Hopi Kachina Figure - Arizona, Southwestern United States

Kachina (katsina) dolls are carved representations of the Katsinam, spirit messengers from the ancestral underworld that embody aspects of life for the Hopi of the southwestern United States. Such dolls are traditionally used as teaching tools, given to girls in infancy to help them learn about the responsibilities they will bear in their communities as women. The doll presented here represents Hemis, one of the most popular of the three hundred Katsinam known in Hopi religion.

Hemis is most often seen at Niman, the post-summer solstice ceremony at which the Katsinam return to their homes until the start of the next ceremonial year the following December. The Hemis katsina is the first to bring mature corn to the people, and so is of great importance in Hopi ceremonialism. During festivals, long lines of dancers personifying this figure leap out of the circular, semi-subterranean chambers known as kiva.

The present figure is crowned with a magnificent headdress (tableta) of stepped design, white bordered with red and embellished with twelve phallic symbols representing fertility. Strong rectilinear design defines the classic katsina face, with wide-set, rectangular eyes in square panels separated by central ring motifs. Vertical stripes and corn motifs decorate the back of the helmet-like head. The figure’s garb consists of white shoes, a skirt richly decorated with geometric designs, armbands, and a diagonal band that encircles the torso. The body is colored black, which in some Hemis figures would be achieved with black corn smut. The once-vivid yellow and red pigments that highlight the crown, face, and skirt have aged to lovely pastels. Feathers are attached to the tableta and head with fiber.

First third of 20th century
Cottonwood, fiber, feathers, natural pigments
14” h
- Faith-Dorian and Martin Wright Collection, New York
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