Zuni Glass Fetishes

A specialty gallery devoted to two materials used by one fetish carver – Lena Boone.  No other Zuni carving family works in glass.  Lena has created a strong following for her glass fetishes carved with these materials over the past 20 years since she first started carving ‘gold slag’.

Read below about the background and techniques Lena uses in her selenite and glass fetishes.

Zuni Glass Fetishes Gallery -A6


Lena is a third-generation carver, granddaughter of pioneer Teddy Weahkee, and now teacher and mentor to two more generations. Her nephew, Marcel ‘Chase’ Weahkee, is now carving with glass as well, as is her daughter, Evalina Boone.

Most of Lena’s images (in glass or stone) are the Basic Eight, carved in a very traditional design and styling.  She is one of the few carvers who still incorporates a ‘bundle’ (arrowhead and turquoise + coral offerings) to most of her carvings.

If a material is carvable, some Zuni carver will make it into fetishes.  Some materials are definitely too hard to carve and some, like talc or mica, are too soft.  Even natural turquoise is usually too brittle to carve. 

In the late 1980s, Lena Boone bought some ‘gold slag’ (red in color) from a Gallup friend of Charles Schoolcraft, who suggested she try this new material.  She had been looking for some colorful materials.

Gold slag was an immediate hit with collectors – given its color and origin. Lena continued using it for several years until she realized that poisonous chemicals, like cyanide or arsenic, were used in the gold mining process.  Thus it was too dangerous to inhale fumes while carving.  She switched to glass – first from the a mineral shop in Albuquerque where she had been purchasing selenite.  She is currently using discarded Murano glass.

On the Mohs hardness scale, glass is in the 6-7 range, whereas the standard fetish materials, such as serpentine and marble, are much softer (Mohs 3-4).

Therein lies the problem of using glass for fetishes.  It is hard, requiring more aggressive cutting tools and it is also dangerous.  Excessive heat is generated during the slabbing process and can cause glass to shatter or explode.  As a result Lena cuts the glass under water as a coolant.  Glass particles and glass dust can also cause major eye and lung damage – time for goggles and breathers, which place an artificial barrier between carver and material.  Sanding glass is likewise a challenge. The sanding process for a single piece uses at least 6 separate grits from 100 to 800 to create the final luster and finish. However, the final stage, buffing, is fairly routine as a result of all the prior work.

Nonetheless the result is spectacular – usually a translucent carvings with swirly colors.  The demand continues for Lena’s glass fetishes.

The concept of translucency can be extended to selenite, a naturally-occurring form of gypsum  It has a pearly luster and can be either clear, white (Mexican selenite mined from caves) or even orange in color, as a result of ‘mud’ being mixed during the natural formation of selenite.  In that selenite is soft (Mohs 2) it is easier to carve, but subject to fracture and scratching. Most selenite allows light to penetrate the surface, adding an additional dimension to her fetishes.

We regularly purchase glass and selenite carvings that Lena is still making with help from her daughter, Evalena, when she has time away from her university teaching duties.

Back to top…