Ancient Native American traditions in the form of authentic wooden dolls comes to the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center on Friday.
Intricately hand-carved Kachina dolls created by Mike Aguirre, 72, will be on display along with several other Native American themed pieces of art.
The exhibit runs until March 13.
Aguirre, a self-taught artist, became fascinated with the Hopi tribe of Arizona. Since the late 80s he has made an effort to learn as much as he can to create extremely detailed and authentic Kachina dolls.
“I got inspired by the Hopis,” Aguirre said. “I saw some of these guys carving. They had a gathering where everyone brought their artwork to sell and a few of these guys where whittling on some of them. It just captivated me. I was there for almost an hour just watching them.”
Kachina dolls represent spirit beings of the Hopi and other pueblo Native American cultures. There are more than 300 Kachina characters with different personalities, stories and purpose.
Aguirre, a former Stephens County resident who recently moved to Kansas, says he has learned more with each carving. Looking at a timeline of his Kachina dolls, the increasing complexity of each carving is readily apparent.
“I really like to do the intricacies, I’m getting to where the more detail it has in it the more interested I am,” he said. “I learn more and I pay more attention to detail and try to bring it out with each one. I used to get in a hurry and try to finish it and now I take my time and just try to get it as perfect as I can.”
Each of these dolls has a powerful cultural significance with the Hopi tribe. They have their own legends and rituals associated with each figure. Aguirre explained that he makes sure each of his creations are as authentic as possible.
“They told me it’s got to be the root of cottonwood to be authentic. I didn’t even know what a cottonwood was when I came back home,” Aguirre said. “It takes a year to cure. They have about an inch of bark that comes off. The bark has to fall off on its own and then you can start cleaning it. I use homemade tools, I asked the Hopis and they said they use knives and homemade tools, whatever it takes to bring it together. Even the shavings, when you carve one, you sweep up. You don’t throw that away or burn it. You take it outside and bury it, return it to Mother Earth.”
The pieces in this exhibit are not up for sale.
Aguirre says he has sold nine of his carvings and it hurt to let go of them every time. After putting in 150 hours of work into a single doll he feels very connected to them. He wants to keep everything he makes from now on in order to pass something on to his children and grandchildren. Two of the pieces he sold went for $800 and $1,000 and when he had one of his latest pieces appraised he said it was valued at $4,000.
Aguirre lives over four hours away from Duncan but plans to be back for an artist reception at a date that is still to be determined. Entry to see this exhibit is $6 a person and is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday.
The art exhibit rarely lines up so well with the Heritage Center’s education schedule. The current session of the education calendar is on Native Americans.
This Kachina exhibit will be used to teach children about the Hopi tribe and other pueblo Native American customs and traditions.
Groups of 15 or more can come through the heritage center on one of these education field trips. In this session the students will learn about the science of the buffalo, the technological advancements of the arrow head, the engineering behind the travois sleds, experience the stories and art of the Kachina display as well as create their own foil art and do the math on the buffalo herds and their hides.
This fulfills all STEAM (Science Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) requirements. Teachers can call 252-6692 and schedule events through March 15, home-school and family groups with 15 or more are welcome. These trips need to be scheduled well in advance, but there are still a few openings for this session.