Author Archives: Curtis Liles

About Curtis Liles

We are retailers of Native American Art, Western Art and Pendleton Blankets. We have enjoyed this business and the relationships with our suppliers since 1985,

Hopi Kachina Societies

Hopi Kachinas-Katsinas

Kachina Society
In the world of the Hopi all things have both a spiritual and physical form which they believe provides balance. Kachinas represent the spiritual aspect of this natural balance. This belief extends to a wide and varied range of Kachina spirits ranging from local game to even death itself.

In the Kachina Society it is the male members of the Hopi that dress in costumes and masks to portray the Kachina spirits. Through their costumes and actions these men give shape and substance to the Kachina which they are portraying. These men are believed to be invested by the specific Kachina portrayed.

The kachina season begins in late December with the Soyal as several kachinas wake and emerge from the kivas. (Kivas are underground ceremonial rooms which are believed to provide entry from and to the Underworld) These kachinas perform rites which improves the bonds and well being of the Hopi people and their villages before returning to their kivas.

As early or false spring approaches in February the Powamu ceremony is held. This ceremony and its’ kachinas ready the world for a new season of planting and growth. Great numbers of kachinas emerge from the kivas escorted by guards and warriors. Trailing them are the clowns with their constant irreverent behavior. This ceremony also represents the time when children are initiated into the kachina cult.

The Niman ceremony, which is held in mid summer represents the end of the kachina season. The kachinas dance in the plaza carrying stalks of corn and bearing gifts for the children. This is a time of thanks and appreciation for the harvest which the kachinas helped provide as well as a time to bid them farewell. With a final ceremony the kachinas are sent off to their mountain homes to await the renewed cycle of the coming year.

Kachina Dolls (Katsina) or Tihu
While the Hopi men have a substantial degree of “contact” with the Kachinas through their impersonation the Hope women do not enjoy this same degree as contact. Perhaps in a way to satisify the women’s needs, the men carve an impersonation of the Kachina called a Tihu and give it to mothers and their infants as well as females of all ages. The tihus (Kachina Dolls), which are believed to embody the spirit of the Kachina they represent, are than taken home and hung from the wall or perhaps a beam so as to ensure the preservation of what is considered a valued possession.

Kachina & non Kachina Ceremonies for the Hopi

• Pamuya -Kachina : These dances are held in January and are also called the Kiva Dances.
• Powamu – Kachina: Held in February these dances are called the Bean Dances.
• Anktioni – Kachina: Repeat dances held in March.
• Soyohim – Kachina: Plaza dances held in April-May
• Niman – Kachina: Home dances held in July.
• Snake or Flute Dances – Non-Kachina: Usually held in August.
• Marau – Non-Kachina: Womens Society held in Sepember.r
• Oaqole – Non-Kachina: Womens Society held in October.
• Wuwuchim – Non-Kachina: Tribal initiation held in November.
• Soyala – Kachina: Held in December .

Indian Trade Blankets

Prior to the white mans push into the western Unites States, Native Americans would use animal hides for much of their clothing and to protect themselves from the elements. Some time in the 17th century the Navajo began producing wool textiles for wearing themselves and trading to other Native Americans and to the Spanish. Their blankets were of such high quality that they were the preferred material of the Spanish and their other trade partners.

By the late 1700’s fur traders were bringing in Hudson Bay Point blankets to trade for fur. They were the only trade blanket present until the late 1800’s. The points on the Hudson Bay Point blankets referred to the size and  weight of the particular blanket. These thin anil dyed lines would be visible without unfolding the blanket.

Indian Trade Blankets

Hudson Bay Point blankets

By the late 1800’s the Indian wars were over and traders on the Navajo reservation began marketing Navajo rugs to the white people. These “rugs” were much heavier then the Navajo wearing blankets and were made to lie on the floor of non-Indian homes.  These new textiles initially mimicked the Oriental rugs which were popular at that time. From this point onward there were few if any weavers making the traditional wearing blankets.


Chiefs Wearing Blanket

Chiefs Wearing Blanket

With the Navajo out of the blanket business it created a void which companies like Buell, Capps, Oregon City, Racine, Schuler, Knights and last but not least Pendleton were ready to fill. These companies created rich colorful patterns to sell to the Native Americans.


Pendleton Capps Tribute

Pendleton, which started in 1896, became the only survivor of the original weavers.  By 1942 all of these companies were producing products needed by the war effort. This is why all collectible blankets are between 1890 and 1942.


Pendleton resumed weaving Indian blankets in 1947 and was the only one of the original companies to do so. Pendleton Woolen Mills continues to be the only company to produce blankets with Native American designs. Recently they have produced a line of Tribute blankets which pay homage to the blankets produced by their competitors of old. This line is appropriately called   the Tribute Line. Four new blankets are produced each year from the Buell, Capps, Oregon City and Racine companies historic offerings of Indian blankets. You can this years offerings  of the Pendleton Tribute Blankets .

In addition to the tribute to others blankets Pendleton also has a line of blankets called the Heritage blankets. This line contains old Pendleton blanket designs from different eras.


Pendleton Gatekeeper Blanket

Native American Jewelry in the Southwest

While there exists no known written record of the emergence of native silversmithing in the US southwest it is generally believed to have been sometime after 1850. In 1854 at Fort Defiance, agent Dodge hired George Carter, a blacksmith, and Juan Anaya as an assistant, a Mexican silversmith to teach the local Navajos the art of metal smithing. While records show they produced bridles, bridle bits, rings and etc., it should not be forgotten that a Mexican silversmith was an assistant to George Carter.

The Navajos were clearly making some items of silver jewelry by the early 1850’s. Several drawings exist showing Pueblo and Navajo wearing silver buttons on their pants as decoration. Written descriptions of Navajo dress also include leather belts with silver ovals attached.

The Navajo continued their almost constant raiding of the Rio Grande valley during the early 1860’s. The raiding had provided them with livestock, slaves and European ornaments. This raiding resulted in the Navajo campaign circa 1863-1864 which was led by Kit Carson. The Carson led campaign destroyed crops and orchards until they were able to defeat the Navajo and march them to Bosque Redondo. Located in southeast New Mexico near Fort Sumner Bosque Redondo was to be the Navajos home until 1868.

During their time at Bosque Redondo the Navajo appear to have honed their silver working skills. Some of the Navajo who were being instructed in metal working during this time apparently picked up the ability to make stamps and dies. The government used to issue metal ration tags which controlled the amount of food distributed. History indicates that the Navajo smiths were able to counterfeit the ration tags resulting in the government issuing cardboard ones instead.

By the time the Navajo returned to their reservation in 1868 they possessed a growing skill in silver smithing. Having learned to make stamps and dies they began to duplicate on silver the patterns seen in Mexican leather work. Those that worked for the government began to demand their pay in silver, which was later turned into items of decoration.

By 1880 silver smithing was pervasive throughout the Navajo reservation. Federal agents had encouraged the process by providing smithing tools and encouraging the sharing of techniques. Herding sheep, making blankets and silver smithing provided the Navajo with a reasonable economic foundation going forward. To be continued,,,,,