Native Writers, Artists
and Jewelry Makers
Native literature and art forms
have long embraced nature and
imbued its basic qualities into their
creations. Whether their art is for
ceremonial purposes or for
commercial sale, most artists will
tell you they keep the spirit of the
natural world in mind as they
create. If you are a potter, even
the act of digging out the clay from
the ground is a ceremony. When you
take something you have to give
something, such as an offering of
If you are a kachina doll carver, collecting cottonwood tree roots becomes a ceremony, as does the actual carving
of the doll. Many Hopi men havebecome famous for their pottery and kachina doll making, and women are gaining
reputations from making beautiful kachina dolls. Native American jewelry making and painting are new to Hopi, but
the Navajo have long been making jewelry.
Navajo Harvey Begay created unique native jewelry and was among a few jewelry makers willing to experiment
with nontraditional forms and techniques, moving beyond the silver and turquoise designs widely used by his
fellow Navajos. Similarly, Mike Bird-Romero is known for his use of exotic stones set in silver pins, bracelets
and earrings. He takes care to match similar stones to form symmetrical images that appear as mirror reflections
of each other. Some Cherokee jewelry makers continue to make intricate designs in traditional seed bead weavings
and rossettes, while others began using many gemstone combinations and designs. Rossette or gemstone pendants
are included in the native jewelry crafted by most Cherokee jewelry makers.
Two successful Cherokee writers during the 20th century were the novelist John M. Oskison (1874-1947) and
the playwright Lynn Riggs (1899-1954), who were friends and frequently wrote about the same subjects, especially
the early days of Oklahoma in novels and plays often set on ranches and small farms. Though Riggs is more popularly
known for "Green Grow the Lilacs" (1930), on which the Broadway musical "Oklahoma!" is based, his best play and
certainly his most "Indian" one, is "The Cherokee Night" (1933), a tragedy that is unfortunately little known.
Oskison's three novels, "Wild Harvest" (1925), "Black lack Davy" (1926) and "Brothers Three" (1935), are good
as local color for their time and place.
Cherokees were not the only Oklahoma Indians publishing fiction during this period. The Wyandot writer Hen-Toh
(Bertrand N. O. Walker, 1870-1927) published "Tales of the Bark Lodges" (1919) and "Yoo-doo-shah-we-ah," and
the Osage novelist and historian John Joseph Mathews produced "Sundown" (1930), "Wah'Kon-Tah" (1932), "Talking
to the Moon" (1945), and "The Osages" (1961). "Sundown," with its theme of the mixed-blood protagonist within
the context of a twentieth-century tribal milieu, prefigures more contemporary Native novels such as N. Scott
Momaday's "House Made of Dawn" (1968) and Leslie Marmon Silko's "Ceremony" (1977). As in these two novels,
the protagonist in "Sundown" is a returned war veteran. "Talking to the Moon," Mathews's philosophical reflections
of a year spent in a hill cabin in the blackjack country of Osage County, has been called an Native Walden by critics.
It is in any case a truly overlooked American Indian literary classic.
One of the greatest Native American pottery makers is the famed potter Nampeyo (c. 1860-1942). Nampeyo
studied designs on old pottery shards found at the old village of Sikydtki. Using those ancient designs and adding
her own creative flair, she made unique pots that caught the attention of collectors. She enjoyed immense fame at
the turn of the 20th century, which has only grown in the decades after her passing. Today her descendants,
including Dextra and Hisi Quotskuyva, continue to impress buyers with their delicate work. The children of these
Native artists or native jewelry makers often begin creating items when very young. If a parent makes pottery,
the children mix clay, strain it, set it out to bake in the sun or the oven or kiln.
Hopi pottery makers continue making native pottery into old age. Rosalie Talashie, made pottery for 40 years,
from 1930 to 1970. She was known for her steady hand at painting the fine designs. Her father, Lalo, was
renowned for his weaving, even exhibiting at a World's Fair.
The Hopi and Navajo people are unusually talented, many becoming famous for their work. In Hopi we would say,
Pas kurs urn tuhisa, meaning "You're so ingenious or creative." Navajo artist Mark Silversmith was born on
the Navajo Reservation and raised among the red mesas of northern New Mexico. As a result of his upbringing,
Mark was influenced by the beauty of the Southwest from an early age. He was taught traditional Navajo values
by his grandparents and developed a deep love of nature which is visible in his paintings, such as “Aspen Monarch”
and “Guardian of Spider Rock” which can be found in our online store.
Nampeyo's Tewa name means Snake Girl. Her first collectors were tourists who would take the train to Holbrook,
Arizona, and then endure a grueling wagon trip to the Hopi reservation about 60 miles away. Nampeyo was inspired
by the large and elaborately painted older pottery found at Sikyátki. Her great-great-granddaughter Hisi
Quotskuyva says the family has stories about the large pots Nampeyo made and how she was asked to demonstrate
at the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago. Nampeyo had a big family, and today many of them still make pottery. "It's
passed down from generation to generation," says Quotskuyva. "My kids are 26, 21 and 18, and they all know how
to make pottery."
Like their great-great-grandmother, Quotskuyva favors the old designs. "I keep mine more traditional," she says.
"I like hummingbirds. I like butterflies. I usually put my own designs to those designs." She also likes going behind
the scenes at museums, where she takes photos of pottery designs and duplicates those, adding her own touches.
"My mom Dextra's designs are more from her dreams and how she interprets them," she explains. "Her pottery is
always different, and she has a name for each [piece]." Quotskuyva calls her mom a perfectionist and says she's
even seen people cry because her designs move them so much.
That may not surprise Janice Day. She owns the Tsakurshovi art shop on Second Mesa and comes into regular
contact with Hopi artists from all the mesas. "All the good potters are from First Mesa," Day says. She notes a
few well-known names like Lawrence Namoki, whose pots are both sculpted and carved by hand and then painted to
enhance the raised designs. "The etching is really nice," says Day. She also mentions Karen Abeyta and Garrett
Maho, and offers some advice. "You better buy Maho now, because he's going to be famous." Another famous
descendent of Nampeyo is Jacob Koopee, who has won numerous awards for his pots. His designs include animals,
katsinas and geometric lines.
Most potters prefer to use red clay when polishing their pots. This gives the bowls a range of colors from light
brown to deep red. Others, like Dawn and Fawn Navasie, work with a white clay wash. "To me that's real hard
because you have to know how to do that in order for it to be even," says Quotskuyva. She admires them for
having the skills and patience to do that. "You have to layer it on and know how much to put on. And then being
able to fire it and not burn it or change the white to either a fire mark or grey -- that's hard! You can't control
When it comes to Hopi pottery, Quotskuyva says buyers should keep in mind the history and connection to the
ancestors that pottery represents. "We're still using the same methods from hundreds and hundreds of years ago.
It's not something we put together real fast," she says. "The potters should be real proud of that! We haven't
lost that, and hopefully the next generation can carry it on too."
HOPI NATIVE JEWELRY AND PAINTING
When it comes to Hopi native jewelry and painting, one name pops up instantly: Fred Kabotie (1900-1986). "I think
one of the things about him is that he used the arts to enhance the religious life of the Hopi," says his son Michael
Kabotie, a jewelery maker, painter, writer and lecturer. "He was about the preservation of Hopi values." Kabotie
says that was the basis of his father's art, and it comes out in the katsina scenes and domestic scenes he painted
on murals, as well as in his work as an illustrator, teacher and writer.
In 1949, Fred Kabotie and Paul Saufkie started the Hopi Silversmith Cooperative Guild. This opened the door for
more Hopis to become famous for creating native jewelry in the overlay style. This design is cut into one piece of
silver and then soldered over another piece of silver. The design is then oxidized, which makes it stand out in the
silver. Fred Kabotie's mark on Hopi art continues to this day, and, it's safe to say, will continue into the future.
It's also interesting to note that Fred Kabotie's Hopi name was Nakavoma, which means "from day to day." His
name represents his father's Sun Clan. It was shortened to the nickname kavoti, which refers to "tomorrow."
From that came the name Kabotie.
"I think his biggest influence to me was to be aware of all the voices in the world and how the art sort of
becomes like the Hopi ceremonies of clowning and critiquing," Michael Kabotie says. "We're all human, and in order
to dialogue on a respectable level I journey into arts and try to make contact across boundaries, ideological
boundaries. Some of the same problems we go through... some of the same enlightenments. That's what gets me into
trouble! In order to be enlightened... first you have to be endarkened!"
Another student of Fred Kabotie's was Charles Loloma, famous for his native jewelry. Loloma's first art was
painting and he helped Kabotie reproduce murals from Awatovi for the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Loloma
was just 18 years old at that time. He started focusing on jewelry in the 1950s and was the first Hopi to use
precious and semi-precious stones in native jewelry. Like Kabotie, Loloma respected his Hopi culture and would
put his art on hold in order to attend to ceremonial duties, as Hopi artists do today.
As a teacher, Loloma's most famous student is his niece, Verma Nequatewa (Sonwai). She jokes that people say
her art is more Charles Loloma than Charles Loloma. Like her taha (uncle), she uses precious stones and gold to
create unique native jewelry. "She's a really good colorist," says Michael Kabotie. He sees Hopi culture and
ceremonial dances as having influenced her work. "The colors dance together -- that's cooperation."
For many these names are well known in the world of Native American jewelry and painting. But there is additional
talent on the Hopi reservation. This includes Ruben Saufkie, Antone Honanie, Fermin Hawee and Michael Sockyma.
KACHINA or KASINA DOLLS
Ferrell Talahongva spent many nights carving katsinas at the kitchen table. He would smoke and offer a prayer as
he worked, knowing that his creation would bring in money to take care of his six children. He carved mostly for
collectors across the country and in Europe. Sometimes he would sing the songs of the katsina he was carving, and
everyone enjoyed the music and the smell of freshly carved cottonwood. Once he created a beautifulsculpture of
three Hopi clowns climbing up a piece of cottonwood, each one carefully carrying a slice of watermelon in its hand,
with a big smile on its face. The piece would perhaps seem whimsical to an outsider, but it was filled with the
lessons Hopi clowns are meant to teach the people: how not to behave.
Today there are dozens of extremely talented Hopi katsina doll carvers. Clark Tenakhongva carves in the old
style. His dolls are painted with natural pigments, giving them an ancient look and feel. Delbridge Honanie is
another outstanding living carver. "It's all connected with ancestral energy," says his friend and fellow artist
When it comes to baskets, look to the women of Second and Third Mesa. There are three types of Hopi basket:
sifter, wicker and coiled. At Second Mesa, Joyce Saufkie, Remalda Lomayaktewa and Rhetta Adams are known for
From Third Mesa, she rattles off the names of Dorleen Lalo, Allie Selestewa (an elder), Dora Tawahongva and
Mary Louise Sekayumptewa. Whichever method the woman uses, it's hard not to appreciate the math involved in
calculating the dimensions of each basket's intricate design. One can also appreciate the many hours invested in
collecting the materials and cleaning, prepping and dying them before work actually begins on the basket.
Creating art by nature is a labor of love that some might see as dangerous. As Kabotie put it, "You scratch it, cut
it and torture it, then you come out with something beautiful!"
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