This small carving, known as a fetish, came from the native people of Zuni Pueblo, New Mexico. In the early 1980s, Zuni artist Otis Neecy carved this bear from pink soapstone using a traditional pump drill and placed turquoise chips for the eyes. A projectile point is tied to its back. The bear is a depiction of a Zuni animal god, which, in fetish form, holds the spirit of the animal. In Zuni society, fetish sculptures are particularly important for their function in the hunt. The Zuni believe that carnivorous animals possess a spiritual or magical influence over their prey. The human hunter must try to harness this spirit from a beast of prey. Because fetishes retain the spirit of the animals depicted, they are indispensable to Zuni hunters. The arrowhead bound to this sculpture may allude to its significance in hunting. Once limited to the members of specific priesthoods, the creation of fetish sculptures became more commercialized as the market for Native American cultural artifacts and art increased in the 20th century.
David Mulder, student in Anthropology 190, Spring 2017, conducted the research for this post.