Orin Eriacho grew up in the big rock house south of the Zuni river built by Henry Gasper. The home is most associated with the Tsabetsaye family, and linked to the Walelas. Like most Zunis, Orin was surrounded by creativity and family celebrity, but his entry into the art world came out of his own interests.
In the sixth grade he did some carvings in what is called “Hopi” style. They are basically sticks with heads carved and important features, but no feathers or dressing. He thinks he did a dozen or so of these figures. In Jr. High he started carving antler.
Orin began carving rock, using scraps from the artists around him. The fetishes were tiny, but completely dressed. He was mentored by Bob Walela and expanded his repertoire. From the beginning he has carved rock found on the Zuni reservation. He refuses to buy his stone. Dealers began to criticize the use of what is known as “Zuni Rock” or “Leekya Stone” because it wasn’t colorful enough.
One dealer at least claims the rock only comes from land owned by the Leakya family and they are the only ones using it for carving. Neither of those statements are correct. And though the stone is usually thought of as the soft ochre yellow, it comes in a variety of colors from white to dark brown. Some of it shows spots and stripes. The mineral is travertine, and a number of Zuni carvers have their own quarries, which they guard.
In the 1880s Frank Cushing looked for a fabled turquoise mine in the Zuni Mountains. In a terrible blizzard he lost his mule and his way, but he found an ancient digging with several copper minerals—malachite and azurite. Orin’s uncle, Felino Eriacho has a source for that colorful mineral and carves it.
Other exotic stone is also found on the Mesas that surround the village. Orin carves purple fluorite which should satisfy any demand for color. Some of it is nearly transparent and the viewer sees into the body of the stone. Orin says it seems to flame while grinding. The fire closely resembles opal.
Many carvers get a feel for their stone and look for the animal inside. One fluorite bear Orin carved is only half there. He says that was the animal he saw, and the carving balances on one front paw.
Eriacho gives lie to the complaint about color in Zuni rock. He carved a mountain lion two and a half feet long, crouching with an intense stare. The coloring of the rock, with dark stripes like lighting, is perfect for the intense lion. He entered it in a show in Dallas and it won Best of Division. It sold on the spot.
Orin is a hard man to catch because he lives intensely, always busy with his art and other business. He hauls wood for quick cash, but says he just loves being in the mountains, and he sees lots of wildlife. Nature recharges his battery.