A third-generation Hopi kachina artist from Polacca, Ariz., E.J. Satala has been carving the figures--symbolizing the culture of his people--since the age of 12.
But now he performs his craft in his apartment in Long Beach, carefully working the cottonwood root that he brought with him from his native land, using a pocket knife, Exacto blades and wood files to bring out the detail.
“What are you going to be?” Satala often asks, softly, as he begins to carve.
Gradually, the figure takes form, and is said to be inhabited in the end by a kachina spirit.
According to Hopi teachings, the kachina spirits come from the clouds of the mountain tops, bringing gifts, guidance and faith. Some represent deities, some the play things of children, and others symbolize ideas important to the Hopis.
Of all the Indian art in America, kachinas command some of the highest prices and the greatest respect.