Native American, Porcelain and Traditional Dolls

by Nikolay Stoyanov February 27, 2019

Native Americans are the indigenous people of the United States. They are rich in culture and their culture shines through most of their day to day activities, even their dolls. Native American figurines are colorful and they play a very important role in the culture of the Native American people.

Native Americans are the indigenous people of the United States. They are rich in culture and their culture shines through most of their day to day activities, even their dolls. Native American figurines are colorful and they play a very important role in the culture of the Native American people.

These dolls are made from different materials and apart from being play-things, they have different meanings and spiritual significances. The materials used to make these dolls are a determinant of the areas where they were made; fur indicated that the makers of the dolls lived in a cold place, palm leaves indicated that the residents reside in a swampy marsh area.

native american dolls

Native American dolls are made with a great number of details. They are meant to show the work of their tribe and the history of their people by using clothing similar to those worn by the actual tribes. The figurines also contain spiritual elements such as beadwork that mimics the ancient symbols for the Great Spirit or embroidery that contains hidden symbols for the animals revered by these people


Porcelain dolls are divided into two categories; bisque and china dolls.

A bisque doll is one that is made partially or fully from biscuit porcelain. They are unglazed porcelain and are well known for their realistic look and skin-like finish. They are also majorly produced to be collectors’ items.

A china doll, on the other hand, is one that is made partially or wholly out of glazed porcelain. The name comes from China being used to refer to the material porcelain.

Native American Porcelain dolls are those that are created to look just like American Indians. They are designed in the exact manner as a Native American would look like from the mode of dressing to the color and look.


Porcelain dolls are valuable objects and this means they have to be handled with care. You can clean these collectible items by following the steps below:

  • First test any cleaning solution you would want to use with a small spot on the body to be sure that it would not cause any damage to it.
  • Choose a flat surface to clean it. Be sure that the surface is not unstable or disturbed while the cleaning process is going on. After that, place a clean towel on a flat surface. This would protect the doll in case there is any dust that can stain it on the surface.
  • Before cleaning, take the clothes and accessories like the neck ruff, feathers off. This would keep them safe and prevent them from getting damaged.
  • Dust the dolls from top to bottom with a makeup brush. Since a makeup brush is soft, this would ensure that none of the paint would get scraped off during cleaning. If you have a fresh white slice of bread, you can also use it. Remove the crust of the slice. Roll it into a ball shape and rub it on the doll. It erases dirt and grime from the item without damaging the porcelain surface.
  • A damp washcloth can also be used if grit is stuck to the surface. Little pressure should be applied when cleaning. Alcohol can also be used to get rid of dirt in places that cannot easily be like the nose and ears.
  • For the clothes, as Native American dolls are dressed more elaborately than others, absolute care has to be taken. The cloth has to be removed and preferably hand washed. This would keep the colors bright. The feathers can also be brushed with a soft-bristled toothbrush; this would get rid of the dust without causing any damage to the doll.
  • After this, let the clothes air dry. Place them on a dry towel to dry.


Hopi Kachina Dolls

The Hopi Kachina doll is majorly prominent among the Native Americans. Apart from serving as toys or playthings, these products are also religious in nature. In fact, they are given to children from when they are young to help teach them about spiritual things. They are made from wood and are meticulously carved by a select few who have been bestowed the honor of making them. The wood mostly used is the cottonwood root. According to their tradition, every year, a young girl is given two brightly painted wooden Kachina figurines; these figurines teach and instruct the girls about spirituality and the immortal beings that have the power to control many things. It is an important part of their religious training. They are hung on the walls so that the children can constantly see them.

Types of Kachina

As the Hopi people are a large number of communal farming people, there are different beliefs and religious convictions and as a result of this, these wooden figurines differ from place to place and have different religious connotations and significances

How to make Kachina Dolls

Making these figurines require skill and knowledge of the already existing tradition. They are carved from cottonwood trees which has a religious connotation. The Hopi people believe that the cottonwood root’s ability to seek and find abundant water is a reflection of what the Kachina spirit would do for the Hopi people. Carving the figurines requires the removal of the bark, smoothing the wood and then carving the face and the body parts. The tools mostly used are hand saws, mallets, hatchets, chisels, and knives. Some figurines are made in such a way that the body parts are separately carved and then later joined together while others are made as a single piece. The single piece is favored in the market by collectors as the likelihood of it breaking is much slimmer than those separately carved.

After carving and assembling the figurine, native kaolin clay is used to give the figurine an all-white finish. This saves as a base for the paint that would be applied. This is then followed by a detailed painting- this is usually done with dyes and then water or poster colors or even acrylics; this has been found to be more superior to the others. The paints are applied with brushes.

Items like a neck ruff can be made from either plastic or yarn and decorative objects like rattles, bows, and knives which are handheld are also made. The addition of jewelry to the figurine is mostly based on the preference of the person carving it. Headpieces are either made from feather or are carved. The figurine’s clothing is pre-carved but painted to give it a resemblance of actual garments.

One of the most important parts of a Kachina is the mask as it reflects the identity of the doll. Unlike before, nowadays, in the carvings of Kachinas, there is a well-defined representation of the figure’s anatomy. The muscles, hands, legs are now properly represented and this makes it all the more realistic.

How to take care of a Kachina doll

A Kachina can sell for as much as $50,000 so taking care of it is very important but as it is made out of wood, it has to be given close attention. Cleaning such a doll years after it was originally made can go a long way in making it more attractive. The colors look better and brighter and it looks newer. As much good as this can do, if it is not done properly, the wood may crack or break, the paint may also fade and get ruined. These are some steps to follow when cleaning a Kachina.

  • Properly examine the doll for dust, dirt, and mold or mildew. If any of them are found on the body, use a soft toothbrush or a painter’s brush to carefully dislodge it. If the Kachina is old, care has to be taken so that the paint would not fade away during this activity.
  • Using water or a damp cloth is not advisable as it would melt the kaolin while clay base. This would ruin the color of the Kachina.
  • For the delicate surfaces like the bark and feathers, a painter’s brush should be used. To get rid of mold and mildew and the smell associated with them, baking soda can be sprinkled. After this, let it sit for two hours and then brush away with small paint brushes.
  • If mites are damaging the feathers, you can place the Kachina in a plastic bag and in direct sunlight for some days. This should get rid of the mites.

If your Kachina is in need of repairs, you can always give them to experts to fix for you. It is not advisable to tamper with it as this can potentially destroy it.

Native American dolls or kachinas can be given to someone as a gift, it can be kept as a collectible item, and they can also be used for educational and even personal purposes. They are a symbol of the Native American, their beliefs, culture, and way of life.

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