Cordell Naseyoma, one of the Artists of the Month at the John Wesley Powell Museum this month, carves traditional Hopi Katsina dolls, six of which are on display at the museum until Nov. 30.
Naseyoma’s katsina dolls stand between eight to 14 inches tall and sell for around $800 each. They can be found in galleries throughout Arizona and Utah, and collectors across the United States and Europe seek out his work.
His carvings have earned him numerous awards through the years, most recently at the 78th annual Hopi Show at the Museum of Northern Arizona.
Naseyoma was born in Keams Canyon on the Hopi Reservation. He still lives on the Hopi Reservation in the village of Hotevilla. The 39 year old artist describes himself as a simple man trying to live a simple life. In addition to carving award-winning katsimam he tends a farm of corn and beans.
Naseyoma belongs to the Roadrunner Clan. He’s soft-spoken, even at gallery openings. He prefers to let his work speak for itself.
Naseyoma learned to carve the traditional Hopi way from his father. He learned how to find the plants and rock to create his paints from another elder in his town.
“A group of the men would gather together after work hours and carve,” he said. “It was a social gathering for them. It was how they relaxed. We’d gather inside a house made of thick, quarried stone so it stayed nice and cool inside on summer days.”
Naseyoma began hanging out with them when he was 14 as a way to spend more time with his father, and soon became intrigued with their carving, he said. He started paying attention to what they were doing and how they were doing it, and pretty soon was trying it for himself.
Naseyoma carves his katsina dolls using traditional Hopi materials, and using traditional Hopi methods. He carves his dolls from the roots of cottonwood trees using only a horseshoe file, a gouge and a coping saw. Noseyoma says he never uses power tools when he’s carving one of his figurines.
When he’s finished carving a piece he then paints it. This too he does using traditional Hopi pigments and methods. The pigments come from plants and minerals which he gathers himself.
For instance, white comes from clay. Green comes from a plant called Mountain Iace. Green from a certain copper-rich rock. Black from soil that was once ocean bottom.
After gathering the minerals, or plants he then crushes or grinds them in a large mortar and pestle and extracts the pigments he needs for his paints.
“All of the colors I need for the katsinam I can find on the Hopi reservation,” he says.
He adds eyes and ears or noses to his katsinam using sumac sticks. After painting the katsinam he sometimes further adorns them with feathers or tufts of horsehair.
The katsinam which Naseyoma carves are believed by the Hopi to be spiritual messengers. They represent many different forms of physical life including insects, animals and plants, as well as more abstract ideas including Hopi prophecies and some of the different characteristics of man, said Naseyoma.
The katsinam are a very important part of Hopi life. The katsinam visit the Hopi people during the months of December and July and the Hopis send their prayers with them for a good life, for moisture, not only for the Hopi but for all mankind and living things on earth, said Naseyoma.
According to Hopi culture, the katsinam make their home in the mountains of the San Francisco Peaks and they return in July where they stay until December.