Every month, Creative Gateways celebrates their resident artists with an honored focus on each person’s new works, source of inspiration, talent, and origin story. This month we are excited to turn the spotlight on Gerry Quotskuyva…
A Brief History of Kastinam/Kachina Dolls
Gerry Quotskuyva is a man of many talents, and an artist of many mediums – including bronze and mixed media. But he is best known for his unique style of katsinam/kachina dolls, which he has been creating for nearly 25 years.
Developed by Hopis in the early 1300’s, the katsina religion was used to unify their growing villages. All Hopis are initiated into the katsina religion between the ages of 8-12, as a way of strengthening their cultural connections and instilling in them a sense of obligation and responsibility. Katsinam themselves signify cloud deities and are believed to be intermediaries between the spirit world and the present. Hopi family’s will often gather to observe ceremonies in which the katsinam sing, dance, and pray for rain to water their crops.
The physical katsina dolls themselves have huge cultural significance. As babies, all Hopi are given simple, small, flat katsina dolls to play with. After infancy, boys are given things like bows and arrows, while girls continue to receive katsina dolls once a year. As the girls come of age (pubescent years), the dolls become increasingly cylindrical, until they are initiated into the katsina religion and become more detailed. The dolls are used to teach the girls about the katsina religion and who each katsina is: what they look like, their names, their personalities, and their dance.
Influence and Growth
Growing up, Gerry would watch his grandfather carve dolls from cottonwood root, paying attention to the fine details and elaborate adornments. In 1994, Gerry began carving his own dolls. His early sculpture work focused on artistic freedom and expression through blending the traditional styles of the dancing dolls with modern spiritual representations. “I try to bring the old together with the new to show the continuing circle of life,” he tells us. Over time Gerry developed his carving, wood-burning, and painting techniques that helped mature and refine his work, and better express him as an artist.
The details of his kachina dolls have been important. The poses of his early dolls always included a base that narrowed, visually representing the process of a kachina doll evaporating as a cloud being and becoming a spiritual being. Each have distinguishable body forms with-in the long robes to “symbolize the embodiment of the soul.” And in all of his carvings he leaves one side of the robe open to represent the “releasing of that spirit or heart with-in.” Stylistically, he combines traditional meanings behind the kachina dolls with a contemporary level of design.
Gerry has continued to challenge tradition by progressing, evolving, and experimenting with what mediums would best convey what he wishes to express. This can be seen clearly in his newest, most ambitious project.
Gerry’s new project began with a long, arduous search for the right wood: cottonwood root. During one particular expedition 14 years ago, he found an appropriate piece in the Verde River. Since then, Gerry has been patiently curing the wood, waiting for it to reach the right consistency of dryness to begin his new piece. If the wood is too wet, or dries too quickly, there is a high risk that it will split while being carved. Now fully cured, this cottonwood root stands at roughly 4 feet tall and 2 feet wide and will be used to create a piece expressing the theme of matriarchal cultures.
“The majority of indigenous cultures are matriarchal societies,” Gerry tells us, “where the women possess strength and power in the decision-making process. Even in today’s culture, there are many groups where the feminine divine still carries weight.” To show this feminine divinity, Gerry’s goal is to create multiple female kachina dolls in flight on the smaller, individual roots, while still keeping the whole of the root as a single piece. In the larger areas of wood, he will carve clusters of 2-3 larger kachina dolls or faces, such as grandmother figures or corn maidens.
Even though Gerry is full of ideas he wants to express, he acknowledges that during the creative process many of his ideas change. His goal is to complete the piece by December, devoting the majority of his time during his Rollin and Mary Ella King Native Artist Fellowship to the project. He admits it will be a good challenge working in a larger scale, but he has completed larger pieces before and knows what to expect.
Be there from the beginning
You can see the beginning of Gerry’s new project, as well as much of his other work, at the opening reception of The Gnarly Root Project – Journey of a Wooden Spirit, Friday, August 10th, from 5-8pm at Creative Gateways Open Studios & Gallery. Explore the gallery, talk with Gerry and other resident artists, and enjoy small bites and drinks!