Art that Re-enchants the World
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Native American Fetish Carvings

Fetish Carvings
The Zuni people of the American Southwest carved little stone animals, known as “fetishes” by anthropologists and collectors. The first fetishes were found objects—stones, shells, or even bits of wood—that had the shapes of animals. (Archaeological sites show that the Zuni were using fetishes as early as A.D. 650.) Soon after using just the found objects, hunters started carving to enhance the animal form. They also started wrapping tiny stones, shells, and beads onto the fetish, as gifts to the animal spirit within the stone.

Each fetish animal has "medicine," that the owner desires or needs. In Native American traditions, “animal medicine” refers to the healing aspects, characteristics, and lessons that an animal awakens in our consciousness.

Today, other Native American cultures carve fetishes, too. In our collection, we have carvings created by Zuni, Navajo, Lakota, and Cochiti artists.

A Few Words About Power Objects
In ancient times (and now, in certain cultures), people perceived everything as alive with spirit, including objects that most of us now perceive as inanimate, such as stones, feathers, and shells. Because everything seemed animate and had the potential to possess power, early humans created “power objects” to help them interact with the world—to protect themselves from negative forces and to attract positive forces.

But power objects aren’t just relics from the past—they are still used today. Known by names such as talismans, amulets, fetishes, and charms, power objects are natural or cultural items that are imbued with symbolic meaning and power by the person or culture that uses them. The power behind such an object is the faith of the person interacting with it, whether that faith be in a Catholic icon, a Zuni bear fetish, or a lucky stone found on a beach. The power of the human spirit works through the object. If an object comforts us or gives us hope, that comfort or hope can change the way we act, which can potentially change the outcome of a particular situation.