AurumEve Journeys Southwest – I’ve Got A Thing for the Corn Maiden

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I had never seen a Corn Maiden before, and I did not know the legend. What sparked my immediate admiration was the fantastic piece featured below, made by none other than Chad Quandelacy while visiting the Southwest and the Zuni Pueblo.But before we get to that…

There are a few well-known legends about the Corn Maiden; they all generally have a bit of bittersweetness at the end. They illustrate the reverence and duplicity of the beautiful and mysterious Corn Maiden’s story and role in the lives of the people of her Pueblo. This story of the Zuni Corn Maidens was borrowed from Katherine Berry Judson’s written account, gathered from oral histories…

A Zuni Legend

After long ages of wandering, the precious seed-things rested over the Middle at Zuni, and men turned their hearts to the cherishing of their corn and the Corn Maidens instead of warring with strange men. But there was complaint by the people of the customs followed.  Some said the music was not that of the olden time.  Far better was that which of nights they often heard as they wandered up and down the river trail.  Wonderful music, as of liquid voices in caverns, or the echo of women’s laughter in water-vases.  And the music was timed with a deep-toned drum from the Mountain of Thunder.  Others thought the music was that of the ghosts of ancient men, but it was far more beautiful than the music when danced the Corn Maidens. Others said light clouds rolled upward from the grotto in Thunder Mountain like to the mists that leave behind them the dew, but lo! -even as they faded the bright garments of the Rainbow women might be seen fluttering, and the broidery and paintings of these dancers of the mist were more beautiful than the costumes of the Corn Maidens. The the priests of the people said, “It may well be Paiyatuma, the liquid voices his flute and the flutes of his players.” Now when the time of ripening corn was near, the fathers ordered preparation for the dance of the Corn Maidens.  They sent the two Master-Priests of the Bow to the grotto at Thunder Mountains, saying, “If you behold Paiyatuma, and his maidens, perhaps they will give us the help of their customs.” Then up the river trail, the priests heard the sound of a drum and strains of song.  It was Paiyatuma and his seven maidens, the Maidens of the House of Stars, sisters of the Corn Maidens. The god of Dawn and Music lifted his flute and took his place in the line of dancers.  The drum sounded until the cavern shook as with thunder.  The flutes sang and sighed as the wind in a wooded canon while still the storm is distant.  White mists floated up from the wands of the Maidens, above which fluttered the butterflies of Summer-land about the dress of the Rainbows in the strange blue light of the night. Then Paiyatuma, smiling, said, “Go the way before, telling the fathers of our custom, and straightway we will follow. Soon the sound of music was heard, coming from up the river, and soon the Flute People and singers and maidens of the Flute dance.  Up rose the fathers and all the watching people, greeting the God of Dawn with outstretched hand and offering of prayer meal.  Then the singers took their places and sounded their drum, flutes, and song of dear waters, while the Maidens of the dew danced their Flute dance.  Greatly marveled the people, when from the wands they bore forth came white clouds, and fine cool mists descended. Now when the dance was ended and the Dew Maidens had retired, out came the beautiful Mothers of Corn.  And when the players of the flutes saw them, they were enamored of their beauty and gazed upon them so intently that the Maidens let fall their hair and cast down their eyes.  And jealous and bolder grew the mortal youths, and in the morning dawn, in rivalry, the dancers sought all too freely the presence of the Corn Maidens, no longer holding them so precious as in the olden time. And the matrons, intent on the new dance, heeded naught else.  But behold!  The mists increased greatly, surrounding dancers and watchers alike, until within them, the Maidens of Corn, all in white garments, became invisible.  Then sadly and noiselessly they stole in amongst the people and laid their corn wands down amongst the trays, and laid their white broidered garments thereupon, as mothers lay soft kilting over their babes.  Then even as the mists became they, and with the mists drifting, fled away, to the far south Summer-land.

The Quandelacy Family is among the most  renowned and respected artisan families among Zuni, Native American and hand carvers as a whole. They are prized for their unique design and high quality and skill that has been passed down from generation to generation.  Johnny Quam passed his nuanced and intricate skill of the art down to his daughter, Ellen Quandelacy, who passed the tradition down to her daughters Albenita Yunie and Georgia Quandelacy, and so forth.

This piece, which I immediately fell in love with is the Corn Maiden – whose legend touches both the Zuni tribe as well as a multitude of many other tribes with varying oral histories. This piece was made Chad Quandelacy. While different members of the family (10 children, 6 grandchildren!) are known for different strengths and expertise, Chad and his two aunts Faye and Sandra are known as Corn Maiden specialists and it’s clear to see why!

What caught my eye first was the stone used – perfect in its imperfections… its beauty lies in its authenticity. The color and veins in the turquoise stone only enhance the beauty and elegant yet firm carving Chad humbly lays into the stone. The perfectly not completely smooth surface paired with the purposeful lines and the simple expression on the maiden’s face completely engaged me and pushed me to learn more about her story and other artistic interpretations.

When I look at this piece I see a majestic divinity.

The work of true artists.


Claudia Peina, another Zuni artist carves fetishes with her favorite materials including antlers, fossilized ivory and shells.

I love this carved piece because of the weight of the antler used, not particularly heavy and the very cheery disposition of this simple maiden. I love the subtle fusing of the feminine and corn shape embracing the life giving feminine element.


Carl Etsate has a truly unique design and approach to his Corn Maidens. A Zuni artist as well, living in the Zuni Pueblo, his highly detailed maidens are clear examples of the Zuni’s claim to fame: Inlay. They are the masters of inlay and their inlay work is on display in museums and private collections all around the world. Etsate’s piece featured included turquoise, jet and pipestone inlayed on Mother of Pearl. Pipestone, not to be confused with coral is a noticeably deeper red. It was often used in Native American culture for pipes and calumets and originates from Minnesota mainly. Carl’s signature stones are Serpentine and Picasso marble, which makes for quite unique visual play.

Love this piece, and not quite sure why, but it reminds me of the Oracles from The Neverending Story.



Michael LaWeka. another Zuni artist carved this solid double Mother of Pearl Corn Maiden piece.

I love this take, with double Corn Maidens because while it is not rare, it is not particularly common. The image reminds me of a Mother and Daughter and the fertile and continually growing bond between the two.

Photography Courtesy of Raymond Bourraine.

2 Comments on AurumEve Journeys Southwest – I’ve Got A Thing for the Corn Maiden

  1. Sounds like you had a great, fruitful trip! That is a really nice collection of carved fetishes.

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