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The Native American Kachina dolls that we think of today are finely detailed woodcarvings depicting Hopi dolls and other Pueblo deities and sacred dancers. The Native American Indian Artisans of the Hopi Pueblo are known for their fine pueblo pottery and beautiful Indian baskets but as to the art of Kachina carving, only the Hopi have made the Kachinas into the art form it is today. “Kachina” is a Hopi word with many meanings and is probably best defined as ‘sacred’ but it also describes the masked dancers of the Hopi acting as spirit messengers at ceremonies during certain parts of the year. They perform the sacred rites of the kiva and bring blessings upon the Hopi people.

Kachina Dolls History

History tells us the first Kachina dolls were not the elaborate carvings of today, but were simple flat dolls painted to accurately depict the deities they represented as a teaching tool for the children. They are still used for this purpose, but in the last century the Hopi Kachina doll has evolved into its own Native American art form exemplified by fine detail and craftsmanship in the carving and motion of the subject. The Hopi have opened the trail of fine wood carving for other tribes such as the Navajo whose woodcarvings are also represented here. Traditionally, Native American Kachina dolls have been a less expensive alternative to the Hopi doll, using cloth, fur, and feathers as a substitute for the full wood carving. These dolls are still available and are an affordable alternative, but there are now a handful of Navajo carvers doing all wood carvings of antique Kachina dolls as well as representations from Navajo religion and ceremony. These carvings are finely crafted and as valuable as some of the finest Hopi antique dolls, but only a Hopi doll, hand carved in cottonwood root, can be called a true Kachina.

What are Kachina Dolls Made of?

Kachina Dolls are commonly made with cottonwood root thanks to it’s sturdiness and accessibility. On rare occasions Tupelo, a swamp wood is used instead. After the carving is completed kaolin clay is used to whiten and smooth the wood. This prepares the wood for decoration. The dolls are painted and brought to life with water colors or tempura but in the past vegetable dyes and native mineral coloring was used.

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