Monday, November 02, 2009

Michael Kabotie - Leaving a vibrant legacy for the world

Arts, Culture & Community Editor
Sunday, November 01, 2009

When Michael Kabotie, 67, died Friday, Oct. 23, 2009, at Flagstaff Medical Center after battling the H1N1 flu and associated complications, he left a legacy of artistic visions that will live for generations.

Kabotie was from the village of Shungopavi, located on Second Mesa on the Hopi reservation, but had also lived many years in Flagstaff and New Mexico. He was a renowned and respected Hopi painter, silversmith and poet, a loving father and grandfather, and a dedicated partner.

"He was for so many people, both in Arizona and the world beyond, a great ambassador from Hopi to the rest of the world," said Robert Breunig, director of the Museum of Northern Arizona. "He was always willing to share insights and understanding about Hopi with other people, but he was also intensely curious about other cultures, so it was always a two-way street with Michael."

Breunig said that it was fitting it snowed lightly around the time that Kabotie died and four days after.

"In the Hopi way, when you go to the spirit world, you became a cloud person," he said. "You bring snow and rain to the living. I know Michael was out there somewhere making it snow."


After high school, Michael attended the University of Arizona, where he studied engineering. After dropping out of college, his art career was launched when he had a one-man show at the Heard Museum, and his work was on the cover of Arizona Highways magazine.

Kabotie and his father, Fred Kabotie, were known as innovators in the Native American Fine Arts Movement, as they created paintings reflecting traditional Hopi life, but with a contemporary touch.

Fred Kabotie was one of the Hopi artists responsible for developing the trademark overlay methods used today by many Hopi silver and goldsmiths.

Through the years since 1966, Kabotie participated in many art exhibits, including at the Heard Museum in Phoenix, the American Indian Contemporary Arts Gallery in San Francisco, Tucson Art Festival, Los Angeles Natural History Museum, Museum of American Indian in New York City, Museum of Man in San Diego, many appearances at the annual SWAIA Indian Market in Santa Fe, as well as featured exhibits at both the Coconino Center for the Arts and the Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff and at the Hopi Cultural Center Museum on Second Mesa.

At the time of his death, Kabotie was working on an exhibit and a book for the museum, called "Siitala: Life in Balance, World in Bloom."

"We'll be continuing to work on that," said Kelley Hays-Gilpin, curator of anthropology at MNA. "We planned the content of the exhibit. We just need to raise the money and design and build it."

Kabotie will also be honored as the featured artist at the Heard Indian Market in March of 2010.


According to his Web site, Kabotie's painting reflects his Hopi mentors, the pre-European Awatovi kiva mural painters and the Sikyatki pottery painters.

In 1973, he was a founding member of Artist Hopid, a group of five painters who worked together for more than five years, experimenting in fresh interpretations of traditional Hopi art forms.

Kabotie created many beautiful works of art, among them murals at Sunset Crater Visitors Center, a large mural in the Kiva Gallery at the Museum of Northern Arizona, which he painted with his friend Delbridge Honanie, and a gate he designed to look like a piece of overlay jewelry at the Heard Museum in Phoenix.

Breunig, who was a friend for almost 35 years, was present at a well-attended memorial service for Kabotie on Sunday, Oct. 25, at the Colton House of the Museum of Northern Arizona

He said the service was "just fabulous" and went for two hours. It was on the lawn, looking up at the San Francisco Peaks.

"He was an artist, he was a poet, he was a jeweler, and most of all, he was a wonderful friend," Breunig said. "Oh, and he was a trickster and a clown, too. He was always teasing me, reminding us all that we need to stay humble and grounded. He was just a delight to be with, so much fun."