Raynard Lalo is a traditional Hopi kachina carver from the Third Mesa village of Hotevilla in Arizona. Raynard (whose Hopi name is Tawma, meaning “singer”) has been creating traditional kachina carvings since the age of 15. Initially, the young Hopi man creates kachina carvings strictly for ceremonial purposes, however, making kachina carvings for the art market has become an accepted means of earning a livelihood and many kachina carvers are internationally known as artists and their artwork is represented in museums and private collections around the world.
Raynard’s hallmark is a half spider web, symbolic of the maternal clan to which he belongs: the Spider Clan. The Spider Clan is responsible for many of the most important ceremonies and ritual paraphernalia on Third Mesa. Even though many of those ceremonies are no longer enacted because of the loss of critical members of their respective fraternities, the Spider Clan retains the ceremonial knowledge that keeps those ceremonies alive.
As with all traditional Hopi kachina carvings, the wood used to create Raynard’s work is the root of a cottonwood tree, called paako in Hopi. When Raynard creates an original work of art he selects the best piece of cottonwood root for that purpose, usually a piece that already has the general form or “movement” of a specific kachina and is free of stones and gravel.
Once the right piece of paako is selected, Raynard roughs out the form of the kachina by first using a rip saw to cut the wood to length and then a coping saw to remove much of the wood that won’t be used for the finished carving. Paako is soft enough (much like balsa wood) that rasps and files can be used to sculpt the kachina’s form. Using these basic tools, Raynard will have the general form of the kachina finished in a relatively short amount of time.
The next step of the process is applying the white kaolin clay, called tuuma, which serves as a primer for the mineral pigments that Raynard will use to paint in the details of the particular kachina. Tuuma is found in several natural deposits on the Hopi reservation and is used as a multipurpose whitewash for kachina carvings, home decoration, and clothing.
As soon as the tuuma is dry, Raynard will then paint the details specific to the kachina which he is depicting. Each kachina has clothes and accoutrements that are unique to it and Raynard has the firsthand knowledge of every one of those items to accurately portray it in his artwork.
Raynard uses only mineral pigments with tree sap binder to ensure that the pigments adhere to his work. Collecting mineral pigments is one of the more labor-intensive parts of the kachina carving process. Raynard’s pigments come from as far away as Cochiti, New Mexico and Bisbee, Arizona. Most of Raynard’s pigments are collected as large chunks of rock and must be thoroughly processed, by hand, into progressively finer textures until the pigment has the consistency of fine dust. When the pigment is mixed with the tree sap binder and water it is viscous enough to apply as an opaque paint; usually two coats are necessary for a finished kachina. When Raynard paints his carvings and the pigments are dry it is nearly impossible to smudge or smear his detailed painting.
The final step in creating a kachina carving is to tie on and trim feathers and place a cotton string around the neck of the carving to make it suitable for hanging. Kachinas made for their traditional purpose as gifts to girls and women of the village will frequently have the feathers of falcons, hawks, and eagles. For the art market, however, Raynard only uses domestic bird feathers which are legal to own and sell.
The finished kachina carving is meant to be hung on a wall or a ceiling beam. Often, the homes of Hopi women are adorned with hundreds of kachinas representing decades of gifts given to the women of the house.
Raynard’s kachina carvings have won numerous awards in art shows throughout the West. Raynard has taken prizes at the Heard Museum’s Indian Market, the Museum of Northern Arizona’s Hopi Festival, and the Santa Fe Indian Market, to name a few. Raynard’s carvings are collected by people from around the world and he has a large and dedicated following of collectors in Japan and Europe.
Raynard’s work is instantly recognizable because of his fine craftsmanship and natural, muted painting style. Collectors, both novice and expert, are fascinated by Raynard’s combination of design principles, skilled woodworking, and bold use of color. Owning one of Raynard Lalo’s traditional kachina carvings isn’t simply an opportunity to own a unique piece of artwork. It is, rather, the chance to connect with an unbroken tradition of Native American folk art from a man who lives the time-honored Hopi life (the Hopi kaatse) in the 21st century and continues to live and create in the manner of his ancestors.