Article

Animals in the Native American Life

Dr. Leona Zastrow | Santa Fe Monthly - September 8, 2014

American Indian people have great respect for animals. Animals are part of their ceremonies and their lives. Often animals are depicted in their artistic creations. Is this only an artistic creation or does this art piece have greater meaning?

One can ask the artists for their interpretation or read "Pueblo Animals and Myths" by Hamilton A. Tyler to learn more about the respect and spiritual meaning of animals to Pueblo people. Then you decide.

Pictured here are two clay animals made by potters from Santa Clara Pueblo. “The pueblo is a member of the Eight Northern Pueblos, and the people are from the Tewa ethnic group of Native Americans who speak the Tewa language. The pueblo is on the Rio Grande, between Ohkay Owingeh (formerly San Juan Pueblo) to the north and San Ildefonso Pueblo to the south. Santa Clara Pueblo is famous for producing hand-crafted pottery, specifically blackware and redware with deep engravings.” This information is from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Starr Tafoya of Santa Clara Pueblo carved this back turtle. She polished (burnished) and fired the piece to obtain the glossy black color. She carved designs in the shell of the turtle.

Margaret Gutierrez created this polychrome turtle. Previous generation of family members were potters who created clay animals using similar polychrome color. Notice the many insects painted on the shell of this turtle.

Members of the Gutierrez family members have created many humorous clay animals. Below are clay images of racoons. Notice their playful nature. These clay figures are also polychrome colored.

If you research animals used by American Indian artists, you will discover fetishes. Fetishes are small carvings for ceremonial use by many different cultures. “Zuni fetishes are small carvings made from various materials by the Zuni people. These carvings have traditionally served a ceremonial purpose for their creators and depict animals and icons integral to their culture.” This information is from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Researching the history of Zuni fetishes from Spirit in the Stone by Mark Bahti provided information on the animals carved, the materials used and how specific fetishes were used in tradtional ceremonies. Below are some examples of fetishes, an eagle and a carved shell.

Materials used by Zuni carvers include alabaster, serpentine, Picasso marble, jet, black marble, pipestone, turquoise, antlers, and horns. This frog fetish is carved from serpentine and decorated with turquoise. The pipestone bear fetish carries a prayer bundle.

Animal fetishes are also carved by Zuni jewelers. One of the well known animal fetish carvers was Leeka Deyuse. He carved “Rubenesque” round edge animals for stringing into necklaces. His necklaces are sought after by collectors just as pottery made by Maria Martinez is sought by collectors. Kent McManis, Zuni Fetish Carvers, will provide information on fetish carvers and fetish collectibles.

American Indian artists portray animals in pottery, fetishes, weavings and basketry.