Two Zuni Artists: A Tale of Art and Mystery

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University Press of Mississippi, 1998 - Art - 96 pages

Zuni artists of today uphold the centuries-old tradition that art is integral to both their secular lives and to their sacred rituals. Too few books have given outsiders a grasp and understanding of this special feature of Zuni art. This one, bringing knowledge and insights gained in two decades of field research in New Mexico, attempts to enter the special world of the Zunis by focusing on two present-day artists--a potter and her son, who makes fetishes of carved stone.

They create art in the age-old style, and as they describe their techniques and discuss their feelings about the pieces they make, they reveal the enduring relationship the Zuni Indians have nurtured in their art, their religion, and their values. An outsider's up-close encounter with this exceptional culture can stir up passions, debates, and mysteries. The author's exploration put him in a maelstrom of family and community disputes that exposed the sensitive nature of art to the Zunis.

Only in the recent past did Zuni artisans begin adapting their ancestral designs and forms into new works sold to the public. Such art is designated as "contemporary traditional" to distinguish it from historical artifacts. These modern creations have brought new appreciators to primeval Zuni culture.

This book places modern work within the context of Pueblo folk art from prehistoric times to the present. Vintage and contemporary photographs that are included show Zuni art and life as it developed. Readers are introduced here to ancient designs and techniques of making pottery and fetishes and to contemporary potters and fetish carvers who preserve the old ways today.

Those who admire and collect Native American art will welcome this book, not only because it is one of the few available studies devoted entirely to the subject of Zuni art but also because it is an unusual and absorbing story of the intertwining of art, religion, and the community.

Keith Cunningham, a professor of English and folklore at Northern Arizona University, is the author of The Oral Tradition of the American West and American Indians' Kitchen-Table Stories.

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