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Katsina Dolls: A Hopi Tradition
When I first moved to Arizona, I was intrigued by everything that represented the Southwest especially Native American art. If you’re in the market, gift shops and tourist attractions alike are full of miniature dolls, dream catchers and jewelry. It becomes difficult to differentiate between the authentic native designs and the inexpensive copies. As I became more familiarized with the different art forms, I developed an appreciation for the katsina (kat-seena) dolls that are popular in many Phoenicians’ homes.
I have found the best place to begin your education on anything and everything Native American is to visit the Heard Museum in downtown Phoenix. Since 1929, the Heard has educated visitors about the art and cultures of Native people of the Southwest. With more than 38,500 artifacts in its permanent collection, it’s an amazing way to immerse yourself in this unique culture.
A summer exhibition going on now until September, the Hopi Katsina Dolls: 100 Years of Carving features historic collections side by side with contemporary dolls, some from famous collectors such as the late Sen. Barry Goldwater. With more than 1,700 katsina dolls on display, some rarely seen before, this exhibition explores the evolution of katsina dolls over the last century.
The Hopis, a pueblo-dwelling tribe from the San Francisco Peaks high above Flagstaff pride themselves on guiding children through their teen years with katsina dolls that represent spiritual figures in the Hopi religion. The dolls are the carved representations of the Katsinam, the spiritual messengers of the universe. Different Katsinam represent different aspects of life; for example, the Soyoko Katsinam help teach children proper behavior.
The dolls are given to Hopi girls, beginning in infancy, to help them learn about their responsibilities as women in the community. The dolls are carved by initiated Hopi men using cottonwood roots; in earlier days, all katsina dolls were colored with natural dyes, which made them non-toxic for a teething baby to handle. Today, they are made with modern dyes and paints, although some craftsman are returning to the original ways of their ancestors.
It’s important to note that even though katsina dolls created for the public have evolved into more of an art form, the ancient spirituality of the katsina religion still endures and is nurtured in Hopi communities. These dolls are used to teach children how to live life the right way, part of the many beliefs that the Hopis still abide by today.
I had a conversation with one of the craftsman at the Heards Indian market and he explained to me that the Hopis are well aware of the pressures that their younger members face. The katsina are designed to teach their young how to deal with these pressures and act in a manner that is proper for a young man or lady as they mature to adulthood.
Since the Hopis believe all good things come to those who live respectful, decent lives, it’s no surprise that their conservative views are reflected in the katsina and other artwork. I think that their affection for mankind’s responsibility to the earth and to others could be a lesson to us all.
The exhibition continues through September 5, 2010.
Seniors 65+: $11
Students with ID: $5
Children 6-12: $3
Children under 6: free
American Indians: free
The Heard Museum offers free admission to all active duty military personnel and their families through Labor Day 2010.
Photos courtesy of The Heard Museum.
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