Zuni Fetish Carvings by Melvin Sandoval

Most of today’s Zuni artisans are descendants of five principal wemawe carvers: Teddy Weahkee, Leekya Deyuse, Theodore Kucate, Johnny Quam, and Leonard Halate. “I grew up with the art,” says Indian Market artist Lena Boone, a well-known carver who is a descendant of Teddy Weahkee. Boone is known for her traditional, abstract forms in such diverse materials as opal, fossilized coral, and satin spar gypsum. “We’re teaching it to our kids, and they’ll teach it to theirs.”


Melvin’s elegant carvings - typically badgers, horned toads, moles and birds - have minimal detail, not even eyes. Stylized geometric lines distill the essence of the animal in an unadorned aesthetic. Melvin prefers mat stones such as sandstone, pipestone, alabaster and dolomite, and often achieves added detail through perceptive use of color variations in the stone. Oftentimes his sleek, low-lying creatures are crouched in an almost defensive pose which gives them a quiet drama.

Melvin was born of a Zuni father and a San Felipe mother. He was raised in Zuni and, in earlier years, he was a DJ in Zuni. Today he lives in San Felipe with his wife, Erma Vacit, from a prominent Zuni family who now works as an accountant for the San Felipe Tribe.