On our recent visit to Zuni Pueblo, we carried with us a specimen of sugilite that a customer gave us to have carved. Dee Edaakie had agreed to take on the task and we delivered the stone to him. We also picked up some recently carved pieces from Dee.
Dee lives close by Gibbs and we wondered if Gibbs was home. Looking out the window, Dee said, “There's his truck. Let's go see.”
So it was that we managed to sit for a while with Gibbs Othole. He had work in progress for Indian Market but nothing at the stage where he would show it to us.
We chatted. I was curious about how Gibbs got started as a carver. He said he started as a painter, moved on to wood carvings, then jewelry and ultimately to the stone carvings we call fetishes. (They are not actually fetishes until they have been blessed by Zuni priest.)
Gibbs said that he learned to carve from Joey Quam, and Calvin and Claudia Peina.
He said he still does some jewelry work but not so much because the cost of silver is too expensive and unpredictable. It also takes longer to create a piece of jewelry and his time already is filled with responsibilities for carving creatures, family demands, sheep-herding and pueblo responsibilities.
Gibbs described his process for arriving at a final carving. He starts with a vision of what he plans to carve, based on what he sees in the stone specimen to be carved. As he works, other ideas may appear to him, changing the form that the carving will take. He ascribes it to the stone taking over and dictating the result. We likened it to the process of writing a story, in which the characters take on lives of their own and determine the storyline.
Gibbs also mentioned that he salvaged the blower from a piece of industrial equipment and installed it in his carving studio in order to exhaust the dust from carving. According to Gibbs, most stone dust has some level of toxicity. Pyrite is the worst. So he not only wears a mask when grinding and carving but also tents the works and exhausts the dust to the outside.
We asked Gibbs why some Zuni artists we purchase carvings from hold the money to their mouths and breathe on it. We were told this is a way of blessing the transaction.
We discussed the awards at the Gallup Indian Inter-tribal Ceremonial competition. Gibbs didn't enter this year and seldom does, saving his efforts for Indian Market and shows such as the Heard Museum show that takes place in Phoenix after the first of the year.
We mentioned that Jeff Tsalabutie, who is a good friend of Gibbs, entered and won Best of Category in last years Inter-Tribal. Gibbs then told us of seeing Jeff after the Inter-Tribal, shaking his hand and then placing his (Gibbs') hand to his mouth to share the blessing. Gibbs then won big at Indian Market last year, which Gibbs attributed with a laugh to the shared blessing. He then said he shook hands with Jeff again, and Jeff repeated the blessing sharing and won again in another competition.
Later, we saw Jeff and mentioned the shared blessing story to him. Jeff joked, “Shared it? He stole it! I just took it back.”
Gibbs and Jeff and Dee are three of the nicest, most talented, most accommodating people one will ever meet.