Through the Kokopelli doors

It was the summer of 1989, Twin Rocks Trading Post was set to open soon, and the time had come to carve the front doors.

Several months earlier I had grown tired of trying to convince the Salt Lake City law firms I would be a good addition to their team and decided to come to Bluff for some honest construction work.

I had traded an air-conditioned office in Sacramento for the heat of midsummer Bluff, and the transition had gone smoother than expected.

The manual labor was more enjoyable than anticipated, and I liked feeling I was helping build something substantial, long-lasting.

A difficult marriage caused me to end my California legal career and return to Utah. I felt the marital union deserved at least one more try, so I gave my notice to the partners, packed my things and headed east.

Because I did not possess an Ivy League degree, however, the top Salt Lake City firms were not kind to me. As a result, I turned to Bluff as a sanctuary from the disappointment of numerous unproductive interviews.

I felt a little time away from the law might clear my head and help me decide what I really wanted to do with my life. Little did I know how profound the change would turn out to be.

Pounding nails, mixing concrete, and sanding wood turned out to be therapeutic, just what I needed.

As I stood in the midst of sawdust piles and cast-off bits of lumber, Jim Foy, the building contractor and close family friend, explained how important it was to select the correct image for the front doors.

I had been away from southern Utah so long I had lost touch with its culture, and I was at a loss what to suggest.

After waiting a few days without any constructive input from me, Jim produced a rough pencil sketch of a figure that looked like a combination of insect and vegetable.

The body resembled an oval horizontally perched on top of a gourd. Hands and feet protruded from the lower portion of the bulbous anthropomorphic figure, a mosquito proboscis projected from its face, and a curved horn jutted backwards from the top of its head.

“What the heck is that?” I asked.

“Kokopelli,” Jim proudly proclaimed.

I scratched my head, wondering what a Kokopelli might be. Jim did not know exactly how to explain the drawing but said it had something to do with ancient rock art and good fortune, maybe fertility.

At that point I needed a little luck, and fertility seemed interesting, so I agreed to the design.

Jim hoisted one of the big laminated doors up onto saw horses, rolled out his set of wood chisels, and went to work. Under his large, skilled hands the insect-vegetable man began to emerge.

At the time, I viewed Kokopelli as nothing more than an artistic feature. After a while, however, I began to notice people caressing his image as they walked into the store.

Then one day I received a call from a Canadian woman who had been in the shop on her recent vacation. She had returned home only to decide she needed a piece of jewelry with the image of Kokopelli engraved, carved, or inlayed into it.

Conception had been a problem she explained, and something was needed to break the log jam.

She believed Kokopelli was the man for the job, so I packaged a set of earrings with his image, including all the appropriate anatomical equipment, into a box and shipped it to her.

Imagine my surprise when a few months later the woman telephoned to excitedly inform me that, after several years of trying to conceive a child, she was indeed pregnant. Kokopelli had worked his magic, she said.

At that point, I realized there was more to learn about the character who caused people to caress his carved image and request his intervention in matters of fertilization.

What I discovered was a rich, entertaining, multifaceted, and sometimes conflicting series of legends about this often well-endowed, humped-back flute player that was difficult to categorize.

His image is prominently posted on rock art panels throughout the Southwest and, depending on which story you believe, he is thought to have been a storyteller, teacher, healer, traveler, trader, or god of the harvest.

Most people, however, focus on his status as a fertility symbol.

Some archaeologists with whom I have spoken indicated the Ancient Puebloans welcomed Kokopelli’s visits to their small farming villages and believed his presence ensured a good crop.

According to Navajo legend, Kokopelli is the bringer of abundant rain and successful plantings, of many types.

Legends involving his seduction of young women are numerous and varied. In spite of that, Kokopelli seems to have maintained positive, productive relations with everybody he encountered.

Many years ago, I was up early looking out over this small river valley from the house beneath the twins when I saw a figure walking east along the Historic Loop.

The person was hunched over against the early morning chill, and I was reminded of Kokopelli, who wandered this part of the country thousands of years before.

As it turned out, the individual was Jamie Olson, one of the many artists who bring beautiful work to Twin Rocks Trading Post.

Several years before, Jamie had come into the store on a late fall afternoon and pointedly demanded, “Do you buy from white guys?”

After explaining I did not care whether he was purple, pink, or aquamarine, I asked to see his work. At the post we focus on the quality of stones and caliber of work, not the color of the individual’s skin.

Among the pieces Jamie spread on the counter was a flute player brooch, featuring a bird perched on the musician’s shoulder, Kokopelli.

Jamie’s work was striking, and after a little negotiation, I purchased every piece he had that day. That was the start of a long-term business association and friendship.

I have no idea whether it is true, but I like to think the image Jim placed on the doors during the summer of 1989 have cultivated a stream of friends, acquaintances, and customers.

It is amazing how seemingly inconsequential events can influence your life. Imagine what might have happened had Jim suggested Coyote, the Trickster, for our doors.

San Juan Record

49 South Main St
PO Box 879
Monticello, UT 84535

Phone: 435.587.2277
Fax: 435.587.3377
Open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday