On display now in Scottsdale: Hopi ceramics, katsina dolls

Katsina Koshare clown group (courtesy of Loren Anderson Photography)

Remarkable artistry and centuries of cultural tradition characterize “A Spotlight on Contemporary Hopi Ceramicists and Katsina Doll Carvers,” which is on exhibit now through Nov. 25, at Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West, 3830 N. Marshall Way.

The exhibition showcases award-winning and renowned Hopi artists of the 20th and 21st centuries, including 28 ceramicists and nine katsina doll carvers. The artworks in the exhibition are on loan from a private collection and are on public display for the first time, according to a press release.

The artwork reflects how contemporary artists continue to push the boundaries of their work, while also staying true to time-honored methods.

Solstice ceramics (courtesy of Loren Anderson Photography)

“A Spotlight on Contemporary Hopi Ceramicists and Katsina Doll Carvers” complements the museum’s ongoing exhibition, “Canvas of Clay: Hopi Pottery Masterworks from The Allan and Judith Cooke Collection,” which features ceramics spanning six centuries.

The creation of ceramics and katsina dolls is a revered family tradition among the Hopi people whose tribal land lies in northern Arizona.
Artists often learn the required techniques and artistry from grandparents, parents, or aunts and uncles.

“A Spotlight on Contemporary Hopi Ceramicists and Katsina Doll Carvers” was co-curated by Byron Hunter, advocate and longtime supporter of the Native American arts community, and Rachel Pool, associate curator, Scottsdale’s Museum of the West.

The exhibition is sponsored by Charles F., Jennifer E., and John U. Sands. The exhibition, which is located in the Ellie and Mike Ziegler Heritage Hall Gallery, is included with museum admission.

Artful creations

Hopi ceramic artwork is distinguished by the paint colors and design composition. Each Hopi potter develops his or her own style, incorporating cultural traditions and their own spiritual connection with the world around them, the press release stated.

Stetson Setalla, who is featured in the exhibition, explained his creative process: “As I work on my pots, I clear my mind of all bad thoughts by concentrating and praying to my clay. Good thoughts and a good heart are essential in working with your clay because you are creating yourself in each pot as you coil and when you are ready to paint the pot, a clear mind and good heart is crucial in assisting you with your painting because the designs flow through your mind into your hand and onto your pot without difficulty.”

Katsina dolls are sculpted and painted cottonwood root carvings that are representations of Hopi supernatural beings who bless the land with moisture, and appear in ceremonies at the Hopi Mesas six months of the year.

Katsina dolls were traditionally carved by men and given to young girls and women to teach them about the immortal beings that bring rain, manage other dimensions of the natural world and society, and act as messengers between humans and the spirit world, thus passing on the knowledge of individual katsinam and preserving the Hopi way of life.

Today katsina dolls have various functions among the Hopi ranging from traditional use to those created for sale to non-Hopi people. They are coveted by collectors from around the world for their artistic quality, creativity and the stories they tell.

Featured in the exhibition is internationally recognized katsina doll carver Neil David, Sr., who has been designated as an Arizona Indian Living Treasure for his lifetime achievements. His carving of the Koshare clown is exhibited in three diverse examples.

A Koshare clown’s role is to amuse the audience during the katsina dances while the dancers are resting. Due to their whimsical and humorous actions, clown carving became popularized in the second half of the 20th century.

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