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Sunshine Studio Zuni Fetish Books,

and Zuni Fetish Information Page

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Welcome to the Fetish Information Page from Sunshine Studio - Santa Fe Indian Traders. Click on the highlighted text if you are searching for any of the following topics:

Books About Zuni Fetishes

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Zuni Fetish Book: A Guide to Zuni Fetishes and Carvings

"Zuni Fetishes and Carvings"

by Kent McManis

Book-39: We recommend this new book, shown above, by Kent McManis from Rio Nuevo Publishers, Tucson, 2010. This book revises and updates the previous volumes and combines them into a single edition with a single index, 152 pages, with the work of more than 700 carvers and over 900 Zuni fetishes illustrated in full color. This book is the best available reference on the lineage of the Zuni fetish carving families. No serious fetish collector should be without this book. A few copies are available for a cost of $20 each. These copies are not autographed. Media Mail shipping of a single book to a destination within the USA is possible for $5. Status: Available.

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Zuni Fetish Book - The Fetish Carvers of Zuni

The Fetish Carvers of Zuni

by Marian Rodee and James Ostler

Book-14: This large book was published jointly by the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology and Pueblo of Zuni Arts and Crafts in 1990. Of the books on fetishes, this one does the best job of introducing the artists and their families. It has 88 pages and is illustrated with photos of the families of artists and many close-up color photos of fetishes, 88 pages, revised edition, with additional pictures, $25, a few copies of this out-of-print book available. Media Mail shipping of a single book to a destination within the USA is possible for $5.

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Zuni Fetish Book - Spirit in the Stone: A Handbook of Southwest Indian Animal Carvings

"Spirit in the Stone: A Handbook of Southwest Indian Animal Carvings"

by Mark Bahti

Book-25: This Book begins with Part I, "The Role of the Fetish". Mark Bahti skillfully introduces the importance of the fetish in the Zuni culture, then goes well beyond this to show how the stone carved animal fits into all the cultures of the Southwest American Indians. In Part Two, "The Animals", he discusses all of the common animals and their importance to the Zuni and the other tribes. In Part III, "Other Figurines and Objects", Bahti discusses corn maidens, crystals, arrowheads, other human figures, and miscellaneous objects and how these relate to Southwest American Indian cultures. In Part IV, "The Materials", Mark concludes with a highly scientific discussion of the materials used in ancient and contemporary fetishes and animal sculptures. No serious fetish collector should be without this book, 155 pages, 6" by 8-1/2", profusely illustrated, $16. Media Mail shipping of a single book to a destination within the USA is possible for $5. Status: Available

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The History of Zuni Fetishes

The use of fetishes by the Zuni Indians dates prior to pre-Columbian times, and their use is as prevalent today as it was in the past. All tribes in the Southwest make use of fetishes, but the Zuni have always had the reputation for being the most skillful at carving them. For this reason, all other tribes have always looked to Zuni Indian fetishes as their source for personal charms, talismans, and amulets.

There are many purposes for which fetishes can be used: hunting, propagation, protection or even as a pet. The most prevalent belief is that the power resides in the spirit dwelling within the fetish, rather than the fetish itself. The difference between a carving and a fetish is purely a matter of belief. If a particular object is believed to possess power, then it is a fetish.

The fetishes include: bears, moles, badgers, mountain lions, goats, sheep, frogs, turtles, horses, coyotes, wolves, and birds. The materials used to carve fetishes include such traditional stones as black jet, abalone, sandstone, marble, serpentine, red coral, turquoise, alabaster, and mother-of-pearl. Stabilized turquoise is commonly used, especially in larger table fetishes, as natural turquoise is very difficult to carve, and fetishes of natural turquoise are easily broken.

To the Zuni Indian, there are six cardinal directions. The six directions are each represented by a fetish of a different color; they are the guardians of these six regions and the masters of the medicine powers for that region. The hunting fetishes of the six directions are as follows:


The healing fetishes of the six directions are as follows:

Each of the animals has a different power, and the choice of animal depends on the purpose for which the fetish is intended. For example, a hunter in quest of a deer would use a mountain lion fetish as the deer is the natural prey of the mountain lion. Fetishism can be extremely complicated - each animal can have six varieties of colors representing alternate powers. For more information, we suggest you purchase one or more of our Zuni Fetish Books.

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On the Meanings of the Zuni Fetishes

Note: these are concise meanings provided by the Zuni Tribal Information Center, intended as a one-page handout for visitors.

Tied to the back of many fetishes are medicine bundles, tightly bound with sinew. Coral in the bundle represents ocean life, blue represents birds, black represents night creatures, brown is earth and white is winter. Some fetishes have an inlaid stone arrow. It is called a lifeline or heart line. Beginning at the mouth where breath gives life, it points to the soul where faith and inner strength preside. The arrow that is placed on the fetish is given for protection and good luck. Zuni fetishes are not manufactured nor are they produced on demand. Each carving is a handmade work of art.

Armadillo: slow, sure, in no hurry. Gets things right. Keeper of the home.

Badger: independent, may be sought out for healing based upon knowledge of herbs.

Bat: guardian of the night, cleaner.

Bear: strength, introspection, spiritual journey through life.

Beaver: power of working and attaining a sense of achievement, builder.

Buffalo: endurance to over come, great emotional courage, provider to all.

Butterfly: the art of transformation, the ability to know or to change the mind.

Coyote: the master trickster who tricks himself, laughter, humor, and foolishness.

Corn Maiden: honored for nurturing her people with the flesh of her body, corn.

the keeper of sacred law.

Deer: the power of gentleness loyalty, noble, a true and loyal friend.

Dolphin: trust, loyalty, spirit of friendship.

Duck: spirits of those who have passed on.

Eagle: creator, teacher, loyalty, great integrity, spiritual connection to the great divine.

Elk: teaches that pacing yourself will increase your stamina.

Fish: purifier, character, ability to hide emotions.

Fox: camouflage, ability to meld into one's surroundings and be unnoticed.

Frog: bringer of rain and abundance and fertility.

Hawk: messenger of the gods, to observe the obvious in everything you do.

Horned Lizard: self-reliance, longevity, protects ancestral country.

Horse: swiftness, strength, enlightenment, possesses healing powers.

Hummingbird: messenger, stopper of time.

Lizard: conversation, agility.

Lynx: the knower of secrets, clairvoyance ability.

Mole: protector of the growing crops and underworld.

Moose: headstrong, unstoppable, longevity.

Mountain Lion: power of leadership, ability to lead without insisting others follow.

Mouse: scrutiny, paying attention to detail.

Otter: laughter, curiosity, mischievous.

Owl: can see what others can't, essence of true wisdom, deception.

Parrot: symbolic to the sun, as rainbows are the product of rain and sunlight.

Pheasant: confidence, attraction, flamboyance .

Porcupine: the power of faith and trust.

Quail: sacred spirit, ceremonial, holy.

Rabbit: virtue, serenity, low curiosity, quiet ta1ent, restrained passion. The special guardian of women in child birth, also associated with safe birth and long life for children.

Raccoon: bandit, shy, resourceful.

Ram: sense of self worth, assures an increase in flocks.

Raven: magic, the messenger of the great mystery, a change in consciousness.

Seal: family oriented, posses power in numbers.

Sheep: charity, elegance, passion. Best at the art. Talents bring riches.

Skunk: very conspicuous, intense.

Snake: power of creation, of transmutation, life, death, and rebirth.

Spider: creative patterns of life.

Squirrel: natural intelligence, saver, protects reserves.

Turkey: smart, elusive, festive.

Turtle: oldest symbol of Mother Earth, longevity, the art of grounding.

Wolf: teacher, pathfinder, sharing of your knowledge, never ending journey.

On Navajo and Other Tribal  Carvings vs. Zuni Fetishes

All Southwestern tribes have fetishes in their traditions. The Zunis have been the most prolific and successful carvers of fetishes for sale to the public in recent years. But Navajos have carried small fetishes in pocket bags for hundreds of years. And Cochiti fetishes are among the most valuable of all.

The most collectible pieces are those of the best quality available. Most people know that among the Zunis are some of the finest carvers. We recommend that if all other things are equal, a collector should choose Zuni fetishes. But we collect for many reasons. Collecting should be fun - and the most collectible pieces are those that "speak to you". Other things need to be considered.

Some people go further and say that Zuni fetishes are the only true art form. Some feel that Navajo carvings are knock-offs, not worthy of being in any collection. We respect their right to choose for themselves.

However, this is an oversimplified viewpoint. There are many situations that do not fit such a picture.

First, there is the case of intertribal marriages. One spouse may be Zuni, the other Navajo, or some other tribe. Both work on the carvings. We know and deal with several families of carvers who are in this situation. Among the Indians, there is no stigma associated with intertribal marriages. Sometimes the couple simply solves the problem by having the Zuni member sell (and perhaps sign) the pieces. In other cases, individual spouses sign the pieces separately. We treat them both as Zunis. This all works rather well until there is a divorce. Then things get rather messy. At Sunshine Studio, we take the position that in these cases, the fetishes carved by both spouses are Zuni. We treat each divorce as a special case.

Then there is the case of those who live on the outskirts of Indian land. For various reasons, some families have settled nearby but off the reservation. How do we treat these? And what happens when politics changes reservation boundaries?

A case in point is that of Ramah, New Mexico. Some of the finest families of carvers live in this region. They often attend the same schools as the Zunis and speak the Zuni language. Some are initiated into the Zuni tribe. Some are "Ramah Navajos" who have been carving for several decades. Then along came the land battle between Hopis and Navajos. A recent part of the settlement was to turn over a large amount of land near Ramah to the Navajos. Some Navajos were resettled into the area. In fact, some of the best raised outline ("New Lands") rugs are now woven in this region. How should the fetish collectors deal with fetishes from this region?

Then there are the families of Navajos such as that of Julia Norton (including son-in-law David Yazzie) and Roy Davis who choose to carve artistic pieces of their own design. Julia's Kehtans (family prayer bundles) are a Navajo tradition, and so are her carvings of domesticated animals, which go back hundreds of years into Navajo history. Julia's striped bumblebee and small shell duck necklaces are an original art form from the 1970s, which have since been widely copied. David Yazzie carves very good, highly original snowmen and Christmas bears. Some of the most humorous bears come from this family. And why might one of Julia's platypuses be distinguished from a Zuni tropical fish or a Zuni penguin?

At Sunshine Studio, we mark art with its tribal origin as accurately as we can. We are not perfect, but correct our errors when we see them. When we find good art, we post it regardless of origin. We do not remove true art from our web site because some feel that it is unfashionable. We leave the choice to the customer.

We ask collectors to consider these issues. There is a place for many different carvers in a well-rounded collection. 

Thank you for your attention.

Arch Thiessen


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