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Kachinas Part 3: The Creation of Kachina Dolls
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Kachinas Part 3: The Creation of Kachina Dolls

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We’ve come to part three in our three-part series on kachina dolls. In the first blog, we talked about the history and spiritual importance of the kachinas. In the second, we looked at the individual kachinas and their spiritual and ceremonial roles. This blog will take a look at the artistry and workmanship that goes into creating the beautiful and intricate kachina dolls.

Materials and Tools

Hopi kachina dolls are made by carving the seasoned root of a cottonwood tree—a single piece of root! This requires a great deal of hand-craftsmanship and artistry. The cottonwood root is used because it has cured underground, which makes the wood soft and workable, but sturdy; it won’t spilt as the artist is working.

The cottonwood is known as paako, which means “water wood”. The significance can be found in the way the cottonwood root seeks and draws up life-giving water to the rest of the tree; it is hoped that the kachina spirits will do the same for the people and crops.

The tools used to create kachina dolls are all hand tools and can include:

  • Hand saws
  • Mallets
  • Hatches
  • Hammers
  • Chisels
  • Rasps
  • Knives
  • Fine carving tools
  • Paint brushes

These tools are used to remove bark, to smooth wood, and to add shape and detail to the carving.

The Process

The process may seem simple, but it’s anything but! Each step of the process is painstakingly done by hand. The artist first selects a large section of cottonwood root. Before any actual carving can take place, the root must be stripped of bark and smoothed.

Once the wood is smooth enough to work with, the artist will start to shape it into a general kachina shape that is closer to the final product. The next step is to clearly define the shape of the kachina dolls before carving the delicate detail.

Once all the detail is finished, the artist carefully paints the bright identifying colors of the kachina the doll represents.

Navajo Variants

Hopi kachina dolls are carved from a single piece of cottonwood; no other embellishment is used. Navajo kachina dolls, however, usually sport clothes, headdresses and additions made of leather, cloth, wool or feathers.

You can watch Guy Berger explain the differences between Hopi and Navajo kachinas on our YouTube channel!

Art Unlike Any Other

Made by hand by master craftsman, kachina dolls are a special kind of art form. From their history to the spiritual significances to their place in Native American Indian life, kachinas and kachina dolls are as unique from other art forms as the dolls are from one another.

If you want to know more about these incredible pieces of art, don’t hesitate to come in to the store or contact us. We’ll be happy to help!