Hearts beating in the rock The Zuni Show
THE ZUNI SHOW
More than one hundred Zuni artists converge on the Scottish Rite Center on Saturday, Aug. 20, and Sunday, Aug. 21, for a show and sale of pottery, jewelry, paintings, and carved fetishes in rock, shell, and antler. The Zuni Show, sponsored by the nonprofit Keshi Foundation, was organized to increase the public’s exposure to Zuni artwork. There is no admission charge, and the artists get 100 percent of the proceeds from the sales. “Last year we had eight shows for different artists,” said Bronwyn Fox, owner of the Santa Fe business Keshi, who spent several formative years living at Zuni. “We thought we could do that in a big show. This will be the vendors from Zuni Pueblo selling directly to the public in the Hall of Honor at the Scottish Rite. I think it will be the most Zuni artists ever assembled in one venue.”
Keshi was founded in 1981 as a cooperative by Zuni artists and several teachers (both Zuni and nonNative) who wanted to ensure that the artists received fair remuneration for their work. Several years later, it became a regular business, buying the work outright from the artists. For 22 years, Keshi was located at the Santa Fe Village shopping complex on Don Gaspar Avenue; in 2003 it moved next door to 227 Don Gaspar. Fox said half of the Zuni Show vendors will be artists who have never done a show before.
“That’s true,” said her mother, Robin Dunlap, the show organizer. “And some others are coming to show loyalty to their people. Examples are Jeff Shetima, Les Namingha (ZuniTewa-Hopi) and Gomeo Bobelu; they have all done very well at Indian Market.” Dunlap lived in Zuni Pueblo as a sixth-grade teacher and was one of the founding members of the cooperative.
The big show includes performances by olla maidens, women who dance with pots balanced on their heads, and by Zuni groups performing the deer dance, rainbow dance, eagle dance, and other dances in the courtyard. Visitors will see and hear words and phrases in the Zuni language. “It’s a beautiful language,” Dunlap said. “What’s interesting at Zuni is that many young people still speak the language, what they call Shiwi’ma, so it’s not very endangered. Zuni is the largest pueblo — it’s the size of Rhode Island — and I think their geographical isolation has worked to their benefit in keeping culture.”
The Zuni animal carvings known as fetishes are the tribe’s best-known artworks, but their function is often misunderstood. They are not “magic,” Dunlap stressed. “The Smithsonian came to Zuni, and they saw how the people were using fetishes. They saw that they were not worshipping them and didn’t even think they were good luck. What they were doing was carrying an animal that did the thing well that they wanted to do well. It’s like a tool. If you are going deer hunting, what animal is going to be the best hunter of the deer? The cougar. So to this day they carry a mountain lion with them, and when they honor mountain lion’s ability to hunt the deer, they’re remembering to focus on their ability to hunt the deer. Because what they say is, if Great Spirit made mountain lion and Great Spirit made me, we’re connected, and it’s just about honoring that connection.”
A fetish is an object that has no intrinsic power. According to the Zuni conception, the spirit of the fetish comes from the spirit of the animal, the spirit of the stone, the spirit of the carver, and the spirit of the possessor. “There’s no magic. You have to do the work,” Dunlap said. “The story of the fetish comes from the emergence myth. The people came from Mother Earth, and the animals were already here. The people started emerging from the sipapu [in Pueblo cosmology, the place of emergence from the Earth], and the animals were creating havoc on them: They were eating them. So the ancestors said their prayers to Great Spirit, and Great Spirit agreed to freeze the animals in stone for a certain period of time, but it kept their hearts beating in the rock. Those were the original fetishes.”
Zuni effigies most often portray animals, but the human being is also represented. Dunlap said three stages of woman show up in artworks. If the figure has whorls of hair on the sides of her head, she
has not had a baby. The second stage is mother and is usually represented with a baby. The third is the grandmother, the wise elder. The maiden and mother’s bodies are carved to look like ears of corn (with all the kernels exposed, sometimes represented symbolically with crosshatching), whereas the outline of the grandmother’s body is carved to look like layers of shawl material.
“Faye Quandelacy was at the Institute of American Indian Arts in the 1970s and was making great big sculptures of maidens, mothers, and grandmothers, and then she started doing them as fetishes. Faye will not be at our show, but we have five other Quandelacys coming. The Quandelacy family has not been at Indian Market for years, and people are going to flip out.”
Dunlap discussed petit-point jewelry, in which each stone is in its own silver bezel. “They cut each little slit of silver — the Zunis do it all by hand; they don’t cast their silver — and make tiny teeth with a small saw. Then they shape the stone and solder it in. Jesse Johnson, who will be at the Zuni Show, does beautiful petit point. He’s young, and unfortunately this art form is dying out. I can literally look at the shape of the stone and tell you which family is doing it. There are less than 20 now. The Zunis are also known for gorgeous inlay, but no matter what it is, it’s going to be tiny pieces shaped meticulously and perfectly.”
Traditional forms and designs are important to Gomeo Bobelu, but the Zuni artist is known for “tweaking them a little bit,” as Dunlap put it. A silversmith for more than 15 years, Bobelu is also a painter and photographer and is one of the participating artists and producers of the 2016 film Veiled Lightning:
A Native R/evolutionary, about the Pueblo Revolt that was fomented in 1680 by Po-Pay of Ohkay Owingeh. Bobelu told Pasatiempo that he relates to traditional Zuni artworks, especially the master jewelers who were fostered by C.G. Wallace, a trading post owner at Zuni from 1918 to 1970. But Bobelu’s jewelry definitely comes from a creative mind.
“In my evolution of my work, I had to take a good look at myself,” he said. “As a Zuni artist, I always take pride because I get a lot of energy from the sacred dances and the ceremonies. I am born of the Badger Clan and Child of the Corn Clan. Most of my designs look like a katsina face, but I kind of didn’t want to exploit our Zuni culture — the Zuni-mask culture, because that has supernatural energy, and I don’t really like to manifest that, so I call mine a spirit face.”
His 2013 Hopi maiden pin has a face of abalone and jet, hair (including whorls) carved in jet, and necklaces of silver, coral, turquoise, and pearl. The piece was made in tribute to an aunt who died. “And then I have a male version that paid tribute to my little brother, who committed a murder-suicide. I also just lost my father in February,” Bobelu said. “With my jewelry I heal myself from such tragedy and trauma so that I’m able to persevere.” His line of Zuni figurines is a tribute to the victims and survivors of suicide and domestic abuse on Indian reservations. He’s also an advocate for the LGBT community. “We don’t have a gay-straight alliance in Zuni. It has taken me a long time to be comfortable in my skin, because not
everybody likes me, so I’ve taken a different holistic approach to not be angry and hateful. With all of this death, I’ve had to step up to the plate, because I have four generations behind me, and I have two daughters.
“When I tell people that I’m an Indian, they ask me what tribe I am, and when I say Zuni, their whole face lights up because they had a positive experience in the pueblo and the art, because we’ve always been a tourist community. In my work I ask myself, I wonder if Jimi Hendrix would wear this? I wonder if Jackie Onassis would wear this? And it’s my drive that when my pieces get out into the universe they are hopefully able to heal others.”
The artist is striving for his art to “heal me enough to advocate for other people,” and this motive extends to reconciliation of enmities that sometimes exist in the local art world, represented by the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts, the Institute of American Indian Arts, and the Indigenous Fine Art Movement. A recent post on Bobelu’s Facebook page reads “Unidos ... SWAIA + IAIA + IFAM + all tribes = we heal the world through many art forms.”
Claudia Peina: Corn Grinder; top, Sandra Quandelacy: Corn Maiden with Stripes; right, Stewart Quandelacy: Medicine Bear
A fetish is an object that has no intrinsic power. According to the Zuni conception, the spirit of the fetish comes from the spirit of the animal, the spirit of the stone, the spirit of the carver, and the spirit of the possessor.
Gomeo Bobelu (Zuni): Dragonfly pendant; right, brooch; photos Peter Kahn