Trust me, once you get started with Zuni fetishes, you will never stop. Each carving is unique, and carries with it an interpretive story of some aspect of the Zuni culture. I absolutely love the ones that I have in my Gallery, and love sharing them and their stories with others as well.
The first Zuni fetishes were small found stones. Someone would be traipsing along a path and see a stone, and think that it resembled an animal from the surrounding area. That person would pick up the stone and carry it, often in a small pouch or in a pocket, with the belief that the spirit of that animal might accompany that stone and give the person some of that spirit.
The human brain is really good at seeing shapes and patterns in nature, and all of us have at one time or another remarked about a particular animal seen in a cloud formation. And so it is with found stones – the person sees the shape of the animal in the stone. Lena Boone is particularly good at finding these stones and showing us the figure that it represents.
But sometimes, the stone is nicely formed and nicely colored, but the animal resides within it. The Zuni would carve away the excess to reveal the animal resting in the stone. In the old days, chisels and hammers would be used, but today electric rotary drills are the tool of choice. That allows the artist more precision and accuracy in representing the animal. Some of my favorite precision carvers are the Sice brothers, Gabe and Troy, and Hudson Sandy.
There are dozens of Zuni fetish carvers active today, and they often utilize a variety of materials, such as turquoise, travertine (also known as Zuni rock), Picasso marble, sugilite, jet, deer antler, mother of pearl, and even old paint scrapings (Fordite) from automobile manufacturing sites. This often results in highly decorative and colorful expressions of art, not only from animals of the surrounding area, but also depictions of animals from around the world.
As spirit tokens, the carvings often utilize a medicine bundle attached to the animal as an offering. The medicine bundle may be different shapes of colored stones, sometimes actual gemstones. The medicine bundle is often attached with harvested sinew. The Zuni corn maiden, representing the fertility and bountiful harvest, is another figure often carved by these skilled artists.
Even more recently, fetishes are beginning to show inlay for some of their features. A pair of turquoise eyes on a wolf, or mother of pearl wings on a dragonfly, might be seen. As the carvers of Zuni explore and expand their techniques, often freely sharing knowledge and techniques with each other in the pueblo, the scale and scope of their carvings continues to be elevated.
Some carvers have taken this thought process to the next level. Jeff Shetima and Todd Westika, two wonderful and highly talented carvers, are expanding their pieces to become small sculptural works of art. Each is producing exquisitely detailed sculpture in mixed media. Jeff has created a dragonfly in silver with mother of pearl wings, resting on a cluster of silver-stalked cattails, all embedded in a large turquoise stone. Todd has created a large black buffalo horn representation of a charging buffalo, with gemstone inlay along the sides. These artists are bridging the gap between small fetishes carried in one’s pocket to significant pieces of sculpture to be given a place of honor in one’s collection.
Zuni fetishes were initially very personal. This spiritual token has evolved into a significant and unique art form, one which is being recognized and collected worldwide. To aid their artists with technology and marketing, the Zuni Collective has been formed in the Zuni Pueblo. Additionally, there are stores that specialize in Zuni fetishes such as Keishi in Santa Fe. You can also read more about collecting Zuni fetishes in our Smart Buying Tips in the About Us section of The Dancing Gallery website. Do some browsing, and do some shopping. But fair warning – once you get started, this will become a highly addictive passion!