March 2013 Artifact of the Month

 Poli Sio Hemis Kachina (Butterfly Maiden)

1999.1.31

Materials: cottonwood, feathers, string

Ca. 1890

Butterfly MaidenThis month we are featuring an exquisite early Butterfly Maiden kachina doll called a Poli Sio Hemis kachina. Kachina dolls are the embodiment of the kachina spirits, which are central to the beliefs of the Hopi tribe. The Hopi believe that these benevolent spirits live atop the mesas of Arizona. Every year, as the Hopi celebrate their annual religious ceremonies, the kachina spirits come down to visit their people and give them gifts, such as these beloved kachina dolls.

Kachina dolls are carved from the soft roots of the cottonwood tree and are then painted in bright colors. Beginning at birth, each young Hopi girl is presented with a kachina doll to mark each stage of her development toward adulthood. Each doll becomes more elaborate the older the girl becomes. There are a great variety of dolls that can be carved, which reflects the diversity and complexity of the Hopi's belief system.

Our Butterfly Maiden kachina doll is a nice example of these beliefs. This particular kachina spirit visits the Hopi during the month of March to perform a special dance encouraging rain and the continued fruitfulness of the corn crops. Although our doll does not have much in the way of decorations or designs, her body and face are painted in vivid colors of red, white, yellow and blue. She is wearing an impressive terraced tableta on her head that is carved to resemble the rain clouds that she herself precedes.