Count on your fingers the five best Hopi Kachina carvers, and Cecil Calnimptewa would be among the top three. He is acclaimed because of his sculptured Kachinas, bringing motion, detail and accuracy to the figures he carves. He uses a Da Vinci-like muscle tone to bring out tension. The articulation of his figures combine with the swaying folds and tassles of the capes and kilts, defining action and grace. Indeed, a true artist.
Cecil, Jr. was born in 1950 in Moenkopi, Arizona (Moenkopi is a Hopi "outlying village" just outside of Tuba City, AZ). As a teenager, Cecil was first taught by his father, Cecil, Sr. Cecil, Jr. says that his first real introduction to art was while going to high school on the Reservation. He then attended Haskell Junior College in Kansas for three semesters. He intended to learn a trade, but spent most of his time studying art, using both oil and water colors. He was then young and married, and went into construction as a dry-waller. This lasted for 14 years, when he then started carving full-time, which allowed him to stay home with his family. His wife, Muriel, tragically died in 1991, as the result of pneumonia.
When carving a Kachina doll, Cecil says, “I listen to the spirit of the doll as I carve it, and that gives me new ideas. They don't become alive until I carve the eyes, and when I open them, I feel they become a real spirit. My father came from Old Oraibi, and I dance there every season. From this experience, I make my dolls as accurate as I can. When I dance there I am the Yellow Fox. He is how I was initiated in my first dance.”
After the carving is complete, Cecil tells each Kachina doll, “You are going to be a Hopi, and you are going out to a nice home. You'll be living with a bunch of new friends. Take care of those people, wherever you go.”