Collectible Kachina dolls, also known as Katchina dolls, play a very important role in the lives of many Native Americans. Generally associated with the Hopi Indians of Arizona, Kachinas are also made by other tribes including the Zuni and Navaho. The spiritual significance combined with the intricate craftsmanship and beauty of the Kachinas make them highly desired and admired by many collectors worldwide.
During the mid 1800s traders began bartering with the Hopi Indians for their Kachinas. The dolls quickly became popular in the marketplaces of the time, and their popularity has continued to grow though the decades.
The Hopi Indians, known as the Peaceful People, lived in the northern Arizona desert long before it was discovered by the Spanish. Throughout the centuries, the Hopi have depended on water to sustain their life in the arid mesas near what is now Flagstaff, Arizona. Today as they did for hundreds of years, beginning at the time of the winter solstice in mid December and ending in mid July, the Hopis call upon their Kachina spirits to bring them the water that is needed for their continued existence. Dancers wearing masks of the sacred spirits not only impersonate the Kachinas as they call upon them for help, they actually become the Katchinas personified.
Dolls as Gifts
The tribal dancers distribute Kachina dolls, rattles, toy bows, sweets and fruits to the children between their dances. The beautifully carved dolls that represent the Kachina spirits are given as gifts to help the children learn about the Kachinas and the important roles they play in their lives. In this way stories and beliefs are passed down from generation to generation.
Making the Dolls
Each Kachina is carefully carved from a dry cottonwood root once the tree has died or been knocked over by a storm. It is then painted and decorated as a replica of one of the more than 300 Kachina spirits of the Hopi. The finished Kachinas are very light in weight and extremely sturdy.
Collectible Kachina Dolls - Antique and Modern
Today Kachinas fall into two distinct categories, antique dolls and dolls that are created by modern artists. While the Kachinas of the past were made for the children of the tribe, most modern dolls are generally carved to be sold to the art and tourist markets of today.
The Value of Kachina
In general the older the doll the more valuable it will be. For example, comparing the "best" of the older dolls to the "best" of the newer dolls, the older doll would be more valuable. The most valuable of the collectible Kachina dolls are those that are rare, dramatic and in good condition.
One of the highest recorded prices of a collectible Kachina doll sold at auction is $250,000. Although this doll was of a traditional Kachina, it was very old and rare antique. Today many of the very early Kachinas are in museums and private collections. When one does show up for sale, or at auction, it is unusual to find it selling for less than several thousand dollars. Older Kachinas from the early part of the 1900s are frequently found for sale at auctions and at sites such as Antique Hopi Kachina Dolls. Kachinas from this era range in price from several hundred to several thousand dollars.
Contemporary Kachinas are the ones most commonly found for sale or auction, with most of them selling in the $300 to $1,200 price range. Depending on the artist and the quality of the doll, the better contemporary Kachinas sell for between $5,000 and $10,000 with the very best selling for up to $50,000.
Interesting Kachina Websites
- Hopi Kachinas carved by Gil Maldonado
- Hopi Kachinas by several well known artists
- Descriptions of several Hopi Kachinas by Barton Wright author of Hopi Kachinas, The Complete Guide to Collecting Kachina Dolls
The Importance of Kachinas Today
These tiny dolls representing the Kachina spirits have become highly sought after by art and antique collectors, scholars and tourists. Some may see them only as hand crafted dolls but to many they are integral links to the spiritual world of the Pueblo Indians.