Harry Bert

Harry Bert

Harry Bert - Kachina Carver: For sixteen years Harry Bert has been searching out the sandbars of the mighty Colorado and San Juan rivers, and scavenging the shores of Lake Powell. He is looking for driftwood- the water tumbled cottonwood roots that wash up in shoals like bleached bones. It is from these roots that Harry creates new life with his wood sculptures. "I try and make it more human than sculpture," he asserts. "How you see it is how it is in real life."

"I'm not here to impress anybody," Harry Bert says matter-of-factly, then he makes a statement that at first may seem as though he were contradicting himself: "I'm here to do what I like to do. I get enjoyment out of doing something that people really like- that's mainly why I do it."

Harry- half Navajo and half Hopi- is an artist that is totally comfortable with himself. This self assurance comes through in his work, which is one of the reasons they are so appealing.

When asked how his work differs from other artists, he answers, "I try to make them more realistic than anybody else does. I try and see my friends dancing in my mind, then that's how I make my Kachinas."

Harry uses hand tools to saw away unwanted wood, then to shape his piece and carve in details. Lastly he sands the figures, burning the wood slightly so that the acrylic water colors don't seep and run through the wood.

"I have to have the right wood," Harry says, "The wood has to feel right. In some pieces of wood the form's already in it- usually it just comes out by itself."

Being a Kachina carver isn't something Harry imagined for himself when he was growing up. From the time he was 8 years old Harry lived the school months in a foster home in Orem, Utah, graduating from Orem High School in the early 70's. "When I went home I never felt like I was home," he remembers. "That's the reason I just left again and went to school."

After high school Harry went to a trade school where he took automotive classes. Then he attended Northern Arizona University where he earned a teaching certificate. "I wanted to be a mechanic, but I ended up just being a teacher." Harry taught art at Tuba City High School for six years.

His cousins first got him interested in carving Kachina dancers. When he was home, he explains, "I would mingle around with everyone else. During the night we would have a dance, or go sing in the Kivas. During the day there was nothing else to do but carve, so I tried to learn. When I started I wasn't too good at it. During the winter time there was nothing to do, so I tried to learn more."

At the same time he was learning about his ancestry. "My friends taught me after I got back," he says, "They told me, 'A spiritual person helps you along, protects you.'"

Now Harry lives a life close to his roots, and carves full time, supporting his wife and three daughters on his income. His wife makes pottery and they travel to Indian shows, sharing their art with others, learning more about their Native American heritage. "Sometimes I get new ideas," he adds, as he talks about making a continual effort to improve his Kachinas. "With each one I try and do my very best."

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This site was last updated on September 29, 2020.

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