Editor’s Letter | Digging Deeper


By Kristin Hoerth

As I write this it’s the end of August, and I’ve just returned from my annual trip to Indian Market in Santa Fe, NM, the largest gathering in the country of Native American artists and artisans from the Southwest and beyond. For one weekend every year, hundreds of potters, jewelers, weavers, and many others descend upon Santa Fe’s historic plaza to sell their creations to throngs of collectors and tourists. Meanwhile, Santa Fe galleries host countless openings featuring new work by their artists. In short, it’s a wonderful whirlwind of nonstop art that’s both energizing and exhausting.

With so much to see and do, there’s not much time for art-buying of my own. But as I was getting ready for the trip, I found myself thinking about the many fetishes—small stone carvings of animals—that I’ve seen at Indian art events over the past year or so. I’ve always admired their intricacy, and I had the vague (and incorrect) notion that each person is somehow “assigned” a particular animal, in the same way each of us has a sign of the zodiac or an animal in Chinese astrology.

What I learned this past weekend is that fetishes are traditionally carved by Zuni people from any number of different stones to represent a variety of animals. Each animal is associated with certain fundamental attributes, and some believe that the person who possesses a fetish possesses those same attributes. There’s no method for discovering which animal is “yours”; I learned from several sources to simply choose fetishes to which I felt drawn.

And so I found a few minutes during the weekend to browse, and as a result I came home with the two carvings that are sitting next to my computer as I write. One is made of labradorite in the shape of a bear, said to represent strength and introspection; the other is a serpentine rabbit, which has to do with overcoming fears. I don’t know whether they will make me strong and fearless; I do know that they are beautifully carved from lovely stones and that they have a satisfying weightiness when I hold them.

I also know that they have spurred me to a greater interest in the Zuni and other Native American tribes. I want to know more, to understand the larger context of the spirituality and culture within which these fetishes fit. For this is ultimately the great joy of collecting anything: to learn rather than merely acquire. -October 2008