Originally published in The Taos News, Tempo Section >>

by Tamra Testerman | June 1, 2022 Updated June 2, 2022

Kachina carver Poleyestewa
at Chimayo Trading

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Kachina carver Poleyestewa is a spiritually-guided artist and renaissance man who learned to carve Kachinas from his father. He is a traditionalist, soft-spoken and humble, with a veneration for the hallowed nature of his work, which is steeped in tradition.

Poleyestewa did not initially follow in his father’s footsteps as a carver. He opted for a college education instead, and completed his studies at a Bureau of Indian Affairs school in Oklahoma, then continued at Arizona State University to study communications and broadcast journalism. After graduation, he worked in broadcasting and had his own radio show. One afternoon, after a broadcast, he received a call from Ted Turner, who offered him a job at CNN Headquarters in Atlanta. He ultimately did not accept the position and was led back to his carving and his roots. 

Poleyestewa said he forms a special bond with each of his carvings and asks, before he begins carving, for direction. Intuitively, he finds them with a flint knife and a potter’s polishing stone — and at the completion of the work, he has a conversation with each Kachina, referring to them as his children and sending them out into the world for good. He said many of his customers become collectors, and some have told him stories about the supernatural nature of their dolls.

And the details of his work are splendid. His plume work is unmistakable, as are the ornamentations using natural angora, goat hair and deerskin, with subtleties analogous to the Kachinas of the early 1800s, the arms close to the body. He uses organic cottonwood roots and essential materials for paint. Jet and coal ash, copper and chokecherry berries.  

Kachina dolls are made by Hopi men. Fathers and uncles craft them for their daughters and nieces so they recognize the dancers’ masks during ceremonies as well as understand the traditions behind them and the cultural heritage that links modern life to ancient ancestors. The doll is hung on the wall or from the rafters of the house, where it may be seen at all times. The word ”kachina” refers to the masked dancer in the Pueblo village, or to the Spirit, which the dancer impersonates. 

One may find an extraordinary collection of Poleyestewa’s work at Chimayo Trading Del Norte, owned by Gabriel and Alicia Abrums. A gallery newsletter reports about the new collection. “We have just received important recent work from Poleyestewa, the well-known Hopi carver who is inspired to continue the life of some of the rarer kachina identities. It is fascinating to consider the meanings behind the figures, to observe the myriad of details which are clues, and to absorb the intentionality, beauty and design of the art form. He tells the stories of Hopi history through his charming and delightful dolls. Much like the man himself, they are filled with light and uplifting to behold. Many specific rare kachina entities are represented in his latest work, along with those familiar to many.”

For visual details about the work of Poleyestewa, visit the Chimayo Trading Del Norte website at chimayotrading.com or visit the gallery in the historic Saint Francis Church Plaza in Ranchos de Taos.

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