Dra­matic Evo­lu­tions

The trans­for­ma­tions of Manuel Denet Chavar­ria

Native American Art - - COLUMNS/FEATURES - By Barry Walsh

The trans­for­ma­tions of Manuel Denet Chavar­ria.

Manuel Denet Chavar­ria is a Hopi man who was born in 1964. He lives east of Po­lacca near First Mesa, Ari­zona. He was born into his mother’s But­ter­fly clan and he of­ten signs his work with a but­ter­fly sym­bol. Manuel has been mak­ing katsi­nam since he was 11 years old. What is es­pe­cially re­mark­able about his work is that his style has evolved dra­mat­i­cally over the years. Some trends have been rad­i­cal de­par­tures from the pre­vi­ous. And as he told me re­cently, his artis­tic style con­tin­ues to be a work in progress. But let’s start at the be­gin­ning.

Manuel is some­one who at­tributes artis­tic in­flu­ence to many peo­ple whom he speaks of with great re­spect. He shared that his ear­li­est katsina in­flu­ences were his grand­fa­ther, Fred Denet, and his grand­mother, Otille Jack­son. He noted that Otille was one of the first women to make katsi­nam and he em­pha­sized that she taught him some­thing es­pe­cially im­por­tant: the busi­ness side of the art world. She cau­tioned him, “Never leave home with­out your tools, be­cause one can make art and gen­er­ate in­come no mat­ter where you are.” Manuel says he’s never for­got­ten this ad­vice so his carv­ing tools and paints are his con­stant com­pan­ions.

He added that an­other grand­mother, Su­san Denet, was also an in­flu­ence. She was a renowned pot­ter who in­spired him to strive to be an artist. And he points to

Wal­ter Howato, the leg­endary mas­ter katsina carver as an­other key in­flu­ence. He re­called in the 1980s go­ing to the Heard Mu­seum try­ing to sell his early work with lit­tle suc­cess. He would walk around the Heard gift shop and see Wal­ter’s work and be in awe. At the time he was at­tempt­ing to carve in the re­al­is­tic style that had be­come pop­u­lar in the 1970s.

That all changed in the late 1980s with some en­cour­age­ment from trader Joseph Day, who had just opened Tsakur­shovi on Se­cond Mesa with his Hopi wife, Jan­ice. Manuel notes that this was so early in the ex­is­tence of Tsakur­shovi that their sig­na­ture “Don’t Worry, Be Hopi” T-shirt only came in red. At the time Joe had a few dolls by Man­fred Susunkewa, the orig­i­na­tor of the tra­di­tional style move­ment. Joe urged Manuel “to try some­thing dif­fer­ent” and make some­thing in the “old style.” So one day Manuel “stayed up all night and made a Koy­ala” (or Koshare). Joe bought it im­me­di­ately and the rest is his­tory. Manuel has been carv­ing in some ver­sion of the old style ever since.

Note ex­am­ples of carv­ings from the early 1990s in Fig­ure 3. Th­ese are left to right, Ha­hai’i Wuhti, Hilili, and a Koyemsi. Work from this era had bright colors. The ex­e­cu­tion was notably fresh, clean and crisp with­out be­ing fussy. The body types were lin­ear and sim­ple and re­sem­bled the katsi­nam from 1890 to 1920.

Work from this era was well re­ceived. Manuel’s carv­ings were in­cluded in Ari­zona High­ways, and later in Jerry and Lois Jacka’s book, Art of the Hopi. He also won prizes dur­ing this time at shows at the Mu­seum of North­ern Ari­zona and the Heard Mu­seum. Manuel was re­al­iz­ing his dream of be­ing a full-time, self-sup­port­ing artist.

Dur­ing this pe­riod, Manuel re­ceived his first in­vi­ta­tion to have a booth at Santa Fe In­dian Mar­ket— which he refers to as the “Su­per Bowl” for young artists. He re­calls the first time he at­tended watch­ing Ari­zona Liv­ing Trea­sure Man­fred Susunkewa from afar. Manuel said he was too in­tim­i­dated to ap­proach him but he ob­served how Man­fred ar­ranged his booth, in­ter­acted with cus­tomers, and dis­cussed his katsina carv­ings. He said he watched Man­fred all day, adding that “this is how we Hopi learn. We don’t read texts or man­u­als. We ob­serve.” He added that as he be­came more con­fi­dent he even­tu­ally shared this story with Man­fred and they had a good laugh.

While Manuel was hav­ing some suc­cess dur­ing this pe­riod, not all was healthy and well. As Manuel shared with me, he had de­vel­oped a prob­lem with al­co­hol. He dates this chal­lenge to his time in the U.S. Army at Fort Knox from 1986 to 1989. He added that af­ter dis­charge he brought his al­co­hol abuse back with him to the reser­va­tion. There were some pos­i­tives to his re­turn to Hopi­land as he re­newed his re­la­tion­ship with an old girl­friend, Mar­linda Kooy­aquaptewa. She even­tu­ally be­came his wife and mother of their three chil­dren. But Manuel notes that he strug­gled with al­co­holism on and off for 20 years. By 2009 Manuel had had been di­ag­nosed with di­a­betes and weighed as much as 250 pounds. He was in an ex­tremely un­healthy place. This is when one of his trans­for­ma­tions oc­curred.

Manuel ex­plained by 2009 he re­al­ized he was “be­com­ing a di­a­betic who would waste away and die.” He was able to get sober with a great deal of fam­ily sup­port. When he reached one year of so­bri­ety he be­gan work­ing for the Detox Sta­bi­liza­tion Cen­ter in Hol­brook, Ari­zona. He be­came a peer sup­port worker help­ing oth­ers in their re­cov­ery. Early on he found this work mean­ing­ful and found that it sup­ported his own re­cov­ery as well. He noted that this was his “first real job.” But even so he said, “My iden­tity as an artist was call­ing me back to my heart.” He also noted that work­ing at home as a carver al­lowed him to be closer to fam­ily (which now in­cludes 13 grand­chil­dren).

A ma­jor help in Manuel get­ting healthy has been his in­volve­ment in cy­cling. He rides 3 to 5 days per week and has even done long-dis­tance races. In re­cent years he has rid­den twice in the Tour de Sih Hasin (Navajo for “hope”). This is a seven-day tour in­volv­ing 300 miles each sum­mer. Manuel has since joined the board of di­rec­tors for this event. In ad­di­tion, Manuel has started, with oth­ers, a bik­ing pro­gram for Hopi youth in four of the nine vil­lages. Be­cause of his em­pha­sis on fit­ness he has lost 40 pounds and does not need to take in­sulin.

Hav­ing come back to the life of a full-time artist, Manuel carves three to five days a week. Since his re­turn, his style of carv­ing has un­der­gone a pro­found change. Note the katsi­nam shown in Fig­ure 5. Th­ese are a Soyoko (Ogre) on the left, fol­lowed by a very large Qo­qlo, and a smaller Qo­qlo. The style of th­ese carv­ings is rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent from his work from the early 1990s. The paints are muted and sub­tle. And he ex­plained that he now uses what he calls “a dis­tressed style.” Asked how he ar­rived at this style, he said it came from vis­it­ing mu­se­ums and see­ing an­tique dolls. He said he loved how they look and de­cided to try to “repli­cate it.” He also noted the in­flu­ence of his old idol, Wal­ter Howato, yet Manuel has made the style his own. Two other re­cent ex­am­ples in this style are the Ogres shown in Fig­ure 2. On the left is the rarely seen Atosle and on the right, a Soyoko.

One as­pect that dif­fer­en­ti­ates his work from Wal­ter’s is his ten­dency to add minia­ture dolls and other items to his carv­ings. For ex­am­ple, the Soyoko in Fig­ure 5 is hold­ing a small He­heya and the large Qo­qlo is re­ally well equipped with Ha­hai’i Wuhti and Qoglo cra­dle katsi­nam, and a full-fig­ured mini Qo­qlo.

An­other de­vel­op­ment in Manuel’s newer style is mak­ing very large carv­ings. An es­pe­cially fine ex­am­ple is shown on Fig­ure 1. This is a Yunya or Prickly Pear Cac­tus katsina. It is a whop­ping 18 inches tall by 11 inches wide. The cacti on its head bear over 500 in­serted tooth­pick spikes! An­other ex­am­ple in this over­sized trend is shown in Fig­ure 4. This is an­other large Qo­qlo— but a very dif­fer­ent ver­sion—which is car­ry­ing a mini Qo­qlo, a Matya and a drum with pounder.

While Manuel has worked in this dis­tressed style for sev­eral years, he says he orig­i­nally made two pro­to­types in this man­ner as early as 1990. And he in­di­cates, “Even

now I’m not set in one place; I’m still evolv­ing.”

A case in point is the very re­cent carv­ing shown in Fig­ure 6. He de­scribed this re­mark­able piece as a “mix­ture of the con­tem­po­rary and old style.” Note the ex­cep­tional de­tail on this work of art: The Soyoko is hold­ing a crook and knife with a cop­per blade. Also carved in bas re­lief are four mini He­heya katsi­nam. Three of th­ese are hold­ing twine las­sos. The move­ment of this large fig­ure is un­du­lat­ing and the shap­ing of the hair and gar­ment are syn­chro­nous. This sculp­ture is 18 inches tall by 7 inches wide and it is se­cured to a base—un­like al­most all his other work. It is clear that Manuel’s artis­tic de­vel­op­ment is on­go­ing.

Manuel notes that he has learned to work in a health­ier man­ner. He used to carve in a frenzy get­ting ready for shows or com­pe­ti­tions. He wouldn’t take a break to rest and would eat candy bars, chips and soda to keep go­ing. He said, “I was like a car run­ning too hot.” One night sev­eral years ago while work­ing in this man­ner, he said he “al­most flipped out.” “I went to a dark, scary place and when I came back, I de­cided to change things.” So now Manuel paces him­self, takes a break, eats healthily, rides his bike, reads a book, and spends time with the grand­kids. Th­ese are all part of the trans­for­ma­tions of Manuel Denet Chavar­ria. We can all look for­ward to his next artis­tic direc­tions.

1. Yunya or Prickly Pear Cac­tus katsina,

18 x 11". Barry Walsh Collection. Photo by Dan Vail­lan­court, Pa­trick O’con­nor Pho­tog­ra­phy.

2. Atosle katsina and Soyoko katsina. Peg De­mouthe Collection. Photo by Peter ffoulkes.

4. Large Qo­qlo katsina car­ry­ing a mini Qo­qlo, a Matya and a drum with pounder. Peg De­mouthe Collection. Photo by Peter ffoulkes.

3. Ha­hai’i Whuti, Hilili and Koyemsi katsi­nam, ca. 1990s. Barry Walsh Collection. Photo by Dan Vail­lan­court, Pa­trick O’con­nor Pho­tog­ra­phy.

5. Soyoko katsina, large Qo­qlo and smaller Qo­qlo. Barry Walsh Collection. Photo by Dan Vail­lan­court, Pa­trick O’con­nor Pho­tog­ra­phy.

6. Soyoko katsina with four mini He­heya katsi­nam in bas re­lief, 18 x 7". Barry Walsh Collection. Pho­tos by Dan Vail­lan­court, Pa­trick O’con­nor Pho­tog­ra­phy. Steve Fis­cher Collection.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.