Hopi Katsina: Evolving Styles, Enduring Meanings

If you’re visiting or live in the Southwest, you may have encountered brightly painted, carved figurines in gift shops. To the average non-Native, “kachina dolls” are a beautiful representation of Southwest Native American culture. To Hopi and Zuni people, however, Katsina carries deep meaning. The symbolism inherent in these objects, which are commonly sold as souvenirs, is complex and dates as early as the mid-18th century. A temporary Moab Museum exhibit and demonstrations featuring Hopi carvers offer a view into the cultural significance and diverse artistry of Katsina.

Explore the Exhibit...

The exhibition highlights both traditional "old style" carving, as well as contemporary style tithu. Works from over a dozen contemporary carvers are featured, and the exhibition also includes hands-on objects. Enjoy a look at the gallery experience here...

Language and Meaning...

Explore the concepts and terminology of Katsina culture.

Terminology:

Explore the language of Katsina culture...

 

 

 

 

 

Katsina spirits:

Spiritual beings who support or chastise humankind. They are omnipresent, existing in everything: earth, plant and animal life, the clouds in the sky, and the planets and stars above.

 

 

Katsinam (plural) dancers:

Initiated Hopi men who impersonate Katsina spirits in sacred ceremonies. During specific times of the year, Katsina participants are believed to become sacred entities that embody the Katsina spirits. They appear in underground kivas to an audience of tribal members, and in the village plaza to the entire community. The Museum display includes a depiction of Katsinam dancers in a kiva setting.

 

Katsintihu (singular) / katsintithu (plural):

Carved wood figures. Hopi believe these objects embody the Katsina dancers/participants. Technically, katsintithu are not “dolls”, rather, they are teaching tools displayed in homes as a reminder of the spirits they represent. In this photograph, Hongvi Marquez demonstrates carving. (Photo by Nathaniel Clark)

 

Experience the Process...

We are excited to welcome several Hopi artists as well, who will be demonstrating their carving technique and speaking with visitors. In October, the Moab Museum welcomed Hongvi Marquez. Explore his process below, and find out about upcoming demonstrations.

  • Carving Paako

    Katsintithu are carved from paako: soft, lightweight cottonwood root. Here, carver Hongvi Marquez uses a knife to form the basic shape of the figure. 

  • Smoothing Edges

    A file is used to help smooth rough edges and create rounded surfaces.

  • Prepping for Paint

    Here, Hongvi prepares to apply paint by tracing out lines on the figure using a pencil

  • Workstation

    Hongvi's mobile work station includes carving implements like blades and knives, brushes for applying paints, the homemade pigments he uses to paint his tithu, as well as feathers, glue, and other any other adornment he may envision.

  • The Pigment Process

    After a base coat is applied, it's time for color. Hongvi uses traditional pigments- many homemade using mineral materials he finds near his home in Third Mesa, Arizona. 

  • Coat by Coat

    Coat by coat, color by color, details emerge and Hongvi's vision becomes a reality. Here, the katsintitu dries in the sun after a coat of paint. 

  • Delicate Details

    Steady hands and tiny paintbrushes make for stunning details on Hongvi's work.

  • Finishing Touches

    This katsintitu, representing the dragonfly katsina, has a distinctive single front-facing feather affixed to the top of its head. With this finishing touch, this kachina doll was finished.

  • Sharing Tradition

    The katsintitu made by Hongvi during his demonstration has been added to the Moab Museum's Collection for future display and educational purposes. From left to right, Moab Museum Executive Director Forrest Rodgers, carver Hongvi Marquez, Thom Moreau- whose collection and assistance has been integral in this exhibition, and Moab Museum Curatorial & Collections Manager Tara Beresh- holding the finished titu.)

Carving demonstration photographs by Nathaniel Clark.