Often referred to as the Michaelangelo of Hopi carvers, Gerry Quotskuyva (Hopi Bear Strap Clan with Yaqui and Hispanic heritage) says “it’s typecasting to hand a Hopi a knife and some wood and expect he’ll carve a doll” -- but that’s part of his background.
“Years ago, somebody gave me a pocket knife and said ‘some day you’re going to need this.’ I gave that knife away a couple of times, but somehow it kept coming back to me. One day I hiked down to the river to find some wood, but I had again lost that knife -- until I cleaned out my truck and there it was. If that isn’t a premonition, I don’t know what is.”
“I’ve always lived as a Hopi, but not on the mesas,” he says. Eldest of six siblings, he grew up in Flagstaff with summer visits to his grandfather, a carver of renown himself, at Kykotsmovi on Third Mesa.
“Throughout my childhood, I did beadwork and leather work. If you’re born Hopi, you’re born with a paintbrush in your hand. This is one of the few cultures where art is a responsibility … everybody creates art.”
Quotskuyva started carving traditional katsinas because his mother asked him to so she could sell them. “One of my first dolls was a Corn Maiden that has become my signature motif. It’s Hopi custom to give away your first piece, so I gave my first bronzed Corn Maiden to my mother.”
Even today he says: “When I look at a piece of cottonwood root, I see the figure inside it. All I have to do is bring it out.” However, he does admit that on days when the creative muse has forgotten his address, he’ll just pick up a piece of wood, do something unexpected with it and let things happen.
Beyond his childhood artistic experiences, he says, “I really learned to carve by doing ice sculptures as a chef. I was the knife person, the go-to guy whenever rapid and precise chopping was needed.” Working his way up the culinary ranks, he ultimately became chef to the stars, cooking for the likes of Willie Nelson, Clint Eastwood, Matthew Broderick, Steve Martin, Chevy Chase, and Martin Short.