Idolatry 101: Kachina Dolls

Traditional-style kachinas by known carvers command four-figure prices.

Robert Cafazzo, antiques-and-art dealer in Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico, discusses the care and repair of kachina dolls, which can be simultaneously images of spiritual power and art objects made to be purchased by collectors.

(Disclaimer: I have bought a few small things at his shop, Two Graces, although not kachinas.)

He also gets into the collecting side and shares some of  his “kachina kitsch.”

Then there are the doll carvings made by other Pueblo people. Zuni carvings are some of the best (in the store here they always sell rather quickly, recently I had one for all of 3 hours!), Acoma & Laguna carvings are the simplest and to some collectors extremely desirable but really not for everyone, basically they look like a short log with a stylized face, Jemez dolls tend to be confused with ‘Boy Scout’ carvings, those from Isleta are not common but do exist. San Juan carvings, which I carry are specific to the various Northern Pueblo Dances. As a rule I do not carry Navajo Kachinas, which I refer to as PowWow Dancer Dolls. These may look great on a coffee table featured in a photo essay for Architectural Digest or some other home interiors magazine, but they are some of the worst craftsmanship of curios in the marketplace today. Navajo carvers did make traditional Route 66 Yei Dolls, and there are some amazing Navajo traditional carvings out there. It’s my personal opinion that PowWow Dancer Dolls are not your best option. All of the Pueblos in New Mexico & Arizona have their own unique carvings, some do not offer them as crafts for sale and strictly forbid the sale of wooden deity carvings. When visiting a Pueblo ask for dolls or crafts—never ask for ‘Kachinas’.

In Two Graces, you will find both fine kachina dolls and kachina salt-and-pepper shakers—Robert likes it all.

2 Comments

  1. Those are gorgeous! One of the regrets of my life is that I got rid of my collection of Kachina dolls that my grand dad gave to me when I was a little girl. I was going off on my own and thought they were just old “stuff.” Little did I know . . . .

  2. Chas Clifton says:

    Too bad! My mother had just one, and it occupies a space in our living room in the summer, then goes away when thunderstorm season ends.