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Collecting the Kachina and Cultural Baggage

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Katsina Dolls30 of 321930's Hopi Katsina DollKachina Dolls
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Posted 7 years ago


(203 items)

Many a young girl received a doll today, Merry Christmas, by the way. They may teach, but they aren't spirits.

Hopi and Zuni dolls are and were used to allow young women from the tribe to participate in sacred dances performed by the men. A rich, complicated cultural ritual I am not qualified to discuss, and I am not really sure anyone of European origin can, to tell the truth. We can "own" kachina dolls, but can we understand them? I guess as interlopers. There are some 400 identified, each with distinctive features represented by adornment and design.

Once you have an appreciation for cottonwood carvings from 1900 and before with flaking natural pigments, you may desire to own them as well. Not easy today, as the early ones, or what could be called "real" ones are for the most part tucked away. There are different levels for collectors...19th century, of which I have cribbed a few here from the catalog of an exhibition at the Galerie Flak in Paris from ten years ago, those from 1900 to before World War two, and those since. The later ones are purely decorative and produced for tourists, and although fine carvings are still produced by Native American artists they are far more elaborate in design and far less transcendent than the early ones.

The earliest kachinas were flat, simple, rudimentary wooden objects with sparse adornment but great magical power. The later ones can be beautiful but are more decorative, and it is quite common for dealers to date them earlier than they really are, I am afraid. There are literally hundreds of identified and collected kachina carvers working today, and there are festivals and such to display their contemporary (and striking) work. You can even take a bus tour right to the carvers, they don't have to set up outside train stations any more to sell to Paleface. (I am sorry to use what is now a derogatory, and likely Hollywood invented term, but after what we did to those who took care of our land before we got here, and what we have done to it since, let's face it...some of us have earned names worse.)

The photograph above is dated 1944 on the reverse. It is, of course, a Southwestern trading post with a symbolic gigantic Kachina out front. (A "Cigar Store Indian" as it were...another large sculptural object with racial and cultural baggage!) The rugs would indicate this is a shop of Navajo goods...I hope the women asked if they had any old Hopi or Zuni ones behind the counter, as the Navajo didn't make them then, but they do today. I understand now you can even find Kachinas carved in Korea. Ugh. There are rules and regulations to insure the kachina you purchase is in fact carved by a Native American...see that you do!

Original Snapshot 1944 Collection Jim Linderman

Dull Tool Dim Bulb Books


  1. Hardbrake Hardbrake, 5 years ago
    Outstanding items a real pleasure to look at.
  2. TheGateKeeper TheGateKeeper, 5 years ago
    Thanks for the information. I have a couple of 1990s Kachinas purchased directly from Hopi carvers at Canyon de Chelly in Arizona. Nice to see some of the old ones. A portion of John Wayne's collection is located at the Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City.
  3. CanyonRoad, 4 years ago
    Canyon de Chelly is part of the Navajo Reservation, a long way from the Hopi Reservation. I would seriously doubt that a Hopi kachina carver would be selling at Canyon de Chelly. You will, instead, find a lot of Navajo carvers selling fake "kachina dolls." If you want to buy directly from the Hopi carvers, go to the Hopi Cultural Center on Second Mesa, or go to the villages on First Mesa.

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