Native American Dolls

Little girls everywhere love dolls. Probably always have. Perhaps this is why evidence of dolls appears in almost all cultural remains found around the world.

In early America, almost every culture made dolls for their children to enjoy. There are many examples of Native American dolls in museums and private collections around the world.

Today and in times past, playing with dolls was a highly effective way to teach children about growing up and how to become a more effective adult. Parenting skills are demonstrated with doll play in ways mere words cannot convey.

In the United States, Native American dolls from almost all cultures have been collected, studied, and enjoyed. Many Native American craftsmen and women continue to make dolls in traditional tribal fashion.

Perhaps the most well known of Native American dolls are the Kachina dolls of the Hopi Indians of the American Southwest. These dolls depict the Kachinas, powerful spirits that inhabit the earth, sky, and water. Kachina dolls embody these spirits and are considered to be important tribal educational tools.

Once upon a time, Kachina dolls were simple blocks of wood painted to represent the spirits. As time passed, Native American dolls, the Kachina dolls included, became more complex art forms that feature more detail and more life-like characteristics.

As doll making became a more complex art form, decorative techniques and elements were added. Materials from nature – feathers, shells, stones, seeds, cornhusks, flowers – were added to the design and decoration of the dolls.

As representations of sky spirits, feathers are important aspects of Kachina dolls. The feathers of the mightiest of birds, such as eagles and hawks, were used for the power they represented.

Sadly, many of these birds are on today’s lists of endangered species and their feathers can no longer be used in this manner. Substitutes have taken the form of feathers from other birds and wood carvings of feathers instead of the actual thing.

Highly skilled artisans who follow traditional methods as closely as possible often make today’s Native American dolls. In addition to the Hopi, other tribes noted for doll making are the Shalakos Zuni and the Navajos.