The art form of Native American stone carving has come to the attention of art collectors in recent years; however, it has survived pre-history. Carving fetishes has been a part of the Zuni culture for hundreds of years. The art of carving decorative âfetish necklacesâ? was first practiced by Pueblo and Zuni carvers. These necklaces are either one strand or multi-strands of strung together with a variety of small carved animal figures that are drilled and strung with shell or turquoise "heishi" beads. These bird or animal carvings may be as small as a half an inch or less. The fetish necklaces may be created by a single artist, a family of artists, or assembled by a group of artists who work together in a shop. The Quandalacie family is one of the first Zuni families to work together. Each family member carved and contributed a fetish for a necklace given as a gift to their mother. In the 1960s, the Leekya family created fetish necklaces, and in the late 1950s, Santo Domingo Pueblo carvers began producing fetish bird necklaces.
Fetishes were originally carved by Native American tribes to ceremonially capture the spirit of the animal they represent. They were tied with offerings of shells, stones, or feathers, and were "fed" with corn pollen or other foods as an offering to the spirit of the fetish. The Zuni as well as other Pueblo tribes kept their fetishes in jars inside of their kivas, and only brought them out only for specific ceremonies. Some fetishes are not carved for ceremonies, but for art; however, certain restrictions and taboos may be observed when created.
The unique character of each American Indian stone carving is due to the variety of the stone or shell, and each is piece is carved by hand. Fetishes are made of many forms and or materials, but they all have a purpose, which is to assist man against any potential or real problems, which include those of the body, mind, or universe.
Fetishes may be decorated with various items such as turquoise, coral, or arrowheads for adornment, which shows the appreciation or affection for the artist of the recipient. The performance of a fetish depends upon the care or treatment it receives in someoneâs possession.
Larger hand carved sculptures, often of Native Limestone, alabaster, and other minerals, are created without the concept of ceremonialism and for artistic display; however, they still reflect Native American religion and cosmology. Some pieces may be realistic, depict everyday life, express Native American spirituality with ancient symbols, or more abstract in design. Each fetish carving exhibits the characteristics of the various Native American cultures and heritage.
The Zuni Indians believe in six cardinal guardian fetishes, and each symbolizes a direction and has a particular animal and color synonymous with that direction. The guardian fetish of the North is yellow and the mountain lion. The South is red and the badger. The West is blue and the bear. The East is white and the wolf. The inner earth, or nadir, is black and the mole, and the sky, or Zepath, is represented by the eagle and no specific color.
Some of the meanings and characteristics of the Zuni fetishes include: Armadillo: a slow, sure animal; no hurry; gets things right; keeper of the home Badger: the ability to reach a desired goal Bear: inner power to perceive oneâs present circumstances; strength Beaver: progressive builder; establishes and promotes family unity Buffalo: steadfast endurance to rise above one's weakness Coyote: humor; the ability to laugh at oneself Eagle: soaring spirit transcending personal problems; a connection to the Divine Fox: protection; camouflage camouflage Frog: able to petition the spirits to bring forth abundant rain Horned Toad: self-reliance; longevity in life; conservation of native bounty. Horse: one of the two fetishes that has innate healing powers Mole: amplifies connections to with the earth; keeper of the underground Mountain Lion: resourcefulness; leadership Owl: keeper of the night; controls the dark side of nature; wise, smart, patient, and endurance of mind. Ram: used to gain an increase of herds Raven: the beak, when scratched across an afflicted person's skull, releases its healing powers Snake: power symbol of life, death, and rebirth Turtle: long, meaningful life Wolf: a teacher; a path finder on a never ending journey for survival