When Stetson Honyumptewa was a boy, he would watch his father, uncles and brother-in-law carving katsina dolls. “They didn’t carve in public,” he explains. “I guess we weren’t supposed to know that they made them we were kids. But still, I couldn’t wait to be initiated and start carving.”
Once he was brought into the fold at around 11 or 12, learning to carve was a slow process. “My brother-in-law was really good at it, and I would watch him and tell myself, ‘I’m going to get that good,’” Honyumptewa says. “It took a long time to hone my skills. Every time I would make a doll, I would look at it and think, ‘This is good, but I can make it better.’ It was a natural progression.”
Now a veteran carver, Honyumptewa tries not to worry too much about inspiration. “I don’t plan much,” he says. “I just let it happen.” The carving process can be very involved— time to complete a project varies depending on the size, the amount of detail, and the movement of the piece. A katsina doll 15 inches tall might create a month to complete.
This year, Honyumptewa is preparing at least four katsina dolls to bring to Indian Market. As the event draws closer, he finds himself working day and night. A few years ago, he found himself working four days straight without sleep. “Sometimes I procrastinate,” he acknowledges, “but that’s part of the fun!”
Ultimately, Honyumptewa doesn’t view carving as his job, saying, “It’s my contribution to helping people enjoy beauty.”