These are among the last Zuni Fetish Carvings made by Francis Leekya
Sadly, Francis Leekya passed away quietly in his sleep the night of May 12, 2003. His spirit and
mind were strong till the end. His body, racked by strokes, diabetes and injuries,
wheelchair bound, finally abandoned him.
Francis grew up surrounded by the great Zuni artists of the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s.
Francis carved in the old style created many years ago by his father Leekya Deyuse.
Francis did not copy his fathers fetishes, but rather used that as a starting point to create his own.
Francis began his career working alongside his father for CG Wallace and later Bernie Vanderwagon.
Francis and I began our collaboration in 1998.
The right side of Francis’ body was already paralyzed from a stroke and he had difficulty speaking. Francis carved by holding the stone in his left hand (the only hand he could control) and gently touched it to the grinding wheel till the fetish he saw emerged.
In the beginning of our collaboration, Francis carved small fetishes as he had most of his life.
In 1999, I asked Francis to try carving larger fetishes and supplied him stone other then Zuni Rock.
He loved it, the larger colorful stones gave Francis the opportunity to explore his art.
From that point on, everything changed about Francis’ carving. The fetishes literally sprung to life. No two were alike. Each carving had its own unique form, patterns and colors. It was surreal. Here was this very fragile, gentle man seemingly willing stone to take form and color.
Francis did not make many fetishes. If you own one, treasure it.
Francis told me that disability also forced his father Leekya to carve with one hand. It was as if “Old Man” Leekya was guiding Francis.
If you like Zuni fetishes that are perfect, like a new car fresh off the assembly line, Francis Leekya is not the carver for you. On the other hand, if you prefer sculptures that are heartfelt works of art, read on, you have arrived at your destination.
Francis Leekya was the son of Zuni legend Leekya Deyuse.
Francis took Zuni fetish carving in a beautiful new Direction.
Francis Leekya fetish carvings are a triumph of the human spirit. Francis is deceased now. His most inspired carvings were made in the last few years of his life, from 1998 – 2003.
During this period, Francis was confined to a wheel chair as the result of several strokes that left him almost completely paralyzed. In the photo below, Francis is seen seated in his wheelchair. His right hand and arm never moved from that knotted position. Also, as a result of the strokes speech was very difficult for Francis.
Despite Francis’ physical deformity, the peaceful light in his eyes and smile on his face was always there.
Francis’ worked in a small studio attached to his home overlooking the road. His grinding wheel was situated behind a large window facing the street. Whenever I visited Francis, I would park my loud, clanking diesel truck within a few feet of him seated behind the window.
I’d get out of the truck and knock at the screen door. Francis was just a few feet away, seated at his workbench. Minutes passed before Francis would stop carving, pick up his head, and realize I was there.
Francis loved to carve. When he was carving it was as if he was in another world. A peaceful world where he was surrounded by everything he loved. A world where physical limitations did not exist.
The fetish carvings that Francis produced during those years are proof to that. Frankly, those carvings would have been a triumph for a healthy person to produce. Towards the end, Francis was in and out of hospital intensive care units more times then I care to remember.
Francis Leekya’s spirit, well that’s an entirely different matter. His spirit soared. Francis left a legacy that has influenced the way Zuni fetishes will forever be carved. But more then that, Francis was a lighted candle. Proof of the spirit that exists in us all.
Concerning Collector Prices of Francis Leekya Carvings
The prices of Francis Leekya fetishes has risen substantially since his death. However, regardless of increasing prices, collectors rarely part with their Francis Leekya fetish carvings. In fact, collectors continue to add prime Francis fetish carvings to their collections.
The reason for this is not complicated. Francis did not carve many fetishes. Those he made were exceptional. Francis would spend hours contemplating the smallest detail.
When Francis carved he transcended this world…he moved beyond his physical limitations and pain. Francis carved life into stone, freed the spirit within the stone… and in the process, lived a meaningful and peaceful life.
Leekya Deyuse at the grinding wheel.
Francis then showed us this photo of his mother.
Occasionally you will see the mark FL on a Francis Leekya fetish. Usually, there is no hallmark at all. Francis’ son Freddy also uses the hallmark FL
Francis rarely carved, he was a silversmith early in life. It was not until later that Francis came to carving fetishes. Francis worked alongside his father Leekya Deyuse.
“Old Man” Leekya’s influence is clearly here in Francis’s carvings. Yet here too is Francis… Francis’ wonderful sense of humor is here too.
And his son’s and grandson’s have built around Francis’s ideas.
Early on Francis Leekya fetishes were small simple carvings. Dealers on the Reservation needed to fill Souvenir Shop orders. Cookie Cutter fetishes was not what Francis wanted to make or what interested me.
We both wanted to see what the best fetishes Francis could make would look like.
The Francis Leekya Bear on the left is a Bear that Francis made early in our association. The tiny bear on the right is typical of the Bears that Francis made before he carved for Sedonawolf. You may ask why is there so great a difference?
Why, because most dealers are more concerned about price than quality… “make it cheaper!” they demand. Frankly, I don’t care one whit about cheap carvings.
Instead, I say “Let’s see the best carvings you can make”.
Because Francis was paralyzed and could only carve with one hand, he needed large stones to work with. Stones he could easily grasp and turn against the grinding wheel. That’s why Francis carvings have lots of tiny flat spots. He would touch the carving gently against the wheel hundreds of times to shape the fetish and give it motion… make it come alive. In the final polishing, many of the flat spots would be rounded off but if your turn a Francis carving in the light you’ll still see them.
Francis loved the idea and rose to the challenge with vigor.
And so began our friendship. It ended 5 years later in 2003 when Francis passed on. Five years is not much time for a disabled old man to show the world who he was. But it was enough time for Francis to demonstrate he was a great Zuni artist and a very special human being. The carvings Francis produced in that 5 years are wonderful… each carving was unique with a personality all its own.
Francis gave stone life… I feel it when I hold his cravings and I see it when I look in his carvings faces.
In return, the process of giving life to stone gave life back to Francis.
As for me, I grew to love Francis as a brother. I felt privileged to have been part of Francis’ life. I bought everything Francis made. Having his fetishes near me brought me closer to Francis and made me feel good. But now, it’s time to let them go just as Francis intended.
Eventually, the entire collection will appear here and be sold. Check back when you can. If you have questions or are looking for something in particular call me 800 462 8536. September 2014
You can estimate the time Francis made a fetish by the offering bundle. From 1998 forward for about a year he carved his arrowheads from Abalone Shell. The next year he used Spiny Oyster. The last 2 or 3 years he used Turquoise. The last year of Francis’ life was when he carved his largest fetishes and gave his carvings the most movement. It was also when he introduced us to his Badgers, Moles, Rabbits and Horses.
Francis Leekya Zebra Stone Mountain Lion
6 1/2″ long
These are typical colors for a protective animal from above.
In this case, we have a Mountain Lion of the Sky… in the Zuni color for the sky.
Directional sets can be each animal in its own direction or all one animal (Bears, Lions, Wolves…)
in the color of its position
Francis Leekya Zuni Rock Mole
2 3/4″ long
The rarest of all Francis carving
No directional set is complete without a Mole. The protective animal of the Underworld
Frances Leekya Zuni Fetish Badger
Carved out of Zuni Rock fully Incised, and Beautifully carved.
Francis made about 10 badgers. For anyone interested in building a Francis Leekya Directional set a Badger is essential.
The Badger is the protective animal of the South
3 1/4″ long x 1″ tall
Frances Leekya Zuni Fetish Wolf
Francis did not carve white marble often.
Here is a beautiful, rare white wolf essential to a Directional Set
Carved out of White Marble with a Turquoise Arrowhead and Coral Branch offering.
There is a ring around one ear… it is a natural part of the marble
3 1/2″ long x 1 5/8″ tall