The art of making Fetish Bears

The Sun Lakes Rock Gem and Silver Club offers a class in Fetish Bears taught by Mike Stegina.

The Sun Lakes Rock Gem and Silver Club offers a class in Fetish Bears taught by Mike Stegina.

Joe Schwab

When I first arrived at Sun Lakes and looked up the range of activities, I was struck by the quality of the rock and gem art that was displayed around the area. I joined the Sun Lakes Rock Gem and Silver Club and began the learning process. One of the more appealing classes offered by Mike Stegina at the Oakwood shop is the art of making Fetish Bears. Nearly every color, kind and composition of rock can be shaped into a Fetish Bear. Zuni folklore claims the Fetish Bear is the guardian of the west and can heal or transform our passions to wisdom. Whatever the beliefs are, the bears are a true form of Indian art and culture. They don’t have anything to do with sexual fantasies involving bears or people dressed as bears though, we suggest you go somewhere like or similar for you research purposes.

During the winter months it can be difficult to find an open space at the row of polishing wheels in the Oakwood Shop where Mike holds his classes. Bears are being churned out at a frantic pace. Most end up as gifts or decorative art on the mantle or display shelves. They come in sizes from tiny three to four inch pieces up to whopping 12 inch figures in granite, quartz or any other suitable material dug from the rock piles and dry river beds.

I met with Mike for a couple of hours discussing how and why he uses various materials in his classes. The classes last an average of six weeks and Mike supplies the raw material or the student can bring his/her own. It’s a friendly atmosphere at Oakwood with a large airy shop and plenty of the right kinds of tools and machines. Mike moved to Sun Lakes in 1995 and at the urging of his wife to get out from in front of the TV, joined the Sun Lakes Rock Gem and Silver Club. His interests led him to the Fetish Bear and he became the master of the local area, teaching the skill. Mike guides his students through the entire process, helping them pick the right material and then exposing the beauty while shaping the different angles so the stone becomes a piece of art, not just another rock.

The process begins by picking a piece of stone preferred by the student. They can bring their own or pick from a large selection of stones at the shop. Mike recommends four to five inch size initially as the larger pieces require more skill to navigate the polishing process. The pattern is traced onto the stone and cut on trim saws, then grinding the sharper edges on the heavy grit grinders. This is usually a two-step process, cutting and grinding. From there it goes to a six step process of rough polishing, to fine polishing and finish work. Softer stones lend themselves to easier polishing.

The next meeting of the SLRGS Club will be on the third Monday in November at the Navajo Room, Phase 1 at 10:00 a.m. Refreshments are served and instructors will be there to sign up new students to the classes. See you there! Visit our website at Sun Lakes Rock Gem and Silver Club for complete information on happenings.