"When dawn spreads its paintbrush on the plain, spilling purple... ," Sons of the Pioneers theme for TV show "Wagon Train." Dawn on the mythic Santa Fe Trail, New Mexico, looking toward Raton from Cimarron. -- Clarkphoto. A curmudgeon artist's musings melding metaphors and journalism, for readers in more than 150 countries.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

No word for "artist," and a bear fetish

"The Zunis have no word for 'artist,'" the Santa Fe shopkeeper told me. "They just do."
On a whim, I'd stopped in the Keshi shop on Don Gaspar Street a week ago. The sign read "The Zuni Connection." Although I'd walked past it many times, for some reason I went in the door opened to the cool afternoon sunshine, and discovered another face and more stories about New Mexico.
The store, in business since 1981, is named for the word Zunis use as a traditional greeting and is pronounced Kay-she. Inside I found hundreds of the carved fetishes on shelves and cases, open for picking up and examining the stone carvings of different animals, all of which have meanings to the Zunis. That pueblo is located in far western New Mexico, and distinct from most of the other pueblos up and down the Rio Grand valley. Here's a link with videos of the Zunis.
"The Zunis believe the fetish chooses you," she said, and I spent 30 minutes going from case to case. The jewelry cases were the only ones locked, for good reason,  and sooner or later I found myself looking at many bear fetishes. As a lover of bears, especially grizz, I've often considered it my totem.
I found several, left, and returned in 30 minutes to buy a small bear fetish, carved out of black Jet and with turquoise eyes and heart inlaid. 
Georgia Quandelacy
It's not signed, because most Zunis consider that egotistical and inappropriate. But the sticker had the name of the artist on it--Georgia Quandelacy, a third generation carver.
When you buy a fetish, the store gives you a small packet of blue corn meal, with instructions. Corn is also sacred to the Zunis and other Indians, and it is never sold, but given, as the mother, the connection between earth and all life. Giving the corn is a reminder to give back and be thankful.
You take a bit of the corn meal and sprinkle a bit on the back of the fetish in a meditative ritual to honor the spirit in the fetish. When you offer corn to your fetish, in return you will be blessed.
Zunis carry their fetishes when they are hunting and elsewhere, not worshiping the image, but the spirit of the animal within. Each of the different animals have specific meanings and symbolism to the Zuni people.
Bear, according to the Zuni, is the principal animal for the Pueblo People and they are the most prevalent fetishes. Bear fetishes are used for healing, protection, strength, journeying, mothering, hunting and gathering. Bear's hibernation reminds us of  the value of going within. 
Turquoise tends to bring good fortune, strength and helps overcome illness. Native 
Americans have prized turquoise since the time of the Aztecs, who mined it in New
Bear is the most human of animals, and symbolizes for me and others, the
 connection of all life and the interconnectedness of all spirituality. These people
 don't make the division between work and every day life and spirituality and
 religion like most Westerners do. No wonder there is no word for "artist." That
 signifies a separation from regular life.
To me, their beliefs and civilization is stronger than ours because of that. They were
 here before us, and will be here after us.
I'm glad this bear fetish chose me, and blessed me by sparking new stories and 
thoughts. He resides next to my computer and painting table.
Some of the wording in this article comes from the Zuni. I reprint it as fact. If there are
errors, they come from my ignorance and I apologize. No disrespect intended.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. I know how it goes to go check out the fetishes and then come back 30 minutes later and pick out the one who chose you.


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