Carved effigies of kachinas were multi-purpose, in the past: they served to teach children, especially girls, to recognize them when portrayed by ceremonial dancers; to animate the stories they represent, and teach their lore; to decorate households, hanging on the walls; as creative outlets for men, during the long winters, and even as playthings for children.
Chester (who prefers to go by his Hopi name, Poleyestewa), is a widely known and respected kachina carver, whose work is collected all over the world.
Profoundly committed to his Hopi culture, he carves in the traditional, old style, from only dead cottonwood roots, using only a flint knife, and a polishing stone.
Cottonwood trees grow along waterways, so the roots are symbolic of reaching for water, especially precious on the dry Hopi land.
His kachinas – or “dolls”, as he calls them – are painted with natural dyes and mineral paints, that he makes himself.
With minimal realism and detail to the bodies, as was the age-old style, they are totally authentic; the faces would be instantly recognizable as they appear in dancers’ masks.
Kaisale, the current carving,is known as the winter clown; his counterpart in summer is the better-known Koshare.
Unlike Koshares, however, Kaisale is more connected to germinating and encouraging the growth of crops, than with clowning.
The deerskin medicine pouch around his neck would be filled with corn pollen, probably, used for prayers.
Like all Poleyestewa’s carvings, this doll is amusing and colorful – even cute.
He says they are meant to be that way, as they were carved to be toys, “carried around ” (sic) along with their more solemn roles.
Authentic, carved with devotion, affection, and consummate expertise, Kaisale is a collector’s delight.