot­ton­wood root. Grover, who lives in Tewa Vil­lage on First Mesa, has carved con­tem­po­rary dolls since 1987. “I got started right out of high school,” says Grover. “I like to make an­i­mal katsina dolls, like Owl and White Bear, and Bad­ger for heal­ing.” He sells at the Heard’s Katsina Doll Mar­ket­place each spring, and also has a spot at the Hopi Cul­tural Cen­ter. “I’d rather meet the peo­ple and know where my art is go­ing,” says Grover. “The dolls are like my fam­ily.”

Grover prefers to make re­al­is­tic-ap­pear­ing dolls. “The wood talks to me,” he says. Grover, who works full time as an artist be­cause it al­lows him time to vol­un­teer, also cre­ates rat­tles and bows and ar­rows for boys as well as full-size dolls for older girls. “I do it for my­self, my chil­dren and grand­kids,” Grover says as he pre­pares to coach a bas­ket­ball game.

Se­cakuku, on the other hand, makes more Old Style works. “My most re­quested works are Soyoko clowns,” says Se­cakuku, who lives in the Phoenix area, but whose home com­mu­nity is Kykotsmovi. “But peo­ple were ask­ing for Old Style so I just started do­ing it.”

But, Se­cakuku had to first un­learn some things. “Philbert Ho­nanie taught me how to carve in the Old Style,” says Se­cakuku, the nephew of ac­claimed artist Alph Se­cakuku. “‘Don’t be such a per­fec­tion­ist on the Old Style dolls,’ Philbert told me,” says Se­cakuku, who nor­mally works with painstak­ing de­tails.

Mcgee says that the katsina doll carv­ing art will continue to change. But, whether cre­at­ing Old Style, ac­tion fig­ures or ul­tra-re­al­is­tic carv­ings from the cot­ton­wood roots that bring life just as wa­ter brings life to the peo­ple, he says that one thing will al­ways re­main the same: “They will fol­low their hearts.”

From left: Hopi cra­dle doll; Willis Ke­wan­wytewa (Hopi),

1st Mesa Cloud katsina doll; Wil­lie Qumy­in­tewa (Hopi),

War God katsina doll; An­thony Bri­ones (Hopi),

White Bear katsina doll; Peter Shel­ton (Hopi), Snake Dancer katsina doll; and Von Monongya (Hopi), Great Horned Owl katsina doll. Photo by Megan Rich­mond, Heard Mu­seum.

1. Wilson Tawaquaptewa (Hopi, 1871-1960), carv­ing with stuffed snake and cloth­ing of painted cloth and com­mer­cial leather, and jew­elry with sev­eral dif­fer­ent kinds of shells, 1930s-40s, 333/25". Heard Mu­seum Collection, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Henry S. Gal­braith, 3309-228. Photo by Craig Smith.

2. Man­fred Susunkewa (Hopi), Hi­ilili, ca. 1990, min­eral pig­ment paint, 13". Ht. 13 inches. Heard Mu­seum Collection, gift of Joann Phillips, 4374-1. Photo by Craig Smith.

3. Ryon Pole­quaptewa (Hopi), Hòo‘e, 2007, 16¼". Heard Mu­seum Collection, 4605-1. Photo by Craig Smith.

Nata’aska (Black Ogre), ca. 1900, 18". Heard Mu­seum Collection, gift of Sen. Barry M. Gold­wa­ter. NA-SW-HO-F-126.

Photo by Craig Smith.

Ahöla, early 1900s, 28". Heard Mu­seum Collection, gift of Sen. Barry M. Gold­wa­ter. NA-SW-HO-F-127. Photo by Craig Smith.

4. Ce­cil Cal­nimptewa Jr. (Hopi), Kwaakatsina or Ea­gle katsina, 1992, 21¼". Heard Mu­seum Collection, gift of Ruth and Sid Schultz, 4513-5. Photo by Craig Smith.

5. Honànkatsina or Bad­ger katsina, pre-1901, 13½". Fred Har­vey Fine Arts Collection at the Heard Mu­seum, 850CI. Photo by Craig Smith.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.