Art doll

My collection of Katsina dolls and related items.

Welcome to the street prophets coffee time.

I still feel weird calling them dolls. A few of mine are of a toy-like style as I know them; most are not. One is what I would call art. But “doll” seems to be the accepted term. So, it’s “doll”. I will do my best to say everything I know about each piece. Unfortunately, that’s not all I know about my jewelry collection. But hey, I’ve only been collecting katsina dolls for a few years now. I am certainly no expert.

I’ll start with this little guy.

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Hunter Katsina doll by Hopi artist Grace Pooley. Approximately 3″ tall.

Mrs. Pooley’s dolls are made in what is called the Route 66 style and resemble the katsina dolls sold to tourists in Fred Harvey stores across the Southwest in the first half of the 20th century. Mrs. Pooley is the only Hopi woman I know who creates katsina dolls.

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Mountain Lion katsina, signed B. Honie, 1st Mesa, AZ. I love how her coat wraps around a village, with rain clouds overhead and the face of another Katsina, Tawa, the sun, peeking out.
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A view of the back, showing the delicate details of hair, feathers and fringe. This Katsina doll is approximately 8 inches tall.

Male and female Katsinas are performed in Katsina dances by costumed male dancers. One way to tell them apart is to look at their shoes. Katsina women (Katsin Mana) wear white shoes. Male Katsinas (Katsin Taka) usually wear turquoise blue or sometimes a reddish tint.

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A young Shalako katsina girl, wearing the characteristic feather coat and adorned with pieces of soft wool and feathers. The figure was carved from a single piece of poplar root, and the tablita (headdress) was made separately and attached. Katsina dolls with thin wooden parts like this can be particularly fragile and easily damaged. The work of Ambrose Tewa from Moencopi, AZ, she is just under 12 inches tall. The Shalako Katsinas are divine messengers and bringers of rain. In Katsina dances, the Shalakos tower over everyone at around seven feet tall.

Quick tip for collectors of art, antiques and other things – a small “black light” UV flashlight is good for detecting repairs, artificial pigments and “enhanced” or stabilized gemstones. Glues, heat treated and/or dyed stones, added plastic resins and artificial pigments will glow brilliantly under UV light. These flashlights are used to locate scorpions and all sorts of things, and are sold by hardware stores and big box retailers.

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This Katsina Red Tail Hawk doll was sculpted from a single piece of poplar root, in which the artist used the branching and natural curves of the wood. With his coat of feathers, he resembles a Shalako and is accompanied by a smaller Broadface katsina. I found this one in a thrift store; it has a few small broken pieces, which I will eventually try to replace. I have done similar restoration work on other katsina dolls. Replacement parts should be carefully shaped and colors should match as closely as possible.

There are hundreds of Katsinas, who can embody everything from specific gods and deified humans to animals, plants, weather, and even abstract concepts. When a Hopi dons the costume of a Katsina, they also adopt that Katsina’s personality and state of mind. He becomes the Katsina he embodies in dance.

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The reverse, showing details of hair and ornamentation. Cottonwood root is quite fragile and many galleries will not ship katsina dolls with small, easily broken parts. The Red Tail Hawk and the Broadface Whipper Katsinas serve as guards for the more sacred Katsinas who take part in a ceremony. This katsina doll is the work of Hopi artist E. Honyestewa, and at 14″ tall is the tallest in my collection.

The Katsina religion is practiced by several Southwestern Native American tribes, including the Hopi, Zuni, and Tewa tribes. Katsinas have no spiritual meaning to Navajo people, but Navajo artists create katsina dolls for sale to collectors. Navajo katsina dolls have a distinctly different look to those of the peoples for whom the Katsinas are a vital part of their religion and culture.

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This Wolf katsina doll is the only one in my collection made by Navajos. Navajo katsina dolls tend to be made of pine or aspen rather than poplar root, and adorned with lots of fur, leather, bits of turquoise, and feathers. This katsina wolf is the work of Navajo artist R. Wilson and stands 8 inches tall.

The Navajos, however, have their own spiritual beings, called Yei’i. Which are sometimes depicted in weavings, sand paintings, jewelry, and carved images. While the Katsina religion revolves around a set ceremonial calendar, Yei’i ceremonies are held as needed.

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This group of Navajo Yei’i figurines and the weaving behind were gifts from my son. On the far right is the figure of Talking God, who leads the ceremony. On the far left is the water sprinkler. The sculpture is signed by Dine artist Jerry Whitethorne. The weaving is of course unsigned.
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This Talavai, or Morning Singer, is actually a ceramic piggy bank. The back is incised with the signature Lowell Talashoma Sr, which to me indicates that the Hopi artist made a sculpture from which a mold was taken to make the ceramic bank. It measures 8″ tall.
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The underside, showing the bank that had it created (perhaps as a promotional item) and the date.

Morning Singer Katsinas stand on the rooftops at dawn, singing to the rising sun to wake the village to a new day.

Finally, my favorite Katsina doll, and a Zuni jewel representing Tawa, the Katsina of the Sun.

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This Katsin Mana represents a Supai mother and her baby. The feathers of her headdress and the bonds of her wrists had broken. A tie had been lost. When I first met her, I had accepted a commission to restore the sculpture. It took a few weeks, from very careful removal of the dust buildup to reattaching the broken pieces. It took several attempts to make the replacement wristband until I was happy with it. (it’s on the other side of his left wrist)

The Supai are a neighboring tribe living near Havasupai Falls in the Grand Canyon. Many shrines and sacred sites of different Southwestern tribes are located in the Grand Canyon, and there has always been interaction (and sometimes friction) between the different peoples who live and visit there. This katsina doll’s face mask has distinctive geometric patterns that appear on other Hopi depictions of the Supai people.

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This truly exquisite sculpture is made from a single piece of poplar root, except for its headdress, and colored with natural pigments, except for the wrist tie which I made.
It stands 9″ tall and is signed by Hopi artist Adrian Poleahla, Old Oraibi, AZ. Oraibi has the distinction of being the oldest continuously occupied village in the United States.

I was paid quite well for my efforts to restore it. But I still hated having to return it to its owner. He owns a thrift store, selling mostly furniture and appliances, but also occasionally works of art. I had already done cleaning and restoration work for him. I didn’t think to ask how much he would sell this one. I was pretty sure that, although it was fixed, I couldn’t afford it. So I packed it up carefully, returned it, got my money back, and drove home feeling sorry for myself.

Until the next Yule, where my husband (who also does repairs on the guy’s devices) returned it to me. Whenever I’m tempted to damn him for an ignorant, callous moron, I’m reminded that he isn’t always. Not always.

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This Zuni encrusted pendant depicts Tawa, the Katsina sun, and is made of sterling silver, mother of pearl, coral, turquoise and jet. It measures an inch and a half wide and is simply branded “NT Zuni” on the back. It was a lucky find from a pawnshop, and it came with fluted Navajo beads. I have other Zuni jewelry but none have the kind of detailed carving shown on this one.

I hope you enjoyed viewing my collection as much as I enjoyed sharing it with you.

Thanks for the reading. This is an open topic, all topics are welcome.