Winter Sun's Kachina show continues tradition

FLAGSTAFF -- For the past 12 years, Phyllis Hogan, founder and proprietor of the Winter Sun Trading Company, has hosted the Traditional Hopi Carving exhibition. This event showcases the work of traditional-style carvers who have returned to natural pigments and the style that distinguishes this art form from the contemporary doll that has been produced for public consumption.

Contemporary style dolls can be found in almost any trading post or Native American art gallery across the Southwest. They are marked by their bright, durable paints--for example, the enamel paints used to paint toy models. Traditional dolls display muted, natural pigments made from minerals and other natural sources.

On the evening of July 1, the opening of Winter Sun's 12th annual show found the walls of Winter Sun loaded with hundreds of beautiful dolls. For some visitors to the shop, this was just one stop on Flagstaff's regular First Friday Art Walk program. For others--some who had traveled from across the country--the show is a regular, much anticipated event, and an opportunity to add yet another piece to growing collections.

The work of distinguished carver Philbert Honanie is a regular feature. This is Honanie's 10th appearance in the annual event. Honanie said that he considered Winter Sun "home," the gallery having seen Honanie's work germinate and grow.

"This is where I started, here with Phyllis," Honanie said. "Knowing that she was into herbs and natural healing, and my own interest in natural pigments, Phyllis and I just hit it off. She was happy I was using natural pigments and supported my work, and I continued to educate her about the traditional style [of Kachina doll]."

A prominent force in the comeback of the old style Kachina doll, Honanie regularly distinguishes himself in large shows, including the famed Santa Fe Indian Market. Already this year, Honanie collected Best in Wood Carving at the Autry Center in Los Angeles, and Excellence in Kachina Doll Carving in Tucson, and pointed out that the market has grown and expanded--something he is excited about.

"I've made a good life for myself out of it," Honanie said. "I had to reach an understanding that I've made this for myself, and accept that I've made it. The market for the traditional style doll just keeps getting bigger and bigger."

Though some might describe Honanie's rise in the art world as "lucky," Honanie strongly disagrees. He considers "lucky" to be a bad word, and stresses the importance of honoring the natural gifts that all people possess.

"I advise my fellow carvers not to give up on their work, even when they might not be as successful as they might like. I tell them that where there's a will there's a way," Honanie said. "If you have something special, a natural gift, look inside and you'll find it. I'm not saying that education is not important, but this art form is very important--not just for the carver, but for all Hopi people."

Kachina carving is more than just picking up a knife and a piece of wood, Honanie said.

"I see a lot of people--members of other tribes and even Anglos--who believe they can carve Kachina dolls," Honanie said. "But they really can't. Non-Hopi cannot understand the beliefs, the taboos, and how much this tradition means to the Hopi people."

Honanie said that one of his bigger thrills of the year occurred while he was exhibiting at the Heard Museum in April. Channel 3 news invited Honanie to deliver the famous "Good morning, Arizona" opening to the program's morning news program. He was also featured on the same program, cautioning potential buyers on topics such as genuine Hopi dolls versus non-Hopi dolls and genuine artifacts.

"It was difficult to deliver all of that information in only three minutes," Honanie laughed.

New faces continue to appear at Winter Sun. Clifford Torivio is one such individual. Torivio, from the village of Shungopavi, has been carving for more than 15 years. This is only his second appearance at the annual show, but Torivio indicated that he looked forward to continued participation.

Torivio's work includes Hopi folk heroes including the Warrior Mouse, featured in traditional Hopi stories as someone who helped people out of different situations. He has also depicted Racer Snake, Turtle and other various so-called "flat" dolls (originally displayed and stored on walls).

Torivio began carving when he was 17 years of age. He expressed his gratitude to those who supported him in his development as an artist--especially his parents, Willard and Rachel Torivio. He also included Hogan and others such as Jonathan Day as having assisted him in his career.

Jonah Hill, another young Hopi carver, has become part of the Winter Sun family, not just as an exhibitor, but as a valued employee and friend to Hogan. Hill spent his evening mingling with potential buyers, describing different dolls and their creators and finally wrapping purchased selections.

As he bustled about the shop, Hogan looked on with approving eyes.

"I'm very proud to be able to continue to present the Traditional Hopi Carvers event," Hogan said. "I'm excited to see the combined efforts of the Museum of Northern Arizona and other establishments in promoting this art form."

Hogan's first two exhibitions exclusively featured the work of noted Hopi carver, Denet Chavarria Jr., but following shows were opened to other young carvers.

About five years ago, Hogan was contacted by Northland Press of Flagstaff to write a book featuring traditional style Hopi Kachinas produced by a new generation of carvers. Hogan passed the task on to Jonathan Day, the son of a trader at Hopi, who at that time worked at Winter Sun. Day completed the beautifully illustrated "Traditional Hopi Kachinas: A New Generation of Carvers." Since publication, Day has opened his own gallery in Flagstaff.

"It's been a privilege and an honor to work with the Hopi people over the last 30 years," Hogan said. "I am looking forward to many more years of friendship and the continuation of what has been a mutually beneficial relationship."

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