Chester Poleyestewa is a Hopi Katsina (Kachina) Carver. He is one of the last of the traditional carvers working today. What is the difference between a traditional carver and a modern one?
Most of the Katsina Dolls that are made today are beautiful works of art, with detailed carving and delicate features. Most are decorated with commercial paints, varnishes and wood burning.
These modern dolls evolved from the traditional dolls which were originally carved by the males in the Hopi culture to teach the young people, primarily the girls, about the Hopi custom and religion. Although the culture is matrilineal, the religious ceremonies and the membership in the different Kiva Clans is limited to the men. It is the responsibility of these men to teach their daughters and nieces about their traditions and beliefs.
Dolls representing the Katsina Spirits, which come to the village and become one with the dancers dressed to represent them, are carved and given to the young women along with an explanation of what the Spirit of that doll represents.
In the old days, these dolls were not so elaborate as they are today. The important part was that the mask and the outfit were correct for the Katsina to be recognized correctly. They were carved in a stiff, upright position and were generally hung on the wall using a piece of string or leather.
Chester has been carving these beautiful dolls for more than half a century. He used the traditional Cottonwood root; his paints are made from natural pigments and his dolls are completely authentic.
We have worked with Chester for over 30 years and, while I love all his work, the doll I think is the most beautiful is the Butterfly Maiden. It also is one of the few dances at Hopi where the women represent the Katsinas! Most female Katsinas are male dancers.
The stepped designs on the head dress of the Butterfly Maiden represent the rain clouds, the black and white cylindrical object on her forehead is an ear of corn, a sacred plant to the Hopi and other Southwestern tribes, and the small pieces that look a little like golf tees coming out of the top of the mask are flowers. The message of this Katsina is renewal. To me, that represents hope and a belief in the future.