Playing the name game is often as simple as figuring out who a piece actually belongs to when it is marked by initials only. Except without a last name there isn’t much to work from. By now most people have learned that LL stands for Larry Laate, not Lavonne Lalio or Navajo Larry Livingston, Linette Laiwakete perhaps or any other fanciful attribution. But this particular case isn’t all that simple.
It will not be too startling to find out the original design comes from Eddie Beyuka, a man who created many outstanding figures. But what’s the trail from Beyuka to Laate?
Janet Amesole lived in the Beyuka household while growing up. When she went out on her own Eddie gave her several designs including the dancer, without the hoops. I have never seen one of Janet’s pieces (she is most famous for her eagles) but she allowed me to copy the original pattern.
Laate stole the design from her. But where did all the others come from?
The design actually had nothing to do with hoops. The figure is a popular one with Beyuka who turned out many of them. It is known in Zuni as Lahbila, no English equivalent. It is a sort of generic Plains figure and a group of them bring the buffalo and his entourage. The actual Koko has an unusual bonnet, with the trailer on only one side, which is not at all obvious in the jewelry. Amesole’s pattern has no hoops either.
Jonathan Beyuka’s Plains dancer has a full bonnet, so it is his alone. By the way, none of these designs are actual kachinas as they are unmasked. Neither Johnathan nor his father put feathers on their hoop dancer, but a crest representing the pow-wow hair roach. The bonnet was reserved for Lahbila.
I haven’t collected misattributions for this figure, but recently a couple have been posted on line. One figure signed J.A. Calavaza is quite similar to the LL dancers and another signed just J. A. which shows the same pose, but is fitted out more like the Beyuka hoop dancer.
In my mind Beyuka figures are easy to separate from the competition. Mainly the copies give themselves away by being less than perfect. Fat legs skinny legs, stumpy legs and elongated legs. For some almost everything is distorted. I found one supposedly by Leo Poblano, a favorite for ugly attributions—in spite of the bolo tips of Beyuka drums. The right leg is longer than the rest of the body.
Philbert Beyuka has given me some information on the drums. First, there are lots of different drums. Identifying a piece on the basis of perfectly good drums is still iffy. He told me his dad sold the stores just drums; once fifty pairs. Philbert, every bit as good as his dad, also made drums for traders.
There is another case of misinterpreted initials not so confusing. OM is almost always interpreted as Olson and Mary—Leekity that is. These are small mostly silver characters I call Yei figures as they more resemble Navajo work than Zuni. And in fact several Navajos have made them, most notably Helen Long and Doris Smallcanyon.
Apparently it never seemed odd to anyone that the Leekitys would use first name initials to sign their work. The truth is, these figures were made by Orville Manygoats, a Navajo. Many Zunis believe that these silver Yeis (the Navajo equivalent to Pueblo Katsinas) are only made by Navajos but at least two Zuni craftsmen produced fine examples of the type—Charles Hannaweeke and Alonzo Hustito. They signed their work.