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HOPI KACHINAS

In Issue 01, we ran three images from the book HOPI KACHINAS which was the initial inspiration for the Maniacal Mr. Melet fashion story for LET’S PANIC. We found this little gem of a book at Atlantic Book shop in Brooklyn Heights [now closed]. The paintings, first published in 1938, are by Edwin Earle. There are so many great ones, we wanted to share a few more from the book.

 

A Comment by the Artist

 

I AM NOT an anthropologist. The paintings, while they attempt to be accurate, are in no way anatomical reconstructions of individual Kachinas. In the year that I was privileged to live at Oraibi, and on my briefer visits before and since, I thrilled to the sight and sounds of Kachinas. If the pictures reflect some of this excitement, it was my primary purpose. There are many different Kachinas, and several aspects of the same being. A portrait painter finds various moods, but he selects the one which he thinks best portrays his subject—thus did I isolate a performer, who often was doing many different things during a dance. The loneliness of Soyal in the drab and dusty plaza is very moving; the sudden staccato crash of forty rattles announces a turn of the full line of Tasap dancers, and your heart skips a beat as you thrill to their dramatic impact. Or, who can remain unmoved by the majestic Hemis Kachinas benignly shaking their rattles as they would bestow the gentle rain on a parched land? There are side dancers—as with Tasap—to embroider a lively counterpoint on the deep-throated chant. There may be clowns and Koycmsi, drummer and chorus, depending upon the demands of a particular dance.

I have seen tourists pass through a village in their restless search for the unusual: “Well, if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.” You have seen nothing. An Indian dance is not to be appraised as a piece of merchandise, or as a picture, or even as theater. It must be absorbed by all the senses, unhurried with sunshine and dust and a kaleidoscopic background of Indians with great cumulus clouds piled in the Arizona sky. Every type of Kachina has its subtle personality and every dance its peculiar charm. Whatever it may do for a Hopi, it is balm for the agitated mind, if one would be receptive.

Most boys are romantics when it comes to Indians, and I had a normal youth. Reading and pictures focused my interest on the Hopi, and a summer at Oraibi brought me under the spell of Kachinas. My Indian friends urged me to see the Winter Dances, and in December of 1935 I returned to Oraibi where I rented a snug little adobe house for the next year. I watched the full cycle of dances, whenever and wherever performed.

The gathering of pictorial notes posed problems, for the Hopi did not then—and still do not—permit any drawing or photography at their ceremonial dances. If I were to live in their world, I must abide by their rules. Yet they delighted in my “picturing” and congregated, men and boys, at an invitation to correct my observations. There are many variations between the dances at the three mesas, which while important to the Hopi, were overlooked by me. From the many sketches and notes, the paintings included in this book were selected and developed.

At the time of the original publication of this volume, I was pleased to permanently record what I had experienced; as I review these works, almost thirty-five years later, I regret that many Kachinas with equal significance are not included. Kachinas are still a vital part of Hopi life, and their esoteric ritual can touch the spirit of a sympathetic viewer.

As one enthralled spectator who has been deeply moved, I ac-knowledge my debt to many Hopi friends who helped me to under-stand and record some of the beauty of their ceremonies.

 

– EDWIN EARLE

Derby Line, Vermont. June 1970.