Over the last year, I have spent a great deal of time getting to know the people at Andrews Pueblo Pottery and Art Gallery in Old Town in Albuquerque. Not only have they taught me a lot about Native American pottery, they have instructed me on the basics of many other forms of Native art, including Zuni fetishes.
Whether you refer to Zuni animal and corn maiden figures as “fetishes,” which points to their religious connotation in the Zuni belief system, or you prefer to call them “carvings,” more along the lines of contemporary Native art, what is true is that they are beautiful, full of wonderful energy and are a testament to the skill level of their creators. Some collectors prefer highly detailed and realistic carvings, while others choose their more simplistic counterparts. It is believed that the less a fetish’s natural material has been altered in the creation of it, the more likely it is to hold its power or grow in intensity.
One of the most well-known Zuni fetish carvers these days is Troy Sice. His skill-level in carving elk antler into marvelous works is unparalleled. His style, brings an ancient Zuni tradition forward to the present, and he is making it all his own. Of course, Sice has been influenced by some tremendous carvers in his family, including his grandfather George H. Chee and his half-bother Colvin Peina, as well as his uncles Ramie and Miguel Haloo. In the 1970s, Ramie and Miguel first created standing bears made of deer antler. Sice has taken this old design and spruced it up with varied facial expressions, and the addition of inlaid turqoise and coral to depict necklaces. While Sice is currently learning silversmithing to be able to incorporate his carving work into jewelry, his singing and dancing bear and corn maiden sculptures, as well as his Nativity scenes, have become favorites of collectors around the world…and mine too!