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Zuni vs. Navajo and Other Tribal Carvings

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.

Most people know that among the Zunis are some of the finest carvers. We recommend that collectors choose Zuni fetishes. But we collect for many reasons. Collecting should be fun, and the most collectible pieces are those that speak to you.

Some people say that Zuni fetishes are the only true fetish carving art. They believe that Navajo carvings are knock-offs, not worthy of being in any collection. We respect people’s rights to choose for themselves.

Because the Zunis interact with other Native American peoples, there are many artists who may not be “pure” Zuni but who create authentic Zuni fetish carvings. For example, with intertribal marriages, one spouse may be Zuni and the other Navajo or some other tribe. Both may be fetish carvers. We deal with several carving families of mixed tribes. Among Native Americans, 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 carvings. In other cases, individual spouses sign the pieces separately. We treat them both as Zuni artists. If the intertribal couple goes through a divorce, we at Sunshine Studio take the position that the fetishes carved by both spouses are Zuni. (We treat each divorce as a special case.)

In addition, some carvers live on the outskirts of Native American 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 carving families live in this region. They often attend the same schools as the Zunis and speak the Zuni language. Some are initiated into the Zuni Pueblo. Some are "Ramah Navajos" who have been carving for several decades. After the land battle between the Hopis and Navajos, a recent part of the settlement involved turning over a large amount of land near Ramah to the Navajos. Some Navajos were resettled into the area. This raises the question of how fetish collectors should deal with fetishes from this region.

Then there are Navajo families such as Julia Norton (including her 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 in Navajo history. Julia's striped bumblebee and shell duck necklaces are an original art form from the 1970s, which have since been widely copied. David Yazzie carves highly original snowmen and Christmas bears. Some of the most humorous bears come from this family. We might ask why one of Julia's platypuses (an animal that is not indigenous to Navajo land) should be of less value than a Zuni tropical fish, penguin or dragon.

At Sunshine Studio, we mark art with its tribal origin as accurately as we can. When we find good art, we post it regardless of origin. We do not remove true art from our website 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.