Gil Maldonado

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Kachina Dolls
Maldonado’s Miniature Jewels

Gil Maldonado carves Kachina dolls. The result of Maldonado’s efforts are Kachina dolls that are stunning in detail, beautifully colored, faithfully rendered...and only two inches tall. The proportion, muscle tone, even the fingers and toes, arms and legs, are carved to perfection from a single small piece of cottonwood root. The only separate additions to the Maldonado Kachina dolls are pop eyes, ears, snouts, headdresses, clothes and the unbelievably tiny and perfectly formed accessories held in the doll’s hands.

Each of Maldonado’s Kachina dolls are identified by the keys found in the book Hopi Kachina Dolls by Harold S. Colton, the most definitive Kachina reference that I have found.

Born in New Mexico of a Hopi Mother and a Spanish father, the Hopi culture and traditions were very prominent in the Maldonado home. Gil’s mother, Little Star, taught him about the Hopi culture from the time he was born. He has participated in the Hopi ceremonies for many years.

As a very small boy, Maldonado drew anything that interested him on the spur of the moment. Though he grew up to be a carpenter, he continued to draw in pencil, charcoal and paints. Gil never concentrated in one field nor had any formal training.

In seeking ways to expand his creative expressions, Gil took a piece of two inch cottonwood root and carved a miniature Kachina Doll. He found miniature carving was so challenging that he laid down his carpenter’s apron to spend all of his time perfecting the two inch miniature Kachina dolls that resemble human dancers in Kachina masks.

He has truly accomplished that. To achieve the classic Maldonado detailing, Gil uses tiny sable hair brushes…sometimes with only two or three sable hairs to delicately paint the tiny designs. His pet cockateel contributes his shed fluffy feathers for some adornment while other feathers usually are taken from the very ends of larger feathers, trimmed to size and painted to resemble the life size feather.

Maldonado feels very deeply about keeping the original concept and colors of the dolls as his mother taught him. He tries to duplicate the transparency of earth body paint by using an earthen base paint after he meticulously sands and seals each tiny figure. The mask of a Maldonado doll is precisely dictated by generations of Hopi legend.

I first discovered Maldonado while wandering around McGee’s Indian Den in Scottsdale over ten years ago, and found his beautiful miniature works on display recently at Tlaquepaque in Sedona. Maldonado’s Kachina dolls may be tiny. A Maldonado collection doesn’t take very much space. But somehow, when I look at those little Maldonado jewels clustered in a miniature Hopi plaza, it seems like they spring to life. These tiny creations seem to be able to link a person to a very special place and culture that we outsiders, sadly, know very little about. Some of the finest things often come in very small packages.