Most visitors come to the reservation to shop for Hopi crafts. Across the reservation, dozens of small shops sell crafts and jewelry of different quality, and some homes, especially at the foot of First Mesa, have signs indicating that they sell crafts. Shops often sell the work of only a few individuals, so you should stop at several to get an idea of the variety of work available. Also, if you tour Walpi or wander around in Oraibi, you will likely be approached by villagers selling various crafts, including kachina dolls. The quality will not be as high as that in shops, but then, the prices won't be as high either.
At Keams Canyon, 30 miles east of Second Mesa on Ariz. 264, you'll find McGee's Indian Art Gallery (tel. 928/738-2295; www.hopiart.com), which is the best place on the reservation to shop for high-quality contemporary kachina dolls. The first trading post to open on this site was built in 1879, and the McGee family has owned the business since 1937. The gallery is adjacent to a grocery store that is the current incarnation of the old trading post.
If you're in the market for Hopi silver jewelry, stop in at Hopi Fine Arts (tel. 928/737-2222), which is at the foot of Second Mesa at the junction of Ariz. 264 and Ariz. 87. This shop also has a good selection of kachina dolls and some beautiful coil and wicker plaque baskets. Hours are limited in the winter.
One of the best places to get a quick education in Hopi art and crafts is Tsakurshovi (tel. 928/734-2478), a tiny shop 1 1/2 miles east of the Hopi Cultural Center on Second Mesa. This shop has a huge selection of traditional kachina dolls and also has lots of jewelry. Janice and Joseph Day, the owners, are very friendly and are always happy to share their expertise with visitors. This is also where you can buy a "Don't Worry Be Hopi" T-shirt.
If you're interested in kachina dolls, be sure to visit Oraibi's Monongya Gallery (tel. 928/734-2344), a big building right on Ariz. 264 outside of Oraibi. It usually has one of the largest selections of kachina dolls in the area.
Eat Local, Shop Local -- The Hopi and Navajo reservations both offer some interesting opportunities to eat locally and shop locally, and in so doing patronize small businesses and individuals, which is one of the key aspects of eco-travel. On the Hopi reservation, residents of the village of Walpi lead tours of this ancient cliff-top village. On these walking tours, you're likely to be approached by village residents selling handicrafts and sometimes traditional piki bread. The latter, a paper-thin bread made from blue corn, has long been a staple food of the Hopi. If you wander around the village of Old Oraibi, you're also likely to be approached by village residents selling handicrafts, particularly small, wooden dolls. Throughout the Hopi Reservation, you'll see signs in front of people's homes advertising traditional crafts for sale. On the Navajo Nation, you can sample traditional foods at the Ch'ihootso Indian Marketplace in Window Rock. The steam corn soup served at several of the little food vendors' stalls here is a particular favorite of local families. Also, anywhere on the Navajo Nation where there is a scenic view, you'll find jewelry vendors set up by the side of the road. Although I have never found much worth buying at these stalls, my wife has gotten some very pretty turquoise earrings.
A Native American Crafts Primer
The Four Corners region is taken up almost entirely by the Navajo and Hopi reservations, so Native American crafts are ubiquitous. You'll see jewelry for sale by the side of desolate roads, Navajo rugs in tiny trading posts, and Hopi kachinas being sold out of village homes. The information below will help you make an informed purchase.
Hopi Kachina Dolls -- These elaborately decorated wooden dolls are representations of the spirits of plants, animals, ancestors, and sacred places. Traditionally, they were given to children to initiate them into the pantheon of kachina spirits, which play important roles in ensuring rain and harmony in the universe. Kachinas have long been popular with collectors, and Hopi carvers have changed their style over the years to cater to the collectors' market. Older kachinas were carved from a single piece of cottonwood, sometimes with arms simply painted on. This older style is much simpler and stiffer than the contemporary style that emphasizes action poses and realistic proportions. A great deal of carving and painting goes into each kachina, and prices today are in the hundreds of dollars for even the simplest. The tsuku, or clown kachinas, which are usually painted with bold horizontal black-and-white stripes and are often depicted in humorous situations or carrying slices of watermelon, are popular with tourists and collectors. In the past few years, young carvers have been returning to the traditional style of kachina, so it's now easier to find these simpler images for sale.
Hopi Overlay Silver Work -- Most Hopi silver work is done in the overlay style, which was introduced to tribal artisans after World War II, when the GI Bill provided funds for former soldiers to study silversmithing at a school founded by Hopi artist Fred Kabotie. The overlay process basically uses two sheets of silver, one with a design cut from it. Heat fuses the two sheets, forming a raised image. Designs often borrow from other Hopi crafts such as basketry and pottery, and from ancient Ancestral Puebloan pottery. Belt buckles, earrings, bolo ties, and bracelets are all popular.
Hopi Baskets -- On Third Mesa, wicker plaques and baskets are made from rabbit brush and sumac, and colored with bright aniline dyes. On Second Mesa, coiled plaques and baskets are created from dyed yucca fibers. Throughout the reservation, yucca-fiber sifters are made by plaiting over a willow ring.
Hopi Pottery -- Contemporary Hopi pottery tends toward geometric designs and comes in a variety of styles, including a yellow-orange ware decorated with black-and-white designs and white pottery with red-and-black designs. Nampeyo, who died in 1942, is the most famous Hopi potter and is credited with bringing Hopi pottery to the attention of collectors. Today, members of the Nampeyo family are still active as potters. Most pottery is produced on First Mesa.
Navajo Silver Work -- Whereas the Hopi create overlay silver work from sheets of silver and the Zuni use silver work simply as a base for their skilled lapidary or stone-cutting work, Navajo silversmiths highlight the silver itself. Silversmithing caught on with Navajo men in the 1880s, when Lorenzo Hubbell, who had established a trading post in the area, hired Mexican silversmiths as teachers. The earliest pieces of Navajo jewelry were replicas of Spanish ornaments, but as the Navajo silversmiths became more proficient, they began to develop their own designs. The squash-blossom necklace, with its horseshoe-shape pendant, is one of the most distinctive Navajo designs.
Navajo Rugs -- After the Navajo acquired sheep and goats from the Spanish, they learned weaving from the pueblo tribes, and by the early 1800s, their weavings were widely recognized as being the finest in the Southwest. Women were the weavers among the Navajo, and they primarily wove blankets. However, by the end of the 19th century, the craft was beginning to die out as it became more economical to purchase ready-made blankets. When Lorenzo Hubbell set up his trading post, he recognized a potential market in the East for the woven blankets -- if they could be made heavy enough to be used as rugs. Although today the cost of Navajo rugs, which take hundreds of hours to make, has become almost prohibitively expensive, there are still enough women practicing the craft to keep it alive.
The best rugs are those made with homespun yarn and natural vegetal dyes. However, commercially manufactured yarns and dyes are increasingly used to keep costs down. Some weavers are now using wool from Churro sheep, which are descended from sheep that may have been brought to this region by Spanish settlers more than 300 years ago. There are more than 15 regional styles of rugs and there is quite a bit of overlapping and borrowing. Bigger and bolder patterns are likely to cost quite a bit less than very complex and highly detailed patterns.