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Spiritual Messengers

Katsina dolls, specific to Hopi culture, depict the spiritual messengers that appear in physical form in Hopi villages between the winter solstice and mid-July. The katsinas represent all aspects of nature, and their powers include controlling the weather and providing help in the daily lives of the Hopi. Each katsina also represents a different aspect of life, and through the carved dolls girls are able to learn more about the katsinas.  

This katsina doll, carved from the root of a cottonwood tree, is one of many created by Earl Denet, a Hopi artist who carved the dolls in the traditional style of the Hopi, as encouraged by his father.

He represented the actual katsinas as they would appear in his family’s home village of Sichomovi. Denet’s family are originally from this village in northeastern Arizona, which is part of the Hopi Reservation, and he eventually relocated to Riverton, Utah. Earl Denet was a featured artist at the Living Traditions Festival for many years and the recipient of several grants and awards for his artistry.

This particular doll of Denet’s is called “Shalako Mana,” meaning Cloud Girl, and includes a carved headdress and turquoise chips hanging from the ears.

It is one doll in a set carved by Denet, cared for by the Utah Division of Arts and Museums. Denet’s other dolls in the Collection include “Honan” (Badger), “Ha Hai Wuhti” (Grandmother), and “Koyemsi” (Mud Head).  

Each doll includes different elements and is given to girls starting in infancy to help them learn about their responsibilities in the community. They each include different symbols and are given during different phases in a girl’s life. The Ha Hai Wuhti doll is flat and is the first, and most important, doll gifted to a girl as a protector from bad things. Shalako Mana is the final katsina doll given to girls before they marry. It represents rain clouds and storms. The designs on the doll’s headdress depict clouds, lightning, rain and the rainbow.

Denet’s katsina dolls are preserved by the Utah Division of Art & Museums and are part of the Utah State Folk Arts Collection.

Utah’s history and art collection needs a new facility to give their pieces the care they need and to continue protecting precious art pieces like these.


Written by Michelle James

category: Symbolism
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