RESPLENDENTLY ADORNED

Lyn A. Fox Fine Pue­blo Pot­tery shows Darance Chimerica’s katsi­nam in a new ex­hi­bi­tion.

Native American Art - - GALLERY PREVIEWS - By Iris Mclister

For mil­len­nia, Hopi peo­ple have oc­cu­pied a ru­ral, arid re­gion of North­east­ern Ari­zona just a lit­tle over an hour’s drive from Flagstaff. Though Hopi vil­lages are some of the old­est con­tin­u­ally in­hab­ited lands in the United States, one of the Pue­blo’s most dis­tinc­tive art forms, its katsina dolls, are rel­a­tively new when you con­sider it’s an area first set­tled around 1100. The very ear­li­est katsina dolls date to the late 1700s, and the vast ma­jor­ity date to the mid­dle of the 19th cen­tury. As the mar­ket for these spec­tac­u­lar, dis­tinc­tive fig­ures surged in the 20th cen­tury, some Hopi carvers be­gan creat­ing hy­per­re­al­is­tic dolls. More re­cently, there’s been a resur­gence of more tra­di­tional styles, ex­em­pli­fied by artists like Darance Chimerica. For nearly 20 years, this Hopi carver has cre­ated im­mi­nently ap­peal­ing, resplendently adorned katsina dolls.

Katsina dolls are also im­por­tant teach­ing in­stru­ments, given to fe­male mem­bers of the Hopi tribe be­gin­ning in in­fancy to con­vey cul­tural and spir­i­tual in­for­ma­tion. As phys­i­cal man­i­fes­ta­tions of katsi­nam—mes­sen­gers be­tween spir­i­tual and earthly realms, the carved dolls may rep­re­sent beloved class an­ces­tors or leg­endary his­tor­i­cal fig­ures, but may also com­prise any num­ber of en­ti­ties from the nat­u­ral world, in­clud­ing sa­cred an­i­mals, cre­ative forces or even earthly el­e­ments.

Since birth, Chimerica has lived on Third Mesa, in the vil­lage of Hotevilla, Ari­zona. Dif­fer­ent mesas (there are three in to­tal) have unique means of carv­ing and con­fig­ur­ing katsina dolls. Ma­te­ri­als vary, and so do tech­niques. “On Third Mesa,” Chimerica says, “we tend to use a nat­u­ral style, paint­ing with earth tones, and keep­ing things rel­a­tively sim­ple.” It’s this style that ini­tially caught the eye of Santa Fe, New Mex­ico, gal­lerist Lyn Fox, who has been rep­re­sent­ing Chimerica for over 15 years. Though his spe­cialty is South­west­ern Pue­blo pot­tery, Fox’s in­ter­est in katsina

dolls grew when he first met Chimerica in 2003, and the gallery will fea­ture a solo ex­hi­bi­tion for the artist ti­tled Thun­der, Light­ning, Frogs and Bears. “Ev­ery­thing he uses, every step of the process hinges on a deep rev­er­ence for na­ture,” says Fox. “Darance’s work ap­peals on a vis­ceral level. He cre­ates a huge world of fas­ci­nat­ing per­son­al­i­ties, with unique qual­i­ties, all with ori­gins in the nat­u­ral world.”

“My grand­fa­thers on both sides made katsina dolls,” said Chimerica. “But they didn’t sell them; they were for pri­vate use, for fam­ily.” Though Chimerica grew up around carv­ing, his early cre­ative pur­suits were two-di­men­sional, and through­out grade school and high school he made elab­o­rate draw­ings and painted on can­vas us­ing acrylics or oils. When Chimerica de­cided to trade in the paint­brushes for carv­ing in­stru­ments, he was just a teenager, and largely self-taught. “I learned on my own, gather­ing ma­te­ri­als and in­spi­ra­tion from the en­vi­ron­ment.” Just look­ing at works like his frog katsi­nam in­di­cate that Chimerica never re­ally aban­doned his love for draw­ing and paint­ing. Ren­dered in pale green­ish-brown, a fe­male (or “mana”) frog katsina is adorned in a black dress, a broad, sym­bol­laden red belt around her waist. The lower rim of her gar­ment is ridged in dusky blue and co­ral, and her black footwear have allover, per­fectly spher­i­cal and iden­ti­cally sized white polka dots. It’s not only a be­guil­ing ar­range­ment of pat­terns and color, but also show­cases Chimerica’s me­thod­i­cal ap­proach and tech­ni­cal abil­ity.

Chimerica’s in­ter­est in creat­ing katsina dolls has al­ways in­volved the use of tra­di­tional meth­ods and ma­te­ri­als. Pig­ments used, for ex­am­ple, are never pur­chased, but in­stead come from lo­cally sourced plants and min­er­als. Carv­ing tools re­main tra­di­tional too, as does the use of cot­ton­wood, which, ac­cord­ing to Chimerica, “acts as a kind of prayer for mois­ture, since the cot­ton­wood root is highly ab­sorbent. Plus, the root is softer than the tree’s trunk and bet­ter suited for carv­ing.” There are hun­dreds of dif­fer­ent Hopi katsi­nam, and cor­re­spond­ingly, hun­dreds of va­ri­eties of dolls. Among Chimerica’s most pop­u­lar cre­ations are his as­ton­ish­ingly de­tailed bad­ger katsina. With bared, sharp teeth, a dis­tinc­tive stripe down his fore­head, and turquoise-rimmed, oval eyes—not to men­tion the many-col­ored sprig of feath­ers atop his head—he has an im­me­di­ately com­mand­ing pres­ence. “A lot of peo­ple con­nect with the col­ors and the way he looks,” says Chimerica. “But the bad­ger is also an im­por­tant healer; whether it’s ill­ness or bad en­ergy, the bad­ger ab­sorbs that.”

Not yet 40 years old, Chimerica is al­ready a modern master of katsina carv­ing. As Lyn Fox re­marks, “Even be­fore peo­ple re­ally un­der­stand what katsina dolls are, they’re drawn to Darance’s work. There is a uni­ver­sal ap­peal, some­thing im­me­di­ately, uni­ver­sally like­able about them.”

Thun­der, Light­ning, Frogs and Bears opens with a pub­lic artist re­cep­tion on Fri­day, May 18, from 5 to 7 p.m. at Lyn A. Fox Fine Pue­blo Pot­tery. The artist will demon­strate tra­di­tional carv­ing tech­niques at the gallery on Satur­day from 11 a.m.to 4 p.m.

1. 2. But­ter­fly Girl So­cial Dancer Doll, 17" with tableta Paak­waa and Paak­waa Mana Katsina Dolls, 11" 1

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