Danielle Kennedy’s spirit figures blend the commonplace, sacred


Kachinas have been originally used by Native people for religious and ceremonial purposes, but they are also sought after by museums and personal collectors.

Story and pictures originally published in Taos News

They are made to represent spirits of the natural world and can personify animals, plants, and even Nature forces like wind and water. Carved and decorated according to their specific functions, they adopt a myriad of shapes and forms.

“Mine are all about Mother Nature,” said artist Danielle Lawrence Kennedy, “so their faces are archetypical and don’t have human features. They are Spirit Figures that convey my love of nature and offer a healing connection to the world.”

Art, teaching and teaching art

Kennedy’s lifelong passion for the arts was ignited when she was a teenager.

“I was sixteen years old when I took an art class in High School,” she said. “I knew right away that I had discovered my calling. But even before that, I always enjoyed making clothes, drawing and painting.”

She attended the San Francisco Art Institute in the mid seventies to study painting, sculpting, and photography, among other art forms.

“However, I had heard that it was hard to make a living as an artist,” she said. “Now I know that this isn’t necessarily true, but I believed it at that time. After graduating, I became a Montessori teacher.”

Her classroom became her creative outlet. She designed it in a way that motivated her students—ages three to six years old—to come to school every day.

“The kids would come into the classroom running and smiling,” she said. “And they didn’t want to go home at the end of the day. I taught them music, art, practical skills and, above all, how to enjoy the learning process.”

After ten years of teaching Kennedy felt inspired to create her own pieces again.

“My art started coming through,” she said. “I did a show and people asked me if I was from Taos because they ‘saw Taos’ in my work. I had been here only twice to visit, but didn’t know much about it yet.”

The first kachina

The first time Kennedy saw a kachina was in Santa Fe, in 1993, during what she describes as “an inspiring trip.”

“That piece spoke to me,” she said. “I felt I could create one, not just like it, but my very own. It was an instinctual reaction and I paid attention to it. Afterwards, I went home and made a kachina. When my friends saw my personal piece, they wanted one!”

Kennedy did her first kachina show in 1994 and the enthusiasm from the public was so encouraging that she began to create more.

“I blend the simple and the profound; the commonplace and the sacred,” she said. “My intention is to make them both real and magical at once.”

Kennedy has complete over one thousand kachinas to date.

“I am happy to say that I am an ‘eating artist’!” she said. “Over the years I have also supplemented my income with other small jobs to keep the financial pressure to a minimum. But I do live off my work and this is very satisfying.”
The process
It takes from three weeks to three months for Kennedy to complete a kachina—sometimes longer, if they are big pieces.

“The secret is not to rush,” she said. “You need to allow the piece time to create itself and reveal its own voice, its authenticity. I never try to imitate anybody, just let the feelings come through me. Quieting the mind is fundamental so the intuition can be heard.”

One of the most important parts of her creative process is collecting the materials. Kennedy uses antique tapestries, silk, bones, gems, and turtle shells, among other objects.

She finds her inspiration in nature, color, form, texture, and solitude.

“My little Papillon mix, Gracie, is always around me, but she doesn’t interfere with my work,” she said. “Gracie is the perfect companion for an artist!”

Create your own piece

Kachinas can be custom-made to reflect a particular life event.

“They are used to honor major life transitions, from birth to marriage to graduating on any level,” Kennedy said. “My custom pieces range from sixteen inches to four feet tall.”

Wearable art: responding to a need

She is also inspired by the response she gets from the public, which often fires up her creative juices.

“My wearable collection began with my personal wardrobe,” she said. “I had designed a simple poncho from a beautiful batik fabric and I wore it to my art openings and book signings. When women started asking me where they could get them, I began making them for the public.”

Today she sells her wearable art at the Fechin House gift shop and at her studio. They are “one size fits most.”

The author

Kennedy has authored Wisdom Warriors, a book about her life and work that was published in 2007.

“It is about my journey in search of wisdom and inner peace,” she said. “The book includes thirty-eight color photos of my kachinas accompanied by simple words of wisdom…My goal when I wrote it was to inspire others and motivate their creativity.”

Danielle’s advice to young artists:

Do what you love—and keep doing it.

If other people don’t get what you are doing… ignore them!

Feel free to change, try new techniques, and explore.

To find out more about Kennedy and her work visit her website: www.espiritartgallery.com or call 575-751-0164.

Studio visits welcome by appointment.
Danielle Slide Show