Nearly 40 years ago as a restaurant manager, Gerry Quotskuyva learned to carve from an ice sculptor.
One dream later, Quotskuyva began carving katsinas.
Known as kachinas to most people, the Hopi call the doll katsina, as their language doesn’t have the letters C or H.
Regardless of its name – or its pronunciation – the Rimrock artist has carved, painted and sculpted since his mid-30s.
There is a saying that the Hopi is born holding a paintbrush.
Perhaps that is why Quotskuyva said that making art is more than a vocation.
“How many cultures see art as a responsibility?” he asked recently.
A member of the Bear Strap Clan from the Second Mesa village of Shungopavi, Quotskuyva’s Hopi name is Lomahongva, which means “reed standing tall and healthy.”
Quotskuyva likes to be isolated “from the chaos of the world.”
“Life doesn’t change if you live a peaceful life,” he said. “When I’m in that world of chaos, I don’t dream.”
For Quotskuyva, to dream is not just about getting a good night’s sleep. It’s the inspiration that it is work.
“I’m following my energy’s desire,” he said. “When I wake up, whatever speaks to me is what I do. I’m following what’s calling out to me.”
Quotskuyva has made so many katsinas through the years, that some of his designs are retired. His most recent project, the gnarly root project, is a “piece with a statement,” he said.
The front of the gnarly root will be a collection of female katsinas, Quotskuyva said, because “we are still a matriarchal society.”
“I feel that modern America has lost its voice,” he said. “Everything is based on profits and selfish needs. We need to listen to the woman again.”
Regardless of the medium, color is a key component to his work,
Colors represent the “things of the Earth, different things in nature, also they represent directions,” Quotskuyva said. There are six colors in Hopi that represent different directions.
White for the north, yellow for the east, red for the south, and blue for the west.
“We also have colors to represent the zenith and nadir,” Quotskuyva said. “Black to represent above, and spotted corn for below. The various colors can also represent places, clouds, birds, flowers. It gets quite complex.”
But Hopi art is about rain.
“Until you put the dots and dashes in, it’s not finished,” Quotskuyva said. “The dots represent rain, the dashes mostly represent time.”
With all the Native American art out there, it’s not always easy to know what’s real.
That’s why Quotskuyva recommends either shopping at the art markets or meeting the artists directly.
“Markets only allow you to carry what is authentic,” he said. “If you’re from a culture that does knock-offs, you’re not allowed to bring the knock-offs.”
No overnight success
A member of the Yavapai-Apache Nation, Jerry Whagado learned his silversmithing on the Hopi reservation before he returned to the Nation’s Middle Verde community about 25 years ago.
Alhough familiar and fluent in Hopi designs, Whagado is now committed to doing work that depicts the Yavapai and the Apache.
“The Yavapai-Apache designs represent life, how we hope to achieve better things in life,” Whagado said. “My culture, our ways have to continue. By showing these and explaining to people, it’s carried on. We want to carry these stories that happened, to continue, to think of our culture.”
Crown Dancers, for example, are also known as Mountain Spirits.
“They symbolize medicine,” he said. “That’s very important.”
Whagado’s silver work adorns belts, bolo ties and pendants. They are also rings, ear rings, and money clips. He works in turquois.
First learning art in kindergarten, Whagado worked for a time with kachinas – the C and the H are present in the Yavapai and the Apache languages – before he moved to silver work.
“Art has always been in my life,” he said.
After a stiff cup of coffee in the morning, Whagado sets down to the work station in his home and begins to design. He’s an early bird, not just to rise, but also to work.
His favorite show to work is the Santa Fe Indian Market, held each August. A successful show is when Whagado clears his expenses.
“Some people work Santa Fe and they’ll be set for the whole year with sales from that market,” he said. “It isn’t an overnight success. But I believe in myself.”
Learning about what’s real
For Rachel Sahmie, a Hopi pottery maker who lives at the bottom of the First Mesa in northern Arizona, Native American artists “always welcome people to come to see our art.”
“Most of the artists welcome you into their home,” Sahmie said. “The Hopi potters will invite you into their homes and let you watch them make it.”
A descendant of Annie Nampeyo, Sahmie has been creating pottery since childhood and learned from both her mother and her grandmother.
According to Sahmie, most of the authentic pottery “is not perfect.” Which she also said makes it unique.
“Each piece we make is handmade, one of a kind,” she said. “The designs we use are from our ancestors.”
As art is a personal endeavor, Sahmie said that “nothing is wrong” regarding how folks interpret her work.
“The artist painted what they saw, but people see what they see, and that’s also okay,” she said.