What do you call those Little Silver People Yeis? Kachinas?
All of the above probably. None are copies of actual Navajo Yeis or Zuni Koko. The question here is, who made what? I have discussed the problems of attribution before, apparently without much success. One often sees figures attributed to OLSON AND MARY LEEKITY based on the initials MO. Linda Kaplan told me the MO signature is stamped on the work of Navajo ORVILLE MANYGOATS. [Note: Male Yeis have square heads, females round.]
Zuni kokos have appropriately shaped noggins, but they are always masked. Oherwise they are social dancers including eagle dance, snake dance, harvest dance, buffalos and the like.
It is stated authoritatively that no Zunis ever made the little guys . But there are at least two Zuni makers who certainly did. Artists of skill and importance to the history of Zuni silverwork.
When I found the first piece by CHARLES HANNAWEEKE I showed it to a couple of his family members who told me Charles and Pauline never did that kind of work.The stamp was mostly obliterated so I dropped my inquiries. Then I found a few more with clean signatures.
In a number of ways the Hannaweeke forms are the best. For one thing they look less like Navajo Yeis and more original, mormysterious.
Charlie’s most evocative figure is the horned Ogre.
Call it an ogre for lack of a better word. Though the horns, menacing mouth and beard might look like some Indian Devil, is represents nothing—at least nothing recognized by an ethnic group. It is an intricately designed form with the close-set and impressive piercing eyes, the long thin horns, the odd top-not. The row of ovals doesn’t look as much like a ruff as menacing teeth, with a lizard-like tongue hanging down.
The long skirt is more female than a normal dance kilt, and the figure wears a cape. Finally, the object in his left hand loosk more like a weapon the right holds some sort of plant. Neither are the more familiar rattles and wands. Apparently Charlie liked it; perhaps because it wasn’t very Zuni looking. He used it in a variety of pieces from earrings and pendants to bracelets and pendants. One important note: They are always signed.
THIS GREAT BRACELET LOOKS LIKE IT MIGHT HAVE BEEN EITHER COLLABORATIVE , OR JUST MORE EMBELLISHED FOR THE PIECE OF JEWELRY IT WAS. THERE IS A DRILL HOLE IN THE RECYCLED CORAL BEAD.
The most common Hannaweeke model is the one usually given to the Leekitys and made by Navajos. A standing form, often with crossed arms (not a dance position), usually with three stones in the headdress, and less often one in the belly of the little statue. A similar square head and tubular eyes and mouth.
MANYGOATS’ pieces are usually signed. Two things not always seen on smaller pieces help identify his work as much as anything—a soaring leaf-shaped head-dress is mostly consistent. He also has another tell, most of his pieces have old-time open sleeves. Those touches are not seen on all his rings and earrings.
A LEAF-LIKE HEADDRESS AND OPEN SLEEVES ARE MARKS OF ORVILLE MANYGOATS’ WORK. STAMPS M O.
Several other Navajos make the silver yeis, most notably DORIS SMALLCANYON, whose work could sometimes pass for ALONZO HUSTITO’S withe three-stone headdress and turquoise eyes similar.
ALONZO HUSTITO The really superb version of the silver yes was done by Alonzo who also signed his work with the small bear stamp (his clan) and initials A. H..
The leggings on this Eagle Dancer are typical of Hustito’s work. Most of the little figures have leggings, but Alonzo’s have the same stamp work
CLASSIC ALONZO HUSTITO
Unsigned pieces are more of a problem.
The fellow on the right has creepy eyes and what looks like two mouths. Maybe the upper one is a nose. His leaf headdress is different than Orville’s.
The guy on the left is even stranger. Don’t know what his headdress is supposed to be.
JERRY ROAN signs with JR. He does excellent work, but seems to only make eagles. The ones I have seen are all different, so he doesn’t just use the same pattern.
Pieces have been attributed to M ORTIZ that are exactly the same as Orville Manygoats—the open sleeves and the leaf headdresses. Most pieces are quite nice, and not so derivative. I have not found out much about Mr. Ortiz.