Zuni Fetishes | Natural History Museum of Los Angeles

With more than 3800 carvings, NHM has the largest and best-documented collection of 20th century Zuni fetishes in the world. Come visit this specially chosen selection on view.

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The Boyd And Mary Evelyn Collection:  How to Make A Systematic Collection Of Fetish Carvings

Dr. Boyd Walker was a professor of Ichthyology at UCLA, whose great interest in fetish carving led to his observation of the rapid and fascinating changes in Zuni fetish carving tradition in the late 20th century. He feared that no museum would have the foresight and funds to collect and document the phenomenon, as it was unfolding. His training as a scientist guided his meticulous collecting procedures. As he assembled the collection, he made sure to include the work of every artist he encountered, taking special care to acquire new work throughout each carver’s career. Every time he saw a new carving material (exotic shells, stones, glass), he bought the piece. Although he had exquisite taste in fetishes, his systematic approach led him to collect and document a carving whether he liked it or not. As he collected, he kept a ledger that recorded each acquisition together with information documenting the carving.

The 3951 carvings in the Boyd and Mary Evelyn Walker collection capture the many developments of late 20th century Zuni fetish carving. In this period carvers began to produce an extensive range of exotic animals compared to those they had traditionally carved. Some artists developed a new more naturalistic carving style that depicted animals in greater detail. Other carvers returned to the less intricate style of the late 1880s.  Traditionally, certain animals were associated with specific colors and directions. However, it wasn’t until the 20th century that carvers began to produce sets of animals associated with the six recognized Zuni directions.

The set of six directional hunting fetishes highlighted below was inspired by a 19th century publication. These particular fetishes are not currently on display at the Museum, but be sure to check out the Zuni Fetishes exhibit case to see a wide range of contemporary carvings that have evolved from this tradition.

To see the following images in more detail click here>


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North

This yellow mountain lion is associated with the north. Its long tail is carved close against the animal’s back to prevent the tail from breaking off.

South

This red bobcat with its short tail is associated with the southern direction. Like the other hunting fetishes in this group, the bobcat has an “offering” of an arrowhead and often turquoise beads

East

East is associated with the color white and the wolf. The distinctive feature of this animal is its downward hanging tail.

West

West is associated with the coyote and the blue/green color range.  Unlike the wolf’s tail, the coyote’s tail is bushy and held out straight.

Up

This multi-colored eagle is associated with the zenith (straight up). Its multi-colored nature is indicated by the abalone and turquoise sets on its tail.

Down

This black mole is associated with the underground or downward direction. The mole’s distinctive features are its sharp nose and pointed tail.