Michelle Cheama

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erhaps the biggest change in Zuni fetish carving in the last few years is the development of the highly realistic style. The carvers of this style, mostly young men in their late teens and early twenties, were encouraged by Don Sharp, an administrator with the federal Young American Conservation Corps.

Although the approach was new, they learned in the traditional way through their family connections, but Sharp encouraged their work and found new markets for them. The leaders of this new style and the first to use it are the Cheama brothers: Daniel Quam, Lance, Fabian, and Wilfred. Daniel is the eldest and is much respected by his brothers as the best carver in the family. He started carving in 1982 and before that made jewelry. He believes he was the first to do realistic carvings.  Lance learned in 1986 from his older brother Daniel. His favorite animals are lizards, snakes, badgers, and weasels, all of which have become the trademarks of the Cheama family He sold a bear to a hunter and a frog to a rain dancer to use as a weight on his headdress. The family's preferred materials are ivory and serpentine.  Joe Harris of Silver City, comes to Zuni with good serpentine (without fractures), a material that suits the animals the Cheamas carve best.

Sometimes they carve in lapis, amber, and turquoise. The brothers keep animal books and use them for details of species that do not live in the area and to ensure that their carvings have both delicacy and life.  It takes Lance about an hour and a half to make a piece, and his wife, Karen Zuni, does the sanding. He uses a Fordham tool with different tips for details. He is beginning to win prizes for his work: the Museum of Northern Arizona awarded him three honorable mentions and a second prize since he began carving.

Lance was a firefighter in 1988, but in 1989 he broke his leg and while recuperating had more time to devote to carving. Although he was offered a job carving in the workshop of a dealer in Gallup, he prefers to work at home. He would like to do African animals-his brother Wilfred makes lions and once made a giraffe, Lance loves to carve lizards and has a poster of the lizards of North America over his workbench, The brothers' styles are so close as to be almost indistinguishable, and all the Cheamas feel that patience and slow, careful work make a good carving.