If you are from the Denver area, and old enough, you might remember a time when the gift shop at the Denver Museum of Natural History had one of the finest selections of Native American Indian arts and crafts in the country. It’s now known as the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.
It was called the Kachina Shop and Beth Clark ran it when I first knew of it. She later retired and ran a store in Estes Park called Serendipity, which was also a great source of Native American art. When she left the Museum, Thielma Gamewell took over and continued the legacy. Dudley Smith was also at the shop and went on to run a beautiful gallery in Cherry Creek.
It was a great place. Now, they sell science experiments and commercially manufactured gifts and dinosaurs that have large markups and help to provide income for the museum. Now, I’m not saying that shops couldn’t be a source of revenue for Museums. They should be. But to go from a showplace where the finest Indian Artists in the country used to sell their work to a store full of manufactured merchandise, lots of it made in foreign countries, is kind of sad.
That’s just the way I feel about it. It’s a beautiful museum and I encourage anyone who is in Denver to visit. My sister, as a young child, once tried to climb one of the dinosaur skeletons but, fortunately, my mother was paying attention and saved the bones! They have better barriers now.
The Katsina (Kachina) dolls featured in this blog entry were purchased from the museum by a woman who worked there in the 1960s and 1970s. She collected some very nice dolls, and her family has sent them on to us to find homes.
This was during the time that the dolls were first being widely collected. The Katsina dolls were originally carved by the men in the family and given to their nieces and daughters to teach them the Hopi and Zuni religious beliefs.
The original dolls were simple, basically flat, carvings with masks painted to match those of the Katsina dancers.
As collectors began to appreciate the dolls, carvers began to craft more realistic carvings. Dolls from the late ‘60s and early ‘70s were often decorated with feathers, leather, cloth, and shells. And, as they became more popular, Navajo artists began to carve likenesses of Katsina dolls as well. Because they are carved by Navajos, they were never considered real Katsina dolls, but many were nicely carved art pieces.
These dolls are great examples of carvings from this time. And they came from The Kachina Shop, one of the best museum shops specializing in Native American arts.