FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — The Hopi know how to grow in the desert — both corn and other crops they need to thrive. That flourishing culture is one thing, among others, the Hopi Festival of Arts & Culture celebrates July 6 and 7 at the Museum of Northern Arizona.
Through art, music, dance and more, this annual festival celebrates the long history and continuation of Hopi culture. This year, the musical trio Ongtupqa features the Hopi long flute, used in 650 C.E., which makes it it the oldest instrument from this part of the world.
On the other end of the timeline, Ed Kabotie and Tha’ Yoties will debut new tunes in their upbeat, reggae style. The Dance Group from Second Mesa and hoop dancers Derek Davis and Ryon Polyqueptewa round out the performances under the mainstage tent. Almost 100 artists will be showing and selling their jewelry, weavings, pottery, paintings and carvings.
In 2018, the Governor’s Tourism Award recognized the Hopi Festival as an example of Outstanding Arizona Cultural and Historical Preservation. A new exhibition at the museum recounts some of the history of the museum’s cultural festivals, which started with the first Hopi festival in 1930.
Now in its 86th year, the Hopi festival is young compared to the culture it celebrates, which has thrived in the region for more than a thousand years, thanks to the Hopi’s tremendous skill as dry land farmers.
The importance of the staple corn crop is apparent throughout the festival in Hopi art, music, dance, and food. A favorite at the Hopi Festival is fresh piki, a tissue-thin blue corn bread baked on a hotstone.
This year another Hopi crop will get some overdue attention — the gourd. Festival attendees learn about the many traditional uses of gourds, including containers for water and food, musical instruments, katsina doll heads, and jewelry. During a hands-on workshop both Saturday and Sunday afternoons, Jonah and Gregory Hill will teach attendees how to properly prepare gourds and then cut and decorate them to make birdhouses or watering containers.
As children, the Hill brothers prepared and use gourds as canteens, one of many traditional uses. A properly prepped gourd canteen with a corncob stopper keeps the water cool and fresh, and is easy to carry. But Jonah Hill recalls canteens he made as a child, when he didn’t thoroughly scrape out the pulp, ending up with a bitter, astringent taste.
Now a talented and prolific silversmith known for his unique cast silverwork, Hill has enjoyed pulling out his old carving tools again in preparation for this weekend’s workshop.
“It feels good to go back to what I started at as an artist,” said Hill, who will also be showing and selling his silverwork at the Hopi Festival.
He enjoys the ephemeral and organic quality of gourds, the knowledge that when they eventually break they can be composted back into the soil.
Creating a gourd canteen, rattle, or other utilitarian gourd art takes planning, starting with planting Lagenaria spp. seeds the spring before. The gardener shapes the hard-shelled gourd as it grows. Gourds for rattles are grown on a hard surface and turned so that two sides end up flattened, then picked while small. Gourds for dippers are grown on trellises, where the necks become long for handles. For round gourds, the gardener creates a soft hammock from pantyhose to cradle the gourd as it grows.
“You can always tell where the gourds were grown,” Hill said. “The gourd itself has a huge meaning too. Being round — that represents the Earth.”
After harvest, the gourd must be set aside to dry for many months, a waiting period that Hill relates to Earth’s winter: “That makes you appreciate things of that nature, the natural cycles. Nothing’s there forever.”
Once dry, gourds are boiled with juniper seeds, then scrubbed and scraped inside and out, before being dried again and ready to carve and decorate.
Colton Community Gardens volunteers saved and dried about 80 gourds from the previous year, which will be available for workshop attendees to use to make gourd art of their own.
The Hopi Festival of Arts & Culture takes place at the Museum of Northern Arizona July 6 and 7, from 9 am to 5 pm both days.
This year the festival stretches across the museum campus, including not only performances in the main tent, but also an open house in the Easton Collection Center, hands-on workshops in the Colton Community Garden and presentations of relevant MNA research.
Tribal members always receive discounted admission at MNA with proof of tribal affiliation.
Information provided by MNA