indian jewelry

                Native Artist Fred Kabotie



                                                                                                                                   Fred Kabotie
                If we look at Fred Kabotie's representation of the Hopi Snake Dance, we can discover no visual elements that
                correspond to these or the other concepts so clearly exemplified by Couse's work. Neither sublime nor
                picturesque, neither romanticized nor treated as spectacle, Kabotie's painting proceeds from an entirely
                independent set of formal and observational criteria, reflecting a perspective that deeply engages the artist's
                self-knowledge and that of his society.

                One of the most striking differences between Kabotie's work and that of Carpenter and Couse is its organization,
                which brings a structure of geometric clarity to the representation of the Snake Dance that is totally foreign to
                the other compositions. This rational approach pertains in some measure to the segment of the ritual Kabotie
                elected to represent. Carpenter appears to have taken his photograph at a stage in the performance when the
                snakes are first exposed to public view, portraying an event that Euro-American spectators might have found the
                most shocking moment of the entire rite. The serpents, collected days earlier and cared for in the Snake Society
                Kiva, are housed on the day of the event in a ceremonial bower called the kisi.

                At Right: Upclose View
                of Kabotie's Snake Dance

                After a series of preparatory dances, chants, and ritual circuits through the plaza have been completed, the lead
                Snake Dancer enters the bower and emerges with the first reptile dangling between his teeth. As he begins his
                dance, which will circumscribe the courtyard once again, he is joined by a second dancer, who places his hand on
                the lead dancer's shoulder and uses a special feather-tipped wand to soothe the agitated snake. A third man
                follows to control the serpent when it is finally released, preventing it from escaping into the crowd. Other
                Snake Society participants follow, first completing a circuit of the plaza, and then dancing in independent groups.
                Couse appears to have added additional elements that evoke the subsequent phase, when, after all the dancers have
                joined the performance, as many as fifty to sixty snakes may fill the dance area. The scene he illustrates
                suggests chaos, as well as the viewer's uncomfortable sense of how close the creatures are to the spectators
                who line the plaza's edge. In their circuits of the courtyard, the dancers press close to the crowds who assemble
                along its walls. As early as the 1890s, the Snake Dance had already begun to attract throngs of visitors, whose
                eyewitness accounts emphasize the fascination and alarm with which they greeted this particular phase of the

                Kabotie's representation, however, focuses on a different stage of the ritual which represents the climax of the
                nine days of open and closed observances that are required to complete its full ceremonial cycle. It is a moment
                that underscores the dance's most significant religious purposes, and Kabotie illustrates it with a composition
                that alludes to the profound reciprocity the Hopi perceive between their religious actions and the natural order.
                At the rite's conclusion, when all the serpents have been released, the chief Snake Society dancer sprinkles
                sacred cornmeal on the ground to form a large circular design. He then tosses cornmeal offerings from each of
                the six cardinal directions toward the circle's center, generating a ritual pattern that replicates the spatial
                geometry of the Hopi universe.

                These conceptions of unity and directional order provide the model for many aspects of Hopi sacred and secular
                life, influencing social organization, the divisions of the ritual calendar, and the individual's orientation with
                respect to family, community, and a richly conceived spiritual world. Other dancers then gather the snakes and
                place them in the circle, where women and girls will enter to bless and honor the animals by sprinkling them with
                meal. With this last step complete, the Snake Society members remove the reptiles and carry them away from the
                village along four paths, finally releasing them at certain shrines. There they will become messengers who convey
                the community's goodwill and prayers to the powerful spirits who dwell at each cardinal point. The rewards that
                follow a dance correctly performed are fertility, rain, and the well-being of the Hopi people, with benefits for all

                The scene Kabotie portrays includes elements that suggest he intended to depict this pivotal moment of the
                performance. The Snake Society dancers, distinguished by their brown kilts and mask-like facial paint, gather in a
                tight circle that confines the mass of slithering snakes. Their kilts are decorated with undulating black and white
                bands, which serve as symbols for both serpents and lightning. Each wears a crown of red-dyed feathers and broad
                areas of black paint applied to his upper face contrast with the white zone that covers his mouth and chin.
                Several men bear serpents in their arms to deposit in the sacred ring, while two dancers in the foreground move
                to capture others that have begun to escape.

                Behind the Snake Society dancers stand a row of figures whose white feathers, kilts, and body paint identify
                them as members of the Antelope Kiva, who traditionally assist the Snake Society in this dance. Holding the
                rattles they use to provide accompaniment for the dancers, they appear before the kisi, the bower of cottonwood
                branches that serves as a shrine for the ceremony. In addition to providing a repository for the serpents, the
                bower's vegetative symbolism alludes to the revitalizing purpose of this performance. Unseen at its base is a pit
                dug in the floor of the plaza that symbolizes the sipapu, the place of emergence in Hopi accounts of cosmogenesis.

                A medium for communication between the living Hopi people and the ancestral spirits who will receive their
                prayers for healing, renewal, and rain, the sipapu reflects the ritual's vital role in linking the present and future
                to the generative wellsprings of their ancient past. A group of women clad in red and white mantas waits
                patiently toward the left side of the composition for their role in what will be the final gesture of the dance.
                Each holds a plaque of cornmeal, and the first to step forward has already entered the circle, scattering the
                offering toward the serpents at her feet.

                By electing to represent this key moment of the Snake Dance performance, Kabotie not only has emphasized its
                most meaningful act, but has also allowed the viewer to witness something of its inherent orderliness and solemn
                beauty. The circle formation brings the dancers and their attendants together in a gesture of cooperation that
                reflects the harmonious integration of individuals within the social collective, one of the most fundamental
                ethical precepts of Hopi life.

                Although Kabotie does not represent the spectators who would be present to behold the rite, his vantage point,
                which draws the observer within the picture plane, into the midst of the dancers circle, introduces the
                understanding that this community embraces the observer as well. Kabotie's vantage point is situated high,
                slightly above the dancers, permitting a panoramic view. This strategy not only permits the observer to fully
                comprehend the group's formation, but to assume something of the perspective enjoyed by the Hopi themselves,
                who generally view plaza dances from the rooftops of their homes.

                While Kabotie's image uses the dancers' centripetal action to draw attention to their unity, he also devotes
                special attention to their individual features of height, posture, gesture, and stance. Each assumes a balanced
                role in the composition that strikes harmony between individuation and belonging in the larger social unit,
                reflecting a concern for the parity between individual and society that is shared among all Pueblo groups.
                Copyright 2012

                Deats, L. Contemporary Native American Artists. 2012.
                Reno, D. Contemporary Native American Artists. 1995.
                Schaaf, G. American Indian Jewelry I: 1200 Artist Biographies. 2003.