Zuni Fetishes

Carved Zuni fetishes are among the world’s most collected expressions of American Indian art. These carvings represent animals of the natural world and have spiritual meanings and ceremonial purpose. The earliest of these animal carvings, found in ancestral Puebloan sites, date back centuries. The majority of Native American fetishes produced in the Southwest today are made by Zuni artists, although a few artists from Pueblo villages other than Zuni also make fetish carvings. Traditionally Zuni fetishes were carved from bone, antler, horn, shell and wood as well as stone. For today’s commercial trade, artists most frequently carve from stone, although antler, horn, shell and occasionally fossilized ivory are sometimes used.

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Until recently Zuni fetish carvings have been fairly abstract in form. Most carvings today are much more detailed, many intricately so. They range in size from about the breadth and length of a fingernail to palm-size. Carved animal forms that are especially large will often be categorized as sculptures.

bunny zuni fetish Zuni Snake Fetish Corn Maiden Turquoise Zuni Fetish Bear Zuni Fetish

Zuni fetishes are distinguishable by the fine detail, expressiveness and balance between reality and abstraction that they portray. In Zuni culture, six directions are recognized—the four cardinal directions as well as “upper” and “lower.” Each of these directions is represented by a sacred mountain, a color, and a particular animal. North is the yellow mountain lion; west, the black bear (represented by the color blue); south, the red badger; and east, the white wolf. The sky or “upper” is the multi-colored eagle, and the underground or lower is the black mole. In addition to these six animals, many other animal forms are carved, including amphibians, reptiles, and fish as well as birds and mammals. Add to this a Zuni repertoire of many stones of wide-ranging colors and it becomes easy to understand that collections of Zuni fetishes can grow continuously.

Stones that are soft enough to be carved by hand include serpentine, which is found in abundance locally; brownish-red jaspers and pipestones; green and blue turquoises; green malachite; white and variegated alabasters; many colors of fluorite; marbles ranging from white to black; dolomites and more. Harder stones such as quartz, jet, obsidian—and even glass—are worked with the aid of power tools.

The Zuni pueblo and its populated areas serve as home to almost ten thousand residents. Most Zuni carvers reside on their ancestral lands in western New Mexico on the Arizona border.