Native American Icons: Leeka Deyuse (1889-1966)
Zuni Pueblo sculptor Leekya Deyuse (Leek-yah Day-you-see) is acknowledged as one of the most influential and sought-after Zuni Pueblo carvers of the 20th century. His work, including animal figures, necklaces with delicate carved birds, and turquoise figurines are highly valued and appreciated for their technical perfection, their subtle, undulating form, and their whimsical expressions.
Today the artwork of Leekya Deyuse is shown in museums and collections throughout the world because of his craftsmanship and artistry, and lives on in the artwork of his family. We hope this look into the art and legacy of Leekya Deyuse will enhance your knowledge of American Indian art and provide insight into how he’s influenced generations of carvers.
Inspired by the Past
Leekya was inspired to carve after working as an excavator with the crew of archeologist Frederick Webb Hodge, who unearthed the complex Hawikuh Ruins from 1917 to 1923. Hawikuh is said to have had over 700 inhabitants and was rumored to be one of the “Seven Cities of Gold.” While Leekya was working at the site, he discovered the ancient carvings and fetishes at the ruins. Thinking of his ancestors when he began carving, he wished to honor the past in his own style. Hawikuh is known today as one of the most complex sites in the Four Corners region and Leekya is an inspiration as a great carver who wanted to depict animals and figurines like his ancestors before him, but in his own unique way.
Happy Animal Carvings
Leeyka has carved everything from birds to frogs in his unique and whimsical style. In Zuni Pueblo culture, it is believed that each carving has a spirit and life and in Leeyka’s piece you sense a happiness in the eyes and wide grins. In the early days of his work, his unique carvings were coveted in Gallup, New Mexico by trainloads of tourists visiting the area who were able to take a happy animal home as a memento of their adventure to the West. Leeyka also created and became known for his beautiful fetish necklaces and animal carvings mounted into Navajo silverwork, as was the custom of the time.
Claims of Fame
Over time, many have claimed they’ve suggested a technique or style to Leeyka and his work became so popular that other carvers began to replicate his pieces. In the 1920s, Leekya began working as a carver for trader Charles Garrett Wallace and Wallace was known to have claimed Leeyka’s fame and popularity.
Generations of Artists
Leeyka has influenced many from his three children, then his grandchildren and other relatives. Many have followed suit by creating carvings of their own pulling from the whimsical style of their patriarch. They include Hayes Leekya, Delvin Leekya, Enrike Leekya, Bernard Homer Jr., Fabian Homer, and Ron Laahty.