A Fetish for Zuni Carvings?
You’ll have a chance to satisfy that collecting bug this weekend. The Autry Museum Store is hosting celebrated trader Scott Ryerson, of Tepopa Trading, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. this weekend, March 6 and 7.
Ryerson, who is well-known for his expertise in Zuni fetish carvings, follows the old tradition of the Indian groups, who traded among themselves long before European contact. Later, after most Indians had been forced into reservations, traders would travel from one to the other, trading for or purchasing the jewelry, textiles, pottery, beadwork, and carvings made by members of each tribe and band.
This is how the tradition of the trunk show began in the West. At first, the term probably referred to an actual trunk that the trader took from town to town. He’d set up in a commons, take out his trade goods, and suddenly he was open for business. Later, the traders worked out of the trunks of their cars. Ryerson still travels the reservation circuit, looking for the best of the artisanal work from Zunis and other groups.
Zuni are master carvers of what’s known as fetishes, which are small, often pocket-size carvings of stone, shell, wood, bone or metal of animals, humans, and mythical creatures, meant to be used among the Zuni and other tribes as prayer guides. They are supposed to elicit certain qualities of human behavior as well as evoke the essence of the animal depicted. Historically, Zuni men used them in meditation in the belief they could communicate with the spirit world. They might summon the spirit of the game they were after to ask its permission to be killed for the benefit of the tribe. Or they might summon the spirit of the mountain lion, the master hunter, to help them find and kill their game. Shamans also used fetishes in an effort to heal both sick people and drought-stricken land.
Nowadays, fetish carvings have become highly sought art objects, and those sold to collectors do not have the spiritual meaning of traditional carvings. Still, they are showcases for the carver’s skill, and fine examples can command hundreds of dollars. Ryerson brings with him his collection of fetish carvings as well as a selection of Zuni and Navajo jewelry, in every price range. Please, join us!