Hopi Carver Gerry Quotskuyva: 'Art Is a Responsibility'

Hopi Carver Gerry Quotskuyva: 'Art Is a Responsibility'

Lee Allen

Often referred to as the Michaelangelo of Hopi carvers, Gerry Quotskuyva (Hopi Bear Strap Clan with Yaqui and Hispanic heritage) says “it’s typecasting to hand a Hopi a knife and some wood and expect he’ll carve a doll” -- but that’s part of his background.

“Years ago, somebody gave me a pocket knife and said ‘some day you’re going to need this.’  I gave that knife away a couple of times, but somehow it kept coming back to me.  One day I hiked down to the river to find some wood, but I had again lost that knife -- until I cleaned out my truck and there it was.  If that isn’t a premonition, I don’t know what is.”

The award-winning carver, sculptor, painter, printmaker, and community activist was featured artist at the Arizona State Museum’s 20th annual Southwest Indian Art Fair in Tucson earlier this year.  At that event he walked away with Best of Show for Mudhead Love and explained the origin of the piece: “He’s one of the singers who perform or take on different roles that deal with issues in the world around us.  I’ve never professed my carvings to be katsina dolls, they are merely Hopi art, an interpretation of a cultural icon.” (He followed that accolade by winning another Best of Show, for his Katsina sculptures at Mesa Verde Country's 13th Annual Indian Market in Colorado over Memorial Day weekend.)

Traditional doll or not, this particular piece that required a  couple of off-and-on years to create boasts a price tag of $4,500.

“I’ve always lived as a Hopi, but not on the mesas,” he says.  Eldest of six siblings, he grew up in Flagstaff with summer visits to his grandfather, a carver of renown himself, at Kykotsmovi on Third Mesa. 

“Throughout my childhood, I did beadwork and leather work.  If you’re born Hopi, you’re born with a paintbrush in your hand.  This is one of the few cultures where art is a responsibility … everybody creates art.”

Quotskuyva started carving traditional katsinas because his mother asked him to so she could sell them.  “One of my first dolls was a Corn Maiden that has become my signature motif.  It’s Hopi custom to give away your first piece, so I gave my first bronzed Corn Maiden to my mother.”

Even today he says: “When I look at a piece of cottonwood root, I see the figure inside it.  All I have to do is bring it out.”  However, he does admit that on days when the creative muse has forgotten his address, he’ll just pick up a piece of wood, do something unexpected with it and let things happen.

Beyond his childhood artistic experiences, he says, “I really learned to carve by doing ice sculptures as a chef.  I was the knife person, the go-to guy whenever rapid and precise chopping was needed.”  Working his way up the culinary ranks, he ultimately became chef to the stars, cooking for the likes of Willie Nelson, Clint Eastwood, Matthew Broderick, Steve Martin, Chevy Chase, and Martin Short.

“I had always dabbled with my creative side and that got kicked up a notch when I started doing crafts like dream catchers and my own idea, a small leather hoop with a shield and a medicine wheel.”

A student of Florentine stonecarvers, Quotskuyva is currently working under those influences.  “I’ve embarked on a series of bronzes that we know from representations of Western or cowboy subjects, but don’t really see in Native-American art.  This will be a 6-part series to include a Michelangelo-inspired piece influenced by the design and iconography of panels on the Sistine Chapel ceiling.”

The Hopi master of multi-tasking says, “I’ve got so many designs for bronzes going on in my head right now that I’m fortunate I learned the concept of sequential timing in my culinary years.  I’m always working on a lot of different plates and trying to them to the point where when one is done, they’re all done -- and like we strive for in the kitchen, everything goes up on the counter hot.”

Quotskuyva recently closed his trendy Sedona gallery and is now quietly working in a small studio in Rim Rock, Arizona.  “I decided it was time to take care of who I am and what I’m doing,” he says looking at his award-winning Mudhead Love carving -- “and look what happened.”

Quotskuyva will be the featured artist at the upcoming Prescott Indian Market on July 13th & 14th at the Sharlot Hall Museum. To keep up with the artist's latest news and see more of his work, visit gquotskuyva.com or facebook.com/kachinacarver.

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