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  • Judy Greenfield

Katsinas

Updated: Jan 30

It often seems that I have a“run” on certain types of objects: animal figurines, mask, Asian artifacts. Recently, I’ve had a bunch of katsinas on my bench. These small, brightly painted figurines depicting supernatural beings as associated with, primarily, the Hopi people. The Hopi people call these “tithu” or “katsintithu”. The term “katsina” is a closer rending of the native term for these figurines though they are more commonly known as katchinas.

An Internet site describes them as follows:


Katsina primarily refers to the supernatural beings who are believed to visit Hopi villagers during of half of the year. Katsinas have the power to bring rain, exercise control over the weather, help in many of the everyday activities of the villagers, punish offenders of ceremonial or social laws, and in general, to function as messengers between the spiritual domain and mortals.


Traditionally, katsinas are carved from the root of a cottonwood tree. Each of the many types of katsinas is dressed in specific clothing and wears or carries attributes symbolizing the katsina’s power and function. Katsinas for purchase are crafted and sold as tourist art. Some are made entirely of wood, others sport actual feathers, fur, leather, yarn and cloth.


Damage to katsinas is typically to its attributes, through loss, impact, light exposure and handling. Feathers seem to fare poorly over time, the barbs splaying and the rachis (shaft) getting bent or broken. Light fades feathers, yarn and textiles. Handling can result in staining and abrasion to paint. The katsinas are usually secured to a cross section of wood and there is a tendency for them to topple. Fortunately, much of the damage to katsinas can be repaired: missing attributes can be reconstructed (with research), bent rachises on feathers reinforced, limbs re-adhered, feathers cleaned. However, light damage cannot be reversed. Katsinas are best

preserved when protected from light, dust and debris.




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