King Galleries is pleased to invite Edd Guarino to be part of our web-site. He has been collecting Pueblo pottery and Inuit art for almost thirty years. His collection has been featured in Museum exhibits, and he has written on collecting in magazines such as Native Peoples. He has been asked to write on any topic he chooses, and we will post them online. The opinions stated in his columns are his and do not necessarily reflect those of the gallery or its artists. We are excited that this may be come a forum to facilitate communication about Pueblo pottery and Native art. You are welcome to respond to us at email@example.com or directly to Edd, at EddGuarino@AOL.com.
The Art of Sam Thomas and Lorna Thomas-Hill
BY E. J. GUARINO
Iroquois beadwork has a long and rich tradition. For over two hundred years Seneca, Mohawk, Cayuga, Tuscarora and, to a lesser degree, Oneida and Onondaga bead workers have been producing spectacularly colorful pieces. These were made in the form of hats, clothing, tablecloths, mats, purses as well as boxes, horseshoes, canoes, picture frames, various types of holders for matches, glasses, scissors and whiskbrooms, as well as pincushions in the shape of women’s shoes, stars, hearts, and strawberries. In the past, Iroquois beadwork artists were anonymous and their work was trivialized as “tourist art.” Fortunately, it has now come to be understood as being profoundly significant to Iroquois culture, expressing identity, values, and beliefs. Although beadwork has only recently been taken seriously as an art form, many contemporary Iroquois beadwork artists are well-known and their work is highly sought after by museums and collectors. Two of the most exceptional modern beadwork artists are Sam Thomas and, his late mother, Lorna Thomas-Hill. Both are masters of the form and each has won numerous awards. Their work can be found in the permanent collections of major museums and in numerous private collections in the U.S., Canada, England, Germany, Holland, and as far away as Australia.
Boot form with sequins, and red, clear, blue, green and gold beads in double American flag
and raised flower design on pink cloth; Iroquois, artist unknown,
5” at widest point x 9”h, excluding fringe (circa 1900). Collection of E. J. Guarino
In the late 1800s and early 1900s the tourist trade in such areas as Niagara Falls and Saratoga, New York fueled the creation of most, but not all, Iroquois beadwork. Catering not only to the Victorian fashion for beaded purses, Iroquois beadwork artists also satisfied the desire of white travelers for “authentic” Indian souvenirs. Although the Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) made beadwork for their own use, they, like other Native Americans, adapted their skills to meet the demands of an ever-increasing non-Indian marketplace. When destinations that were popular at the turn of the last century were overshadowed by those tourists considered more exotic, Iroquois bead workers continued making their fanciful creations, selling them at state fairs, pow-wows, and even door to door often for as little as two to three dollars. This is no longer the case. Through of the efforts of Sam Thomas and Lorna Thomas-Hill, among others, Iroquois beadwork art is now regarded for what it has always been - an important artistic medium.
Boot form with bird and flower design, clear and pink beads on blue cloth with white border;
Iroquois, artist unknown; Iroquois, 8” h x 5 1/8”w (ca. 1890 – 1900).
Donated from the Guarino Collection to the Loeb Art Center, Vassar College in honor of Mauricette Casile.
Sam learned to bead from Lorna and often mother and son worked seated side by side, a playful banter easily passing between them. Each is proficient in creating embossed beadwork, considered the most flamboyant of the five Iroquois beadwork styles. This raised style consists of sewing multiple beads into three-dimensional shapes and is unique to the Iroquois. Both Sam and Lorna have incorporated traditional designs and beliefs into their work through the use of symbols such as hummingbirds, strawberries, and strawberry flowers – all references to the Iroquois afterlife. Like all beadwork artists, Sam and Lorna invested countless hours of time and energy into creating works that dazzle and delight.
Pouch with different designs on each side by Lorna Thomas-Hill (recreation of an historic pouch),
Cayuga Iroquois, white, clear, & gray beads on red velvet,
7.5” w x 7.5”h, excluding handle and drops (circa 2002). Collection of E. J. Guarino
Although the work of these two artists is similar it is not identical. Sam and Lorna have distinctive styles and expressed their individuality in subtly different ways. Both have worked with traditional forms, i.e. pouches, purses, caps, needle cases, and boxes, but each gives the object a distinctive personal touch. Sam’s designs are often bold while Lorna’s tend to be more delicate. Sam has also gained recognition with his creation of non-traditional forms.
Each artist, for example, has a unique color palette. Sam tends to favor red, white, gold, green, and clear beads. Although his mother sometimes also used the same colors she often expressed herself through startlingly non-traditional combinations such as turquoise, orange, lemon yellow, mauve and fuchsia, creating an electric effect.
Big Berry Boot by Samuel Thomas, Cayuga Iroquois; with strawberries,
leaves,and flowers design, green, red, white, clear, and orange beads on red velvet with white border,
13” x 9” (2003). Collection of E. J. Guarino
Sam’s signature expression is taking traditional forms and expanding them to a size much larger than their late 19th and early 20th century models. “Big Berry Boot,” for example, is his take on the boot shaped forms, which were rarely larger than seven inches. At thirteen inches tall, Sam’s creation is a sly comment on art and commerce. He has taken an object originally made for the tourist trade and forced us to view it as a work of art. Similarly, in creating a purple pincushion exaggerated to the size of a pillow and a needle case in the form of a giant strawberry Sam has defied stereotypical expectations about Iroquois beadwork.
Pincushion/pillow by Samuel Thomas, Cayuga Iroquois,
clear, white, green, red and orange beads on purple velvet,
19” long x 14” wide (2004). Collection of E. J. Guarino
Strawberry shaped needle case with leaves, flower and hummingbird design
by Samuel Thomas, Cayuga, Iroquois,
green, white, clear, red, orange and gold beads on red velvet,
7.5" L x 7.5" at widest point (ca. 2003). Collection of E. J. Guarino
Sometimes Sam and Lorna deviate completely from traditional Iroquois forms. Sam, for example, has created a number of spectacular bandolier bags based on British military uniforms of the1800s while Lorna produced wearable handbags that are coveted by contemporary women and would be the envy of any haute couture designer.
Bandolier bag by Samuel Thomas, Cayuga Iroquois, strawberries, strawberry flowers and hummingbirds design,
green, red, white, gold/orange, and clear glass beads on red velvet,
84”L x 19”w (bag portion is 12”L x 11w,” handle is 72” L x 3.5”w) (2003).
Collection of E. J. Guarino
For more than thirty years Sam Thomas and Lorna Thomas-Hill have been instrumental in reviving and preserving the art of Iroquois beadwork though their ongoing research and teaching via lectures, demonstrations, and workshops. They studied 19th century pieces and often re-created them in an effort to understand how they were made.
Deep blue velvet purse beaded with hummingbird and strawberries design by
Lorna Thomas-Hill, Cayuga Iroquois, 9 ½”L x 6”w (2001). Collection of E. J. Guarino
Sam also traveled to Kenya to instruct indigenous African craftspeople on how to create raised beadwork as part of his Beads for Peace project. In return, he learned bead winding techniques which had been lost to the Iroquois for over 100 years. Sam also invited the Kenyans to help with the beading of a six-foot-tall sculptural piece based on the white pine under which members of the Iroquois Confederacy buried their weapons and then agreed on a constitution. The work represents the Great Tree of Peace, an Iroquoian symbol of peace.
Programs such as Beads for Peace are indicative of Sam and Lorna’s dedication to combining art and humanitarianism. They often bring together people of diverse backgrounds by drawing them into the creative process. For example, on a number of occasions they worked with teams of people across the U.S. and Canada to bead full-length traditional Iroquois outfits, many of the participants never before having done beadwork. Such collaborative efforts are very much in keeping with Iroquois belief that under the Great Tree of Peace all the peoples of the world can find peace, unity and protection.
This article is dedicated to the memory of Lorna Thomas-Hill.
Advocating for Native Art
BY E. J. GUARINO
Years ago, when I was teaching Film History and Art of Film I came across a statement by D. W. Griffith, the silent film director who made Birth of a Nation and Intolerance: “The task I am trying to achieve above all is to make you see.” In the ensuing years, as I became passionate about Native art, Griffith’s words became, and still are, the underlying philosophy behind my collecting, in spite of the fact that his words originally referred to movies. I came to realize that, in my own way, what I was trying to do was to make people see and appreciate art that is often overlooked or marginalized by curators, collectors and the public.
In 1941 New York’s Museum of Modern Art presented the groundbreaking exhibit “Indian Art in the United States.” With regard to this show, famed ethnographer and anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss commented that “Before long, these works will appear in museums and galleries of fine art.” Seventy-two years later we are still waiting for his prediction to be realized fully.
On my numerous visits to MoMA, for example, I have never seen an exhibit dedicated to presenting contemporary Native art nor have I seen the work of any Native artist highlighted. Although I have read that the museum bought the first set of prints produced by Cape Dorset artists, a search of the MoMA web site’s collection data base revealed zero results for any Inuit prints. This is odd given that Cape Dorset has a print tradition stretching back more than fifty years and the museum is noted for its prints and drawings department. This in spite of the fact that Dorset prints are sought after by museums and collectors worldwide.
Although the Metropolitan Museum of Art has a vast array of New World Native art, the perspective is more ethnographic and the focus is on works from the prehistoric and historic periods. The work of living, contemporary artists is absent. With regard to Native American art, one comes away with the impression that any and all artistic expression ceased sometime in the middle of the 20th century.
The Brooklyn Museum of Art holds one of the most important collections of New World Native art in the country but, for the last five years, very few Native works have been on view. In the past, one of the first things museum-goers encountered when they entered the Brooklyn Museum was the justly famed Hall of the Americas, which held under its massive dome towering Northwest Coast totem poles, a spectacular Kwakwaka’wakw Thunderbird Transformation Mask, the justly famous 2,000 year old “Paracas Textile” and much more. To those of us who loved the “old” Brooklyn Museum, it seemed as if New World Native art got lost in the shuffle as the museum began reassigning exhibition space. For this reason, in recent years my visits to the Brooklyn Museum became increasingly less frequent but I was drawn back by the prospect of seeing “Life, Death and Transformation in the Americas,” on the museum’s fifth floor near “American Identities,” which, in the past, I found sorely lacking. I was pleasantly surprised, however, when I revisited this exhibit. It appears that the show has been “tweaked.” Among the nearly 350 American objects on view twenty-six were made by Native American artists and include modern and contemporary works such as Indians with Umbrellas, a 1971 painting by Fritz Scholder, and Great Lakes Girls, a pair of beaded high heeled tennis shoes created in 2008 by Teri Greeves. In addition, there are two video screens showing a 1894 film of the Buffalo Dance and the Sioux Ghost Dance, also from 1894. Three paintings of Native Americans by non-Native artists are also on display. I was particularly struck by the wall texts, which expressed the show’s theme and explained the relationship of the Native American works to the other American objects on view. I was especially gratified to read the following statement in the introductory wall text: “In an effort to broaden conventional notions of what constitutes ‘American‘ art, we have also included Native American objects . . . .” This concept was always part of the underlying philosophy of the exhibit but it has only recently been articulated to the public by means of wall texts.
My appetite whetted, it was with great anticipation that I moved on to “Life, Death and Transformation in the Americas.” I wasn’t disappointed. The introductory wall text sets forth the overriding theme that the exhibit “explores some of the ways in which Native peoples of North, Central and South America, past and present, have expressed their beliefs about the world around them.” The show opens with a Huastec stone sculpture (Mexico, circa 900-1250 C.E.) of a man carrying a skeleton on his back and closes with the equally dramatic 19th century Kwakwaka’wakw Thunderbird Transformation Mask. In between, visitors are treated to over one hundred masterpieces, twenty-one of which have never been seen by the public. Among the highlights are a late 19th century Zuni Paiyatemu kachina, a Bak’was (Wild Man) masked made by John H. Livingston (Kwakwaka’wakw) in 1970, an exquisite Lambayeque textile fragment (Peru, circa 750-1350 C.E.), a 1970 water jar by Margaret Tafoya, a Butterfly jar with Sityakti designs by Grace Chapella (1951-60), two monumental 19th century Heiltsuk cedar house posts from the Northwest Coast, a 20th century Pami’wa (Columbia/Brazil) full body dance mask made of painted bark cloth, a Coclé (Panama) gold plaque with crocodile deity (circa 700 - 900 C.E.) and “The Paracas Textile” (300 B.C.E. - 100 C.E), which was actually made by the Nasca, another ancient Peruvian culture, rather than by the Paracas people.
According to Nancy Rosoff, curator of Arts of the Americas and co-curator of “Life, Death and Transformation in the Americas” with Susan Zeller, associate curator of Native American art, it is important that the exhibit is on the museum’s fifth floor. In the past, New World Native and African art were, by design, displayed on the first floor, the thinking at the time being that visitors ascended from the primitive to the civilized. Ms. Rosoff also stated that, if the logistics required to get them to the fifth floor can be overcome, the famed totem poles will once again be on public view in about two years.
For the most part, art produced by America’s indigenous peoples is not included as part of the general art cannon. This is especially true with regard to contemporary Native artists. Their art is treated as if it exists separate from the work of their contemporaries of other races and ethnicities. Usually, to see Native art one must go to a museum specializing in Indian art or to an ethnographic or Natural History Museum. Most large encyclopedic museums display America’s Native art in one or two small galleries, as is the case at the Indianapolis Art Museum. It’s what I term the “back of the bus” mentality. However, change is occurring as evidenced by the Brooklyn Museum of Art and a number of other American museums that are exhibiting New World Native art in interesting and exciting ways. For example, for many years the Denver Art Museum has presented its collections of New World Native art in spectacular fashion, devoting almost an entire wing to Native American and pre-Columbian art that presents the artistic output of a wide variety of cultures from the prehistoric period to the present. The Native American section, in particular, reflects the continuum of New World Native art, offering works that represent works from pre-history to the present. The Denver Art Museum was among the first museums in the United States to build a collection of Native art based on the aesthetic quality of each artwork. DAM also creates opportunities for visitors to connect with living artists through its artist-in-residence program by watching contemporary Native American artists at work directly in the gallery space.
In addition to presenting the Native art of North American, DAM exhibits a pre-Columbian collection of over 3,000 works, representing almost every major culture in Mexico and Central and South America. Besides the traditional gallery space, a large number of the pre-Columbian pieces are available to the public for viewing in the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Study Gallery of Pre-Columbian Art, an innovative study-storage gallery. The large, glass-shelved display cases allow nearly all of the pre-Columbian collection to be put on permanent display for the public to see and to learn about the full spectrum New World Native cultures.
One of the driving forces behind a more equitable and balanced presentation of Native art has been “Changing Hands: Art Without Reservation,” a series of three exhibitions co-curated by Ellen Taubman and David McFadden, chief curator for the Museum of Art and Design in Manhattan. Focusing on different geographic areas of the United States and Canada, Part 1 presented contemporary Native art from the Southwest, Part 2 the West, Northwest and the Pacific, and Part 3 Northeastern and Southeastern United States and Canada. After premiering at MAD, each of the exhibitions traveled to other museum venues in the U.S. and Canada, introducing curators, collectors and museum-goers to the best of contemporary North American Native art. However, in spite of these groundbreaking exhibitions, change in terms of how and where Native art is presented in large, encyclopedic museums has been slow in coming. Ellen Taubman, one of the curators of “Changing Hands,” as quoted in “Native, North American, New,” an August 6, 2012 Wall Street Journal article, stated, "I don't agree that you need [to exhibit] the historic to legitimize the contemporary. Contemporary art by artists who have Native roots should be looked at within the same realm as all other contemporary art. But it isn't. When you go to the big exhibits, whether it's the Whitney Biennial or the New Museum Triennial or the contemporary art fairs, Native artists aren't represented." In the same article, Ms. Taubman also noted, "When I go to the galleries on the Lower East Side or Chelsea, I always think about the [Indian] work that I've seen that is comparable, sometimes better, but just isn't shown. I think it's going to happen and I haven't really found the answer to why there's been such a delay.”
Among those at the forefront of changing the perception of Native art as something static and separate, Kathleen Ash-Milby, associate curator at the National Museum of the American Indian in Manhattan, has been instrumental in highlighting the work of contemporary Native artists through numerous exhibitions and played a major role in bringing “We Are Here! The Eiteljorg Contemporary Art Fellowship” exhibit to New York.
As an advocate for Native art, I often feel that little headway is being made since the resistance to exhibiting this art on an equal footing with other types of art runs deep. Many museum directors and curators seem hopelessly mired in a mostly Euro-centric mindset. Perhaps it is due to a bias that what Native artists create is craft rather than art. Another part of the problem is that many curators and art critics do not have a background in Native art and, in some cases, are barely aware of it. For example, in “Reflections,” a January 4, 2013 article in the New York Times, four art critics for the paper “fanned out into museums in search of art that captured light, or referred to it, or generated it.” Of the twenty works discussed, only one may have been created by a New World Native artist - Saint Joseph and the Christ Child, Cuzco School, at the Brooklyn Museum. This 17th or 18th century painting was most probably the work of an Incan or, possibly, mestizo artist. In addition to the Brooklyn Museum, the critics visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Cloisters (a branch of the Met that houses a large medieval collection), the Frick Collection, the Studio Museum in Harlem and the Yale University Art Gallery. It would appear that in their quest, the critics did not delve into the New World Native art collections at the Brooklyn Museum, the Met or the Yale University Art Gallery and the National Museum of the American Indian in Manhattan was not even on their list. Of the works chosen to be included in the article, the overwhelming majority were by European artists.
Perhaps our best hope lies with colleges and college museums (though there, too, change moves at a bafflingly slow pace). At Vassar College, one of the most prestigious institutions of higher learning in the country, freshman art courses include Native American art. In addition, the art department has offered “A Different Way of Seeing: The Art of Native North America,” in which students considered issues regarding the acquisition and exhibition of Native American art, and “Change and Diversity in American Art, from the Beginnings to 1865,” a course that investigated a variety of art produced in America, including art produced by Native Americans during the prehistoric period as well as that of Native artists whose artistic contributions are usually overlooked in the study of the colonial, early republic and antebellum periods. This course also produced “A Different Way of Seeing: The Art of Native North America,” an on-line exhibition. In addition, the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, Vassar’s art museum, has presented “Forms of Exchange: Art of Native Peoples” and in 2013 will offer “Arctic Artistry,” an exhibition of Inuit works on paper as contemporary art.
According to artist, author and educator Gail Tremblay (Onondaga/Mi’kmaq), “Native artists have actually invented contemporary movements in American Art as well as influencing it but they leave the Native artists out when they talk about the major movements in contemporary art.” Native art had a major influence on important artistic movements of the 20th century, including Surrealism, Art Deco, Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art. Unfortunately, art created by Native people is usually not seen as part of the larger art cannon. Museums in the U.S. must once again assert their role as educators and be in the forefront of presenting art in a broader, more inclusive way. Work produced by New World Native artists must be given the same respect and museum space as that produced by other artists. It can no longer be relegated to a few small galleries in the back of a museum and the content confined only to what has been produced in the past. Albion Federson, collector and former chair of the Heard Museum’s Collection Committee concurs. “Today’s Native artists,” he stated, “are creating some of the most exciting, most creative, most gifted, and least appreciated art in America.” He added that he wanted to see “America’s only truly indigenous art” shown and collected by all of the major art museums.
Making Sense of Sarah Sense's Gone With Him Series
BY E. J. GUARINO
Perhaps more than any other art form, movies have the ability to leave indelible pictures in our minds that affect us in ways we may not even realize. Who can forget Judy Garland as Dorothy dancing down the yellow brick road or clicking her heels together to return home in the Wizard of Oz; Marilyn Monroe declaring that diamonds are a girl’s best friend in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes; Bette Davis warning of a bumpy night in All About Eve; or Elizabeth Taylor making a triumphal entry into Rome in Cleopatra? However, Gone With the Wind may be the film with the most iconic series of images ever to come out of Hollywood. In particular, Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh are instantly recognizable the world over as Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara.
Almost since their inception, motion pictures have stereotyped Native Americans and women. Sarah Sense addresses such issues in art works that reference well-known Hollywood films. “I am trying,” she stated, “to physically and psychologically deconstruct the movie and change the narrative to empower women and Indians.” Sense combines movie posters and Mylar strips to comment on American popular culture, gender roles, and sexuality. She has incorporated the countenances of Hollywood legends such as Marilyn Monroe, Clint Eastwood, Gary Cooper, Ronald Reagan and Gene Autry into her art but, perhaps, none are as resonant as Gable and Leigh.
Sarah Sense’s work references traditional Native basket making but is thoroughly modern, blending Chitimacha weaving techniques and contemporary materials. She has taken an art form that has usually stereotyped Native Americans and has literally bent it to her will. Sense also chooses titles for her assemblages that make social, historical and political comments.
Gone with Him 3 by Sarah Sense, Chitimacha/Choctaw, woven photographs with Mylar and artist tape,12" x 36" (2008). Collection of E. J. Guarino
In Gone with Him 3 Sense takes control of the image by pitting herself against Rhett Butler but gives herself the upper hand since it is she, not he, who wields a gun. By doing so she has changed the narrative. It is now a female, and one who is Native American besides, who has the power as evidenced by her holding one of the quintessential symbols of maleness.
Gone with Him 4 by Sarah Sense, Chitimacha/Choctaw, woven photographs with Mylar and artist tape,12" x 36" (2008). Collection of E. J. Guarino
Sense slyly manipulates imagery in a different way in Gone With Him 4 by putting a close-up of her face alongside that of Gable and Leigh. By doing so she puts herself and, by extension, Native Americans, on an equal footing with two of Hollywood’s most famous stars. In this work, Vivien Leigh’s eye’s are downcast while Gable appears to be intently staring at her. However, Sense eyes them both with a hint of a smile, her face turned slightly toward the viewer.
Gone with Him 5 by Sarah Sense, Chitimacha/Choctaw, woven photographs with mylar and artist tape, 16” x 20” (2012). Collection of E. J. Guarino
One of the most famous images in Gone With the Wind is that of Scarlett swooning in Rhett Butler’s arms. It was reproduced in countless posters to promote the film and is familiar to millions worldwide. In Gone With Him 5, Sense inserts herself into the situation in a provocative manner. Buy doing so she forces the viewer to reconsider the relationship of the two protagonists because now a second female is included. This pieces also raises questions about Native sexuality which, in the past, was either portrayed as submissive (females) or violent and predatory (males). Unlike Scarlett who is passive in Rhett’s arms, as the third character in the story, Sense unabashedly looks out at her audience. Rather than being acted upon, it is she who acts and is empowered.
Gone with Him 6 by Sarah Sense, Chitimacha/Choctaw, woven photographs with Mylar and artist tape,12" x 36" (2012). Collection of E. J. Guarino
The artist takes even more control in Gone with Him 6, the final work in the series. Here Scarlett and Rhett are reduced to a supporting role while Sense becomes the focal point of the narrative. Reclining seductively and holding a six-shooter, Sense seems to ponder the iconic Hollywood image we all know so well, she and it separated by the designs of traditional Chitimacha basket making. The viewer is left to consider the divide between Hollywood’s portrayal of Indigenous people and reality, which in the view of Sense can only be bridged by Natives taking control of how they are portrayed..
Sara Sense is one of a growing number of Native artists who not only draw inspiration from popular culture but use it in their art to explore the impact it has had on our perceptions of Native people. From cigar store Indians, to team names (the Braves, the Redskins), Halloween costumes and the portrayal of Native people in movies, TV and music entertainment (one of the Village People was dressed as an Indian), Native symbols, clothing and culture have been appropriated by those who use it to stereotype Indigenous peoples. Sense is turning the tables but her approach is positive and often humorous. “I digitally manipulate photographs of my nation’s reservation, Hollywood, imagery, mass produced Indian posters and myself acting out cultural stereotypes . . . . ,” Sense stated. “Each print is then deconstructed and woven together into traditional Chitimacha basket patterns. The old forms of articulation with new forms of iconography create a collision echoing the cultural experience of my life.”
Seeing traditional Chitimacha basketry designs woven into her work makes it clear that Sense is taking control of media that have often portrayed Native Americans in a negative way. Fellow collector Ric Welch opined that “when Native artists use commercial images . . . it enlarges the vocabulary and broadens the definition of Native American art, even while it transcends ethnicity altogether.” I think he’s on to something.
All images are courtesy of the artist.
The author would like to express his sincere gratitude to Sarah Sense for her invaluable help with this article.
Contemporary Native American Jewelry for Men
BY E. J. GUARINO
Overwhelmingly, the vast amount of jewelry that is produced is created for and marketed to women. The reason is quite simple: In most industrialized countries, it is acceptable for females to adorn more parts of their body than it is for males. Women have the option of wearing a wide variety of ornamentation from head to toe - tiaras, earrings, necklaces, pendants, pins, armbands, bracelets, rings, belts, ankle bracelets, and even toe rings. For men, the choices are much more limited - a watch, a ring, belt buckles, a neck chain (usually with a religious symbol) and, in the past, a tie clip or tack and cufflinks. Though tie ornamentation has fallen out of favor, cufflinks appear to be making a bit of a comeback. A neck chain or bracelet is also acceptable as long as it is not ostentatious. Furthermore, it seems to be an unwritten law that men are to limit themselves to wearing only one or two items of jewelry at any one time. Unlike the animal kingdom where the male is showy and the female is plain, in most modern societies flamboyant adornment is considered feminine while drabness is a sign of masculinity.
Until a few years ago, I had stopped adding jewelry to my collection for one simple reason - I rarely wear any. Then, in 2006 I became aware of the work of contemporary Native American jewelers who were pushing the boundaries of their art in much the same way as other Native artists were doing with pottery, baskets, textiles, beadwork, sculpture and works on paper. They were refusing to be confined by tradition or by other people’s ideas of what Native art should or should not be.
Bracelet designed by Virgil Ortiz, Cochiti, wild spinach design, sterling silver,
size: medium - fits up to 6 5/8” wrist, 6”L x 4 1/2”w x 6 3/4 in diameter at widest point (2006). Collection of E. J. Guarino
The acquisition of my first piece of contemporary Native American jewelry was a bit of a fluke. At the time, I was actually interested in buying pottery but a wrist cuff by Virgil Ortiz caught my eye. Large and with a bold design, it definitely made a statement. I became more intrigued when I learned that, although the imagery (wild spinach design) and the material (silver) were considered traditional, another aspect of the piece definitely was not: the artist had designed the bracelet but had not actually made it. In the world of Native American jewelry, this was something new, indeed. While it has long been accepted practice among non-Native jewelry artists to design but not necessarily fabricate a piece, this was not the case for Native American jewelers. Collectors expected that every piece had to be made by the artist’s hand. By creating his own line of jewelry, Virgil Ortiz was once again challenging the status quo. However, it remained to be seen whether or not other collectors would accept this radical change to the way things had always been done. It was not only accepted; it was embraced.
Timing Belt Cuff by Pat Pruit, Laguna/Chiricahua Apache, 316 stainless steel, industrial timing belt,
7¼”L x ½”W, 3” in diameter at widest point (2009). Collection of E. J. Guarino
At that point, I figured buying a contemporary Native bracelet was simply a one shot deal. How wrong I was! A year later I discovered Pat Pruitt’s work. I had never seen anything like it before. Pruitt’s designs for men are unique while remaining decidedly masculine. I was particularly fascinated by his use of non-traditional materials such as stainless steel, titanium, carbon fiber, Teflon, precision casino dice, lapis lazuli, stingray and sharkskin leather, timing belts, and industrial diamonds though he does, on occasion, employ silver, copper, turquoise and coral - all considered traditional elements of Native jewelry making.
Buckles L to R: 316 stainless steel with stingray leather;
custom 6AI 4V titanium 1930s streamline with carbon fiber; 6AI 4V titanium skull buckle.
Like Virgil Ortiz, Pruitt also creates his pieces in a non-traditional way: they are machined. He has courageously brought the art of Native jewelry making into the 21st century by embracing technology. While, at first, some were resistant to Pruitt’s work because they felt it wasn’t traditionally handmade they came to realize that the artist had simply availed himself of a new fabrication technique. Pruitt’s work incorporates aspects of industrial as well as traditional design and takes inspiration from Native as well as non-Native cultures and is always bold and stylish. Although he has created a few pieces that are definitely not for the timid or conservative dresser, most of Pruitt’s creations are gutsy without being outlandish and any man would feel comfortable wearing his jewelry.
Collection of Jeff VanDyke
My next surprise came when I encountered the work of James Faks. This, indeed, was something different. Faks‘ jewelry for men may look simple, perhaps even plain, but such is not the case. It requires a discerning eye to appreciate the subtle sophistication of Faks‘ creations. Each piece, whether brushed, hammered, chased, stamped, filed or domed, begins as a pure silver ingot and is made by hand with tools fabricated by the artist out of high carbon steel. Although his jewelry for men is crafted using traditional tools, it has a decidedly contemporary look that is bold yet understated. Faks’ handmade pieces have a particularly masculine feel and his belts are sleek and elegant.
Hammered wrist cuff, sterling silver, 1.5” x 5.5”
Above images courtesy of James Faks
According to Faks’, jewelry making is a way of sharing himself with the world. As part of his process he draws on his spirituality, which infuses his creations. In addition to jewelry making, Faks’ is a painter, (See “Open a New Window,” May 2010), sculptor, writer and musician. As an artist, James Faks chooses a variety of media with with to express himself.
See Other Side bracelet by Robert Sorrell, Navajo, cuttlefish cast silver, 6” x 1¼” x 2½” (2010-11). Collection of E. J. Guarino
The very first time I saw a bracelet by Robert Sorrell I was immediately taken with its beauty. However, when I turned it over and looked at the underside, something most jewelry artists leave plain since it is not seen, I knew I had encountered something very special: a piece of jewelry that not only made me smile but caused me to laugh out loud. Without doubt, what appeals to me most about Robert Sorrell’s jewelry is his sense of humor. The subtle beauty of the bracelet’s front side is created by cuttlefish casting, producing wave-like patterns that evoke water and a raised, jagged line suggestive of an avanyu, a mythic serpent being, associated with lightening and rain. There is also a barely discernible hole, which when looked through, directs the eye to an arrow on the reverse side bearing the artist’s last name. The interior of the piece also has images of two hands with extended index fingers, one pointing to the small hole, the other pointing to the arrow as well as to a “ribbon” bearing the words “SEE OTHER SIDE.” The traditional side of the bracelet hides the underlying humor of the piece, which is quite satiric and suggests that most people are probably content with looking at what is expected and not going beyond that.
Robert Sorrell has designed for the high fashion collections of couturier Thierry Mugler as well as for Cirque du Soleil. His work can also be seen in the film To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar. One of the hallmarks of Sorrell’s work is his penchant for hiding humorous “secrets” on the inner portions of his pieces.
Micaceous seed pot with “shifting sands” silver stopper by Preston Duwyenie, Hopi,
2.50”w x 5.50”h, including metal stopper (2012). Collection of E. J. Guarino
I was well acquainted with Preston Duwyenie’s work (or so I thought) through his ceramics, the majority of which incorporate beautifully cuttlefish-cast silver medallions. However, in spite of this fact, I had no idea that Duwyenie had begun his artistic career as a jewelry maker and that his is a master of this medium as well until I saw one of his bracelets at the 2012 Heard Museum Indian Market. Unfortunately, before I could acquire it, a friend snatched it up. Mr. Duwyenie, found the repartee over the piece that went on between my friend and myself humorous and graciously offered to make another bracelet for me. He and his wife, Debra, measured my wrist, we shook hands and two months later my bracelet arrived as promised.
Cuttlefish cast silver bracelet, shifting sands design by Preston Duwyenie, Hopi,
6.5“L x 1/2“W x 2.5“ in diameter at widest point (2012). Collection of E. J. Guarino. Image courtesy of Preston Duwyenie
Preston Duwyenie produces a limited amount of jewelry that is highly sought after by collectors and galleries because each piece is the epitome of quiet elegance. As an artist, Duwyenie has stated that he prefers simplicity and a case can be made that both his ceramics and his jewelry reflect a minimalist sensibility. Duwyenie has stated that he wants to expose people to Native American culture while, at the same time, introducing Native Americans to non-Native Modernism. He has also expressed the need to challenge the established art world while contributing to it.
Mountain Range sterling silver belt buckle by Maria Samora, Taos Pueblo, 3“L x 2“w, (2012). Collection of Jeffrey VanDyke
Without doubt, Maria Samora’s work is stunning and arguably among the finest contemporary jewelry being produced. All of Samora’s pieces are made by hand and, more often than not, she uses non-traditional materials such as gold, diamonds, and pearls. Samora’s art is based on her interpretation of geometric forms combined with various textures, overlays and patinas. Her ability to balance tradition with experimentation results in elegant contemporary designs.
Diamond Peak sterling silver man’s wrist cuff by Maria Samora, Taos Pueblo,
6”L x 1”w x 2.50” in diameter at widest point (2012). Collection of E. J. Guarino
For years I had admired Samora’s brilliant creations but lamented that I never saw any jewelry produced by her for men. Her pieces for women are bold yet feminine - no easy feat - so I hoped that it would only be a matter of time before Samora began designing for men. At a recent Heard Museum Indian Market I was delighted by the jewelry for men that I encountered at Samora’s booth. The selection was gutsy, visually striking and certainly every bit as masculine as the work produced by her male counterparts. I was pleased that I could finally acquire a piece by Maria Samora for my collection.
Kachina bracelet ( 6 3/4“ x 1 1/2“ ) and Heartline bear bracelet (6 1/2“ x 1 1/2“)
by Alvin Yellowhorse, Navajo. Collection of Jeffrey Van Dyke
I became aware of Alvin Yellowhorse’s work through a friend who specializes in collecting Native American jewelry for men. He owns two bracelets by the artist and considers them the best in his collection. Yellowhorse’s jewelry is unusual because although he uses traditional techniques and materials he does so in ways that are uniquely contemporary while still reflecting Zuni, Hopi, and Ancestral Puebloan influences as well as his own Navajo heritage. The artist also draws inspiration from petroglyphs and from the spectacular landscapes of the Southwest. His work is coveted by collectors because of its intricate imagery achieved through the delicate and time consuming process of inlay. Yellowhorse employs two different techniques to construct his creations: channel inlay and corn row wave inlay. With channel inlay all of the stones that will make up the design are put together first, then ground flush and, finally, they are highly polished. Of the two, corn row wave inlay (invented by Yellowhorse) is the longer and more arduous process since each stone must be individually cut and rounded over before it is set into silver or gold.
Many contemporary Native jewelry artists have moved beyond the expected use of turquoise, coral and silver and traditional adornments such as concho belts, bolo ties and squash blossom necklaces. However, when they do uses these materials and forms they do so with there own unique, contemporary twist, often employing irony, satire or social commentary. I am just beginning my exploration of contemporary Native jewelry for men and what I have encountered so far has been so surprising and exhilarating that I look forward to learning much more.
The Graphic Art of Kenojuak Ashevak
BY E. J. GUARINO
Even when she was well into her eighties, Inuit artist Kenojuak Ashevak (usually simply referred to as Kenojuak) continued to produce powerful images that were always fresh and surprising. Her unique vision made her one of Canada’s most important contemporary artists whose work is sought after by museums and collectors worldwide. Her body of work ranges from highly stylized representational pieces to the delightfully surreal. In Kenojuak’s fantastical world an owl can be blue, a swan pink, a polar bear yellow, a fox bright red, a goose literally golden, and a fish can even have leaf-like fins. Because of her emphasis on composition, relying on placement of imagery, fluid lines, the use of positive and negative space and the interplay of colors and shapes, rather than a strict conformity to reality, Kenojuak’s art can be appreciated by anyone for its utter beauty and requires no knowledge of Inuit culture. Kenojuak Ashevak’s art is about happiness - the sheer joy of living. She did not explore the darker aspects of life. It should be noted that it was extremely rare for artists of Kenojuak’s generation to do so and the same was true of the generation that followed. It was not until the third generation that a wide range of Inuit artists began to explore controversial subject matter. Kenojuak, instead, gives us vibrant works that make the viewer feel happy to be alive.
Early on in my collecting all I knew of this artist were her prints of fantastical birds but I was told by a staff member at the now defunct Isaacs/Innuit Gallery in Toronto that this was merely a small part of her artistic output. Wanting to learn more, I was directed to contact the Art Gallery of Ontario which I did. Explaining that I was a teacher and beginning collector, I was graciously allowed time in the Inuit portion of the museum’s storage area and assigned a volunteer who brought out two carts loaded with drawings. As we went through them one by one we marveled at the range of subject matter - landscapes, scenes of life as it was once lived on the land, and images of animals other than birds - that were unfamiliar to us. Although prints are the most well-known aspect of her output, Kenojuak produced hundreds of rarely seen drawings that would be considered atypical by those only familiar with her print work. In recent years, however, a number of drawings produced by the artist have been made available to a wider range of collectors. This may have to do with the current interest in Inuit drawings, something that was not always the case.
When I first started collecting Inuit works on paper in the mid-1990s I couldn’t fathom why one of a kind drawings were relatively inexpensive compared to prints, which were usually produced in multiples of fifty. It was the same staff member at the Isaacs/Innuit Gallery who explained that, overwhelmingly, prints are based on drawings but not all drawings are used for this purpose. Those that are not selected are usually archived. However, some were released to galleries for sale. Over the years, thanks to farsighted gallerists such as Pat Feheley, owner of Feheley Fine Arts in Toronto, and Judy Scott Kardosh and Robert Kardosh of the Marion Scott Gallery in Vancouver, the market has changed. They helped build a base of collectors who not only have an avid interest in Inuit drawings but in some cases collect them exclusively.
Until I learned the range of Kenojuak’s art I had no particular interest in acquiring examples of her work, mistakenly believing that it consisted solely of extravagantly imagined birds with feathers that seemed to explode out of their bodies in a riot of color. As my knowledge increased so did my fascination with Kenojuak’s graphics.
Spirit Kenojuak Ashevak, Inuit, Cape Dorset, pencil, colored pencil, and pentel,
10” x 13” (1996-97). Collection of E. J. Guarino
Ironically, Spirit, the first work I acquired by Kenojuak, employs the image of a bird. What attracted me to this drawing was that, although it was small, it was powerful. The piece’s ambiguity was also intriguing. Exactly what kind of spirit is this? Is it the spirit of a particular bird? Perhaps it is the spirit that watches over all birds. Then again, it occurred to me that the drawing might be about transformation - a bird in the process of becoming human or a shaman becoming a bird. From a purely visual perspective, Spirit is appealing because of the artist’s muted use of color, the tactile quality of the black and gray employed to create the body of the creature and because it’s tone is otherworldly.
Deep Blue Sea by Kenojuak Ashevak, lithograph & stencil on Arches cover grey paper, 19/50, Cape Dorset, 30”h x 44½”w,
Cape Dorset Annual Print Collection #13 (2003).
Donated from the Collection of E. J. Guarino to the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center at Vassar College in 2007 in honor of Amanda Caitlin Burns.
Four years passed before I acquired another work by Kenojuak but it was large and spectacular. As a print, the details of Deep Blue Sea are so crisp, the colors so rich that it can easily be mistaken for a drawing. Blue is the overriding color, which gives the piece a serene quality. Standing in front of this unusually large print, the viewer is immersed in a watery undersea fantasy populated by clams, conches, two large fish blithely swimming by and a burst of yellow in the top middle of the page that may represent a starfish or, perhaps, the sun. As a work of art, Deep Blue Sea made such an impression on me that a year later I purchased three prints by Kenojuak and I have been buying her work ever since.
For collectors of Inuit prints the highpoint of the year is the Cape Dorset Annual Print Collection, which is released to the public each October. I became such a fan of Kenojuak’s art that since 2004 I have bought one, sometimes two of the artist’s prints from each year’s collection. In the first year of avid acquisition I purchased two prints from the annual collection and another from the early days of Inuit print making.
A Fine Catch by Kenojuak Ashevak, etching & Aquatint on Arches white paper,Printer: Studio PM, 39/50;
Colors: blue, green, red, brown, black, beige; Inuit, Cape Dorset; Paper size: 19”h x 20”w;
Plate size: 12”h x 12”w, Cape Dorset Annual Print Collection # 10 (2004). Collection of E. J. Guarino
I was drawn to A Fine Catch by the wide-eyed owl that looks boldly out at the viewer, something many of Kenojuak’s birds do, and by the work’s subtle humor. The owl’s expression seems to be one of surprise, as if the bird with the snake in its beak was somehow able to get what should rightfully have been the owl’s meal. How the animals are placed on the page creates a tension that elicits the work’s humor. The interplay of soft colors and the sensuous quality of the shapes the artist employed produced a print that is also visually beautiful.
During this same time period I came to the conclusion that there was a “hole” in my collection of Inuit prints because it contained no early works. Fortunately, the Arctic Artistry Gallery had a number of these early prints and, with the guidance and encouragement of owner Elaine Blechman, I began to acquire them.
Untitled work by Kenojuak Ashevak, etching, ed. 22/50, Cape Dorset, Paper size: 12”h x 17½”w; Plate size: 8½”h x 11¼”w,
Cape Dorset Annual Print Collection #30 (1962).
Collection of E. J. Guarino
An untitled etching by Kenojuak from 1962 immediately caught my attention because of its resemblance to A Fine Catch. The imagery consists of an owl, a fox, another bird that is most probably a goose, and a walking head, a strange being from Inuit folklore. This head with arms and legs appears to be standing on the owl’s back and it is only this odd creature and the owl who look directly out from the page, confronting the viewer. Although the animals in the print would be familiar to the artist, this work was clearly never intended to be a simple representation of Arctic wildlife. The two figures that boldly meet the viewer’s gaze evoke a dreamlike quality, especially since one of them is a disembodied head.
Ravens Entwined by Kenojuak Ashevak, lithograph on Arches cover cream paper, Printer: Pitseolak Niviaqsi, 39/50; Colors: blue, purple, yellow, orange, pink,brown, black; Inuit, Cape Dorset, 2.5”h x 30”w, Cape Dorset Annual Print Collection #11 (2004).
Collection of E. J. Guarino
Quite a number of Kenojuak’s prints are decidedly strange. Ravens Entwined is one of her most spectacular works in this vein. Consisting of a group of disembodied raven’s heads whose exaggerated necks are entwined, the print is unique among Inuit graphic art. Rather than portraying the birds‘ natural black coloration, Kenojuak chose to create a rainbow of ravens on a white page by employing blue, purple, yellow, orange, pink, brown, and black. This adds to the surrealism of the piece.
Iqalutsiavak (Beautiful Fish) by Kenojuak Ashevak, stonecut & stencil on Osaki Seichosen kozo paper; Printer: Qiatsuq Niviaqsi, 38/50; Colors: green, blue, orange, yellow, burgundy; Inuit, Cape Dorset, 26”h x 32”w, Cape Dorset Annual Print Collection #11 (2005). Collection of E. J. Guarino
Kenojuak manipulated reality in quite a different manner in Beautiful Fish in which one one bold image is placed in the center of the page, something that is commonly done in Inuit prints. Here, however, the animal appears to be sensually swimming down the paper, its body forming an S-like shape. The yellow, orange and burgundy of the fish’s body blend together, adding to the work’s visual appeal. The creature’s elongated, balloon-like fins are akin to the opulent feathers of Kenojuak’s fantastic birds.
Roaring Wolf by Kenojuak Ashevak, pencil crayon & ink & pencil, Inuit, Cape Dorset
20”x26” (2003 – 04). Collection of E. J. Guarino
Roaring Wolf is a completely different approach to representing the natural world. In this work, the animal is neither rendered in a completely realistic style, nor is it abstracted. Once again, using a muted palette Kenojuak creates a wolf that is ferocious but charming, appearing to be more the type one might encounter in a folk tale rather than in reality. Certain aspects of the wolf such as its nails and teeth are stylized and its mouth is highlighted by the use of red. The beast’s fur is drawn in such a way that it has a tactile quality. The wolf appears to be sly and on the prowl. However, the title of this work is puzzling since roaring is not a word or action that is usually associated with wolves. Howling or growling would be more appropriate but the reason for the use of an inexact word might be a simple one. When Inuit prints are sent from the Arctic co-ops where they are produced most are titled, though a few are not. The opposite is true of drawings. Most arrive at galleries as untitled works and some galleries simply choose to sell them as such; other galleries, sometimes in consultation with the artists, may decide to title the drawings they have received to make them more marketable. Whether or not this was the case with Roaring Wolf is unknown but it is a possibility.
Spotted Loon by Kenojuak Ashevak, lithograph on BFK Rives cream paper; Printer: Pitseolak Niviaqsi; 36/50, Inuit, Cape Dorset, 28”w x 22”h,
Cape Dorset Annual Print Collection #9 (2006).
Collection of E. J. Guarino
For sheer visual splendor, it would be hard to surpass Kenojuak’s Spotted Loon, one of the most glorious Inuit prints ever produced. Although I can be termed an animal lover, I am particular in the extreme about the type of wildlife themed art that enters my collection. Photo realistic depictions don’t appeal to me and anything that even hits at sentimentality is immediately rejected. As soon as I saw Spotted Loon, however, I instantly knew I wanted to acquire this print. The bird is identifiable as a loon but Kenojuak has played with coloration, using a steel blue tone and posing the animal against a light burnt sienna background, making the image extremely appealing.
Out From The Night by Kenojuak Ashevak, etching & aquatint, 33/50; Inuit, Cape Dorset, 33” x 42”,
Cape Dorset Annual Print Collection #15 (2000). Collection of E. J. Guarino
Out From The Night was a revelation to me. One day in 2007 I was visiting Elaine Bleckman at her Arctic Artistry Gallery and, as I walked in, I stopped talking halfway through my greeting and stood frozen, staring at this spectacular print. I had never seen anything like it and was surprised to learn that it had been produced by Kenojuak Ashevak. The creatures in the print were certainly not realistic and their amorphous bodies, looking very much like blobs you might see in a lava lamp, seemed to glow with an inner light. Placing the imagery on a background of subtle shades of black, Kenojuak creates her figures using only two colors: turquoise and gold. One of the animals appears to be an Arctic fox, another a bird and two others may be a rabbit and another bird while one of the strange beings has what appears to be a human head. The visual ambiguity of the work gives the print its surrealistic quality.
Long Necked Loon by Kenojuak Ashevak, lithograph; Paper: BFK Rives tan; Printer: Pitseolak Niviaqsi, 36/50, Inuit, Cape Dorset, 30”h x 41.5”w, Cape Dorset Annual Print Collection # 16 (2008).
Collection of E. J. Guarino
I always say that collecting is a process and this is certainly true of my acquiring works by Kenojuak Ashevak. Although I was more attracted to other aspects of the artist’s graphic art than to her famous birds I finally came to appreciate them and felt that the collection should have at least one example of a Kenojuak bird with fabulous feathers. I saw a print that I liked in the 2007 Cape Dorset Print Collection but Elaine Blechman, the mentor for the Inuit part of my collection, told me “That’s not the one.” I trusted her judgment and expertise but worried because I would have to wait another year for a chance at a bird by Kenojuak and there was no guarantee that, even then, I would find “the one.” Sure enough, in the fall of 2008 Elaine showed me Long Necked Loon and we both agreed that this was the piece to add to the collection. As soon as I saw it I thought it exquisite and still do. As with her earlier Spotted Loon, this is not a mere slavish representation of Nature. Kenojuak is not a realist and here she turns the bird into a fantastical creature. The loon’s feathers are composed of muted tones that evolve into bright colors that are more striking because of the print’s tan background and the placement of the bird against it. The artist presents the loon in a flowing, sensuous manner that suggests life and movement.
Sunlit Ravens by Kenojuak Ashevak, etching & aquatint; Paper: Arches White; Printer: Studio PM, 38/50, Inuit, Cape Dorset, 35.5”h x 40”w, Cape Dorset Annual Print Collection # 10 (2009).
Collection of E. J. Guarino
Usually I view the works from the Cape Dorset Annual Print Collection online and then drive about a half hour to the Arctic Artistry gallery to view them in person and discuss the merits of each one with Elaine Blechman. I arrive with my choices based on what I have seen on the Internet, but seeing them in reality always changes the mix. This was especially true of Sunlit Ravens which I spotted as I was about to leave the gallery. “I don’t remember seeing this,” I said. “It positively glows!” I had, of course, seen this print on my computer but it had made no impression on me because the print’s incandescent qualities do not translate well to a photographic image. If I had not seen the work in person I would not have purchased it. The variety of yellow tonalities in the print are so mesmerizing that it is hard for a viewer to look away. Once again, Kenojuak has given us her own unique perspective on reality since ravens are black. Here we see the birds through the eyes of the artist. Their bodies have been hit by the short-lived and much welcomed sunlight of the Arctic summer. Rather than realistically portraying the color of the ravens, Kenojuak uses light to suggest how the Arctic comes bursting to life with the arrival of the sun after the long darkness of winter. Seeing this print in person, the viewer can’t help feel as if he or she is being bathed in sunlight.
Animals Out Of Darkness, signed Kenojuak Ashevak, but known to be the work of her husband Johnniebo Ashevak (1923-1972), Cape Dorset, stonecut on paper, 5/50 , 19½” x 21¾” (1961). Ex-collection of Honorable Mark M. de Weerdt, Chief Justice, Northwest Territories, Canada.
Collection of E. J. Guarino
The importance of light and shadow should not be underestimated in Kenojuak’s work. It is especially important in Animals Out of Darkness, a work that has stylistic similarities to Out From The Night, a work produced thirty-nine years later in 2000.
Complicating my misconceptions about Inuit graphics was the fact that for many years the only early prints I had seen were black-and-white etchings and engravings which gave me a rather distorted view. This changed when, in 2010, I saw Animals Out of Darkness, which was produced in 1961. The use of color by artists just learning the possibilities of the print medium, which had only been introduced to Cape Dorset in the late 1950s, is stunning. The animals emerge from darkness, seemingly rushing forward into light, giving the work a surreal rather than representational quality. Clearly, this work is not “primitive” by any definition of the word. I was amazed that artists who only recently had been introduced to the complexities and technical challenges of printmaking could produce such a visually arresting work.
Not part of any of the annually-released Cape Dorset print collections, the creation of Animals Out of Darkness involves a bit of a mystery. The staff of the Marion Scott Gallery in Vancouver, where I purchased the print, had heard that it was Johnniebo, Kenojuak’s husband, who was responsible for the piece, but that it was signed Kenojuak because she was already quite famous, making the work marketable. However, Inuit photographer Jimmy Manning told the staff of the Marion Scott Gallery that it is believed that both Kenojuak and Johnniebo worked on this piece (a collaborative effort). Since Kenojuak already had a well-established reputation, it was decided to sign it solely under her name.
Young Bird in Flight by Kenojuak Ashevak, etching, aquatint, sugar lift & hand painted by Beatriz Sobrado Sámano, 31/50, Inuit, Cape Dorset, 30½”h x 40½”w, Cape Dorset Annual Print Collection # 13 (2010). Collection of E. J. Guarino
The 2010 Cape Dorset Annual Print Collection contained a number of fascinating prints by Kenojuak but I was immediately drawn to the inherent humor of Young Bird in Flight – a young bird suddenly finding himself itself in mid air and freaking out. I was also intrigued that a non-Inuit had hand painted each print (something that had never been done before) as well as by the use of the sugar lift process. I had no idea what the term sugar lift meant so I contacted Patricia Phagan, the Phillip and Lynn Straus Curator of Prints and Drawings at the Loeb Art Center, Vassar College who said in an e-mail that it was an aquatint process. She went on to explain that “ . . . you brush a design on the [printing] plate using a sugar solution. Let the plate dry. Coat the plate in varnish. Then soak the plate in water. The sugar will swell and lift the varnish off the plate. These exposed areas are then covered with an aquatint powder and bitten in acid. The resulting little pits in the plate will hold the ink when printed. The process creates an effect of brush like strokes.” The sugar lift technique certainly adds to the visual beauty of the piece by lending it a painterly quality and enhancing the blue and gold tones employed by the artist. Kenojuak’s humorous perspective on Nature lends a special dimension to her work. Seeing young birds attempting to fly is something she would commonly experience in her Arctic homeland but Kenojuak allows us to see it through her eyes.
Sun Sister by Kenojuak Ashevak, etching, aquatint, sugar lift & hand painted on Arches paper, /50, Inuit, Cape Dorset, 31½”h x 40½”w, Cape Dorset Annual Print Collection # 11 (2011). Collection of E. J. Guarino
As quoted in Landmarks of Canadian Art by Peter Mellen (McLelland & Stewart, 1978), Kenojuak stated, "I am an owl, and I am a happy owl. I like to make people happy and everything happy. I am the light of happiness and I am a dancing owl." This philosophy is evident in all of her work, but especially in Sun Sister. Looking at this print the viewer can’t help but feel a sense of joy. The central image is a smiling, yellow and white sun. Like rays, eight birds emanate from it. Although it may not, at first, be obvious, Kenojuak has once again drawn on the realities of her Arctic environment to create a work that is not quite representational. The arrival of the sun after the long Arctic winter heralds a time of plenty for both humans and animals. Birds are particularly dependent on the season of light, coming by the millions to the Far North from thousands of miles away to mate, raise their young and then fly south again. Some species feast on the abundance of fish while others avail themselves of the vast swarms of mosquitoes that appear at this time of year. With great subtlety Kenojuak suggests the relationship between the sun and, not only birds but, all living creatures.
Raven’s Proposal by Kenojuak Ashevak, etching & aquatint on Arches White paper; Printer: Studio PM, 30/50, Inuit,
Cape Dorset, 26.25”h x 25.5”w, Cape Dorset Annual Print Collection # 7 (2012). Collection of E. J. Guarino
During the Arctic spring and early summer the land and the air come alive with millions of birds seeking a mate. The males often perform elaborate courting dances, bobbing their heads, hopping about and displaying their feathers. In Raven’s Proposal Kenojuak captures just such a moment - a male bird offering a spectacular display of his plumage to impress a female. The use of the word proposal in the print’s title lends a human quality to the birds, suggesting that the methods they use to attract a partner are not really all that different from those employed by humans. Beyond the work’s subtle and sly humor, it is striking visually. The gradations of hue, the perfect placement of the two birds on the page and the exquisite feather’s of the male make Raven’s Proposal one of Kenojuak’s most beautiful prints.
For art lovers and collectors worldwide, Kenojuak Ashevak’s prints are the face of Inuit art and of contemporary Canadian art as well. Though famous for this work, Ashevak produced art in a variety of other media such as drawing and sculpture and also created designs for stained glass and textiles. Age did not diminish Kenojuak’s creativity and her work continues to inspire younger generations of Inuit artists. In Canada she is an artistic icon and national treasure.
This article is dedicated to the memory of Kenojuak Ashevak who died on January 8, 2013.
BY E. J. GUARINO
By the middle of the last century Alaska was being referred to as the Last Frontier and as the Millennium approached outer space was well ensconced in the mind of the general public as the Final Frontier thanks to Star Trek. Now, at the dawn of the 21st century there is another frontier to consider - cyberspace, the Ultimate Frontier. I had never really thought much about cyberspace before meeting the artist Skawennati. As far as I was concerned, it was simply a place where Emails went back and forth and where a vast amount of information on a myriad of subjects could be retrieved at the push of a button. Being more of a technophobe than a technophile, I had no idea that cyberspace was a new dimension where one could live a completely different life through an avatar, an electronic representation of oneself in this virtual universe. In this brave new world it is possible to change one’s gender, age, height or any other physical aspect of oneself. In short, you can recreate yourself to your own specifications and live an alternate life. One’s avatar can be human, animal, plant, mineral or any combination of these and live in the present, past or future. It is possible to travel in the virtual world by walking, running, flying or even teleporting.
Katsitsahawi Capozzo dressed as an Aztec in 1490 and as a space traveler in the year 2374.
From Imagining Indians in the 25th Century by Skawennati.
One of Skawennati’s earliest forays into creating a Native presence in cyberspace was Imagining Indians in the 25th Century which she created in 2001. This Web site allows the viewer to time travel via a timeline of Native history that begins in the year 1490 in the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan and ends at the Edmonton Olympics in 2490. With just a few mouse clicks, one is able to span 1,000 years of Native history. The guide through this millennium is Katsitsahawi Capozzo, a young Mohawk woman, who is presented in each era in the form of a “paper doll” that the viewer can dress in the clothing of the period he or she is exploring. In addition, at each stop on the journey one can read an entry in Katsitsahawi’s journal to learn what was going on historically as seen through the eyes of a Native woman. Imagining Indians in the 25th Century is educational, thought provoking and entertaining.
Click the link to the right to visit Imagining Indians in the 25th Century: www.imaginingindians.net
For some time now, Skawennati has been working on TimeTraveller™, her current artistic endeavor in cyberspace. By creating material directly intended for the Internet Skawennati is able to reach a vast audience that will most probably view her work on a relatively small computer screen that, according to the artist, creates “a more intimate and so more positive empathetic relationship with the viewer. Skawennati is not unlike Keith Haring who arrived at a similar conclusion with regard to video, a kindred medium. In his journal entry of February 11, 1979 Haring wrote, “Video - a medium capable of reaching higher levels of communication - more involved than painting/sculpture.”
Storyboard from TimeTraveller™, a collage of scans from the artist’s sketchbook, pencil and marker on paper.
TimeTraveller™ is a machinima, a relatively new practice of making movies in virtual environments. TimeTraveller™ is a machinima series being created in Second Life, an online world. According to Skawennati, “Second Life sells space on their servers using the metaphor of ‘land.’ If you want a space to build, you need to find land to do so.” Since the artist and her team planned to create entire sets and leave them up for extended periods they concluded that they needed to own land in cyberspace. “And believe me,” Skawennati commented, “the irony of a bunch of Indians paying real money for virtual land never gets old!” Eventually, an “island” was acquired and named AbTeC Island after Aboriginal Territories in Cyberspace (AbTeC), a research network with which the artist is affiliated.
Hunter Hovers Outside the Storage Locker He Calls Home ll, production still from TimeTraveller™ by Skawennati; digital inkjet print with archival inks on poly banner, 36” x 60” (2010)
Set in the 22nd century, TimeTraveller™ is the story of Hunter, a young Mohawk who, though he possesses many of the traditional skills of his ancestors, feels alienated from the over populated, super-commercialized world in which he lives.
Storyboards for the Face Off scene from TimeTraveller™, from the artist’s sketchbook, pencil and pencil crayon on paper.
Face Off, production still from TimeTraveller™ by Skawennati; digita inkjet print with archival inks on poly banner, 36” x 60” (2010)
With the aid of a new technology called TimeTraveller™, Hunter is able to go on a futuristic vision quest that allows him to move back and forth in time, crossing and recrossing the dimensions of past, present and our future. On this journey Hunter experiences historical conflicts involving Indigenous people and mets Karahkwenhawi, a beautiful, young Mohawk woman from our present era. It is through her that Hunter begins to see Native issues from a uniquely First Nations perspective.
Native Love, production still from TimeTraveller™ by Skawennati; digital inkjet print with archival inks on poly banner, 36” x 60” (2012)
Each scene in TimeTraveller™ is thoughtfully and artistically composed. Although it deals with a number of serious historical and social issues, many controversial, this work contains a great deal of humor, often through such pop culture references as the films Blade Runner, Nightmare on Elm Street, The Evil Dead, Halloween, Ghost in the Machine and Friday the 13th (by having a character in Episode 3 wear a “Mama’s Boy” T-shirt). There are also visual allusions to music icons Boy George, Billy Idol and Duran Duran as well as to aspects of a consumerist society through logos for McDonald’s, Google, and Marlboro cigarettes. However, to catch this subtle humor requires that the viewer pay more than just casual attention to each episode.
Warrior Freddy, production still from TimeTraveller™ by Skawennati digital inkjet print with archival inks on poly banner, 36” x 60”
TimeTraveller™ is extremely enjoyable because of its many plot twists and turns. Story lines are revealed in fragments and, often, a minor character in one episode becomes a major one in another.
Jingle Dancers Assembled, production still from TimeTraveller™ by Skawennati digital inkjet print with archival inks on poly banner, 36” x 60”
Envisioned as a work in progress, TimeTraveller™ will eventually be comprised of ten episodes that will involve viewers in a variety of Native issues. In the past such themes were presented from a distinctly non-Native perspective. Throughout the Americas, Native peoples had no input with regard to stories and images that depicted them. Books, plays, paintings, sculptures, and, later, movies, radio and TV portrayed Natives by means of stereotypes. The Indigenous peoples of the New World were presented, at various time periods, as noble savages, blood thirsty, exotic, monosyllabic, humorless and, in more recent times, possessing a wisdom beyond that of any other race. Males were often shown to be violent and highly sexual while females were submissive. Stereotypes, positive or negative, are limiting and demeaning. Native peoples, their cultures and histories, are far more complex than European and mainstream American stereotypes would have us believe. As a artist and a Native, Skawennati realized that “. . . it was vital that Native people participate in the shaping of cyberspace so that we could determine our own image there.”
Massacre, production still from TimeTraveller™ by Skawennati digital inkjet print with archival inks on poly banner, 36” x 60”
One of the historical ironies Skawennati encountered early on while working on TimeTraveller™ was that outsiders tried to take over Native “land” in cyberspace. According to the artist, “. . . in Second Life the basic building unit is called a ‘prim,’ short for ‘primitive,’ which itself is shorthand for ‘primitive shape’ - cubes, cones, spheres - the shapes that, if you are a 3D modeler, everything is made from.” Skawennati further explained that each island, or piece of land, has a limit of 15000 prims. She and her team never came close to using up that amount but kept getting notices that they were, in fact, nearing the prim limit and could not determine how or why this was happening. After some investigation, it was discovered that outsiders had created an entire compound hidden high in the sky above AbTeC Island. “These prim pirates,” Skawennati explained, “had skills way beyond our own. They had built this incredible, gorgeous ‘life-size’ gingerbread house complete with lollipop posts outside . . . . Inside, in contrast, was dark and creepy, with all manner of building and animation experiments in various stages of completion.”
Saying Goodbye, production still from TimeTraveller™ by Skawennati digital inkjet print with archival inks on poly banner, 36” x 60”
Finally, the mystery had been solved. However, the artist and her team didn’t find out much about these “Second Life savvy technophiles” or how they had found AbTeC Island. “We later figured,” Skawennati added, “that they had written some kind of little program that helped them find places in Second Life that had low prim counts and low traffic and that’s how they took advantage of us. It is true that they did the same thing that some of the first explorers and settlers did to my ancestors. However, when I discovered them, and saw their skill, though I was angry, I also thought: Perhaps they can teach us something. I wonder if that is what some of my ancestors thought as well!”
Fort Calgary, production still from TimeTraveller™ by Skawennati digital inkjet print with archival inks on poly banner
Skawennati has chosen to express herself in a relatively new artistic medium and succeeds brilliantly. “I have focused on creating projects for the Internet,” she has stated, “which I consider to be an extraordinary art-delivery system.” Skawennati has not only established a Native presence in cyberspace, she creates art there.
To visit TimeTraveller™ click on the link: www.timetravellertm.com/episodes/
(Note: TimeTraveller™ contains some adult language.)
To see what Skawennati is up to with her artwork visit www.facebook.com/skawennati
All images courtesy of Skawennati.
The author would like to express his sincere gratitude to Skawennati for her invaluable help with this article.
BY E. J. GUARINO
There are two types of artists in my opinion: those who find a commercially successful format and never veer from it throughout their entire careers and those who are chameleon-like, ever-changing, daring to take artistic leaps and court failure. Picasso was among the latter. He was, perhaps, the quintessential restless spirit of the 20th century, so much so that collectors and curators, not to mention the public, were often bewildered by his seemingly abrupt changes in direction, willing to risk artistic failure and possibly financial ruin to follow his creative urge wherever it might take him. Picasso would take up a style, genre or medium and explore it obsessively. When he felt it held nothing more for him creatively he would turn his interest to something new, though he would often return to artistic endeavors he had explored before or even work in more than one medium, genre or style during the same period.
Completely fearless and consistently inventive, Eliza Naranjo Morse is a thoroughly contemporary restless spirit who is so passionate about her art that at times her daring seems almost reckless. Naranjo Morse depicts the world she sees around her in works that may be representational, abstract or a combination of the two but, at its very core, her work is an exploration of form, line, space and color.
Coming from a family of famous ceramic artists, throughout her childhood Naranjo Morse was immersed in the many processes of pottery making, including collecting, sifting and preparing clay, and often references this aspect of her family history and heritage in her work through the natural materials she uses.
Although she produces paintings, Naranjo Morse often creates works on paper - drawings, prints, stencils and, more recently, constructions. In her art she employs materials such as gesso, pastel chalk, permanent marker, china marker (grease pencil), latex, acrylic, and spray paint as well as such natural elements as phosphorus (glow-in-the-dark paint), wood, clay, volcanic ash, beetroot, tea and charcoal that may be applied to canvas, Japanese rice paper, newsprint or butcher paper (considered by some to be the artist’s “signature paper” since she uses it so frequently).
Feather by Eliza Naranjo Morse, Santa Clara Pueblo,
“paper painting” made of paper, glue, sharpie, wood, thread, 18.5“ x 20.25“ (2011). Collection of E. J. Guarino
As a departure from her usual graphic work Naranjo Morse created Feather, which she terms a “paper drawing.” However, because of its sculptural qualities, the work is akin to Picasso’s 1913 paper construction Still Life With Guitar, which is made of paperboard, paper, string and painted wire installed in a cut cardboard box. According to Naranjo Morse, “The work is called Feather for the reason that it is to be light in all senses of the word. The abstraction came from the drawings of birds (and their feathers) that I did over the last year.” (See “Bird in Motion” October 2011.) With regard to this work, the artist also said that she had been thinking about abstract and figurative art, trying to find her balance between them and wondering “ . . . why I make art that I send away to have someone purchase and then keep in their home as a treasure.” This idea is one that Naranjo Morse frequently pondered, especially as she was creating Feather. “I really wanted to make something,” she stated, “that didn’t take up too much attention, like putting something loud or complicated or narrative out, but something that people would move around and feel enhanced. Like a breath in a room. It doesn’t define the room, the person defines the room, the aesthetics of the room and this piece would hopefully strengthen the person’s self in the room.”
Clearly by Eliza Naranjo Morse, Santa Clara Pueblo,
stencil, acrylic, pencil and sharpie on butcher paper, 24” x 44” (2012). Collection of E. J. Guarino
Returning to a representational style in Clearly Naranjo Morse employs figurative imagery in a symbolic rather than a documentary manner. According to the artist, “Clearly is an artwork I made after returning from Copper Canyon, Mexico . . . . Driving up this road to the canyon I saw many Tarahumara along the road sitting, staring at the cars going by. An airport was being built, and a change of life is coming into these peoples’ lives (has been for a long time). I was reminded of the idea that when local people saw the ships of Columbus they couldn’t make sense of them. I titled the piece Clearly because I was thinking of Native people and whether we (or anyone in the world) knows what to do with the world in front of us . . . right before our eyes. Those Tarahumara staring at the road are clearly seeing. I’m interested in how the human figure can describe these thoughts and concerns.”
In the lower left portion of the drawing a vessel, not unlike those used by Europeans to cross the Atlantic in the 1400s, sails directly towards the viewer. It is a reference to Christopher Columbus and all those who followed after him. Looming above the ship and dominating the work is a naked man who may represent a New World Native or, possibly Columbus stripped of the myths. Here Naranjo Morse intentionally distorts perspective by making the human figure disproportionately larger than the ship, making it command our attention. Like an ominous presence, an abstract reddish-orange color drenches the drawing, filling the sky and tinting the sea to suggest war, disease, lust and anger. Naranjo Morse’s combination of the representational and the abstract gives this piece a mysterious, surreal quality.
Sitting with Myself, Self, Self llll by Eliza Naranjo Morse, Santa Clara Pueblo, colored pencil on
paper, 22”w x 29”h (2012). Collection of E. J. Guarino
Naranjo Morse uses the male figure in Clearly again in Sitting with Myself, Self, Self llll where it is presented as a double image. In this work, the figure functions as a stand in for the artist. Many artists frequently employ such a device. Often the image of an animal or another human being becomes the representation of the artist’s inner self, in essence making the work a symbolic self-portrait. According to Naranjo Morse, Sitting with My Self, Self, Self, as a series “ . . . is a self-portrait or a human portrait – the things on our minds stamped on our bodies. I did two versions in this series: one where the man has portraits of women on his sleeve (this is about the people you meet and love) and the other a man sitting with portraits of himself at different points in his life including the future, representing the moment he will pass. We carry ourselves through our lives. I am beginning to look at how I articulate this incredible, kind of obvious but rarely stated, fact in my work.” It is interesting that a female artist would choose the image of a man to represent her in what she terms a “self-portrait.” However, Naranjo Morse explained: “I understand that I am a thirty-two year old woman . . . but, inside I feel I have emotions that expand larger than the generalized female. In artwork females are so often the muse, but I relate more in the drawing experience to the male figure.” The artist further stated that this particular series was very emotional for her. “I am beginning to look in the eye,” she said, “the challenge of the human experience.”
Rare Record of Magic Ball llll by Eliza Narano Morse, Santa Clara Pueblo, acrylic,
pastel and pencil on paper, 22”w x 28”h (2012). Collection of E.J. Guarino
Rare Record of Magic Ball llll offers a very different aspect of the artist’s work. The use of color gives this abstract drawing a mysterious quality, yet it is undeniably a very positive piece. Looking at it one can’t help feeling lighthearted. Simply stated, it is fun.
According to Naranjo Morse, this series “ . . . is about time and treasure. Although the series is not old, I am able to imply the magic of existing for a long time by making [the individual drawings] tattered. Magic is these steady truths in our world that delight and surprise . . .. We get caught up in getting used to the world around us and then the magic isn’t deemed magic any more. But if we take a minute to remember seeds turning into plants, fire, stars, tears – on and on – there are a lot of incredible things happening before us. I very much like the idea of owning a record of a long existing ball or source of magic. This one is hard to describe, but maybe that’s because this series is beginning to describe the magic of the human experience . . ..”
Art has the power to move us emotionally, often quite deeply. It may also challenge up to think and reconsider long held beliefs and it may make us see the world around us in a completely new way. Eliza Naranjo Morse’s art certainly does all this and much more. In Feather she gets us to consider something we have looked at innumerable times from a new perspective; in Clearly we are made to ponder the past, the present and even the future; and both Sitting with Myself, Self, Self lll and Rare Record of Magic Ball llll make us consider the very nature of the human experience. Naranjo Morse is obviously an artist who ponders her art and contemplates life’s many mysteries. What a privilege it is, then, that she shares her work with us.
The author would like to express his gratitude to Eliza Naranjo Morse for her invaluable help with this article.
The Evolution of Mata Ortiz Pottery
By E. J. GUARINO
Perhaps the most amazing story in the annals of modern ceramic art is that of Juan Quezada of Mata Ortiz, Mexico who single-handedly reinvented (actually reincarnated) the pottery tradition of the pre-Hispanic Casas Grandes culture. Anyone who has heard about Mata Ortiz pottery probably knows about Juan.
Casas Grandes polychrome bowl, artist unknown, Chihuahua, Mexico, 4”tall x 7” wide
(ca. 1300-1400 A. D.) Collection of E. J. Guarino
The village of Mata Ortiz is within walking distance of the ruins of Paquimé, a city that was once the center of what archaeologists have dubbed the Casas Grandes culture. For years, Señor Quezada kept finding shards from the pottery produced in the ancient city. His curiosity piqued, he began to experiment with pottery making, trying various clays, slips and firing techniques. Eventually, through trial and error, Quezada was able to create pots quite similar to those produced by the Casas Grandes people centuries ago. A few of these pieces made their way to New Mexico where anthropologist Spencer MacCallum saw them and was so impressed that he turned detective to track down the maker of these unsigned pots. MacCallum eventually was able to find Quezada and the two worked together for years, the anthropologist promoting the artist’s work.
Casas Grandes style polychrome bowl by Juan Quezada, Mata Ortiz, Mexico,
7 1/2” x 4,” (circa late 1960s - early 1970s). Collection of Richard Cleary
Although many of Señor Quezada’s early works bear a striking resemblance to Casas Grandes pottery, ever the innovator, he came to develop his own unique style and his success on an international scale inspired others in Mata Ortiz to take up pottery making, which has become the main source of income in the village. There are now hundreds of potters, each with his or her own individual style who have drawn inspiration from Juan Quezada.
For collectors of Mata Ortiz pottery, owning “a Juan” as collectors often call pieces by Mr. Quezada, is tantamount to finding the Holy Grail, though it is a goal I have yet to achieve.
White-on-black pot with flared mouth by Ivonne Olivas, Mata Ortiz, Mexico,
5½”h x 5”w (2007-08). Collection of E. J. Guarino
Inspired by Quezada’s success, members of his family and others in the village decided to try their hand at pottery making. Today, there are over 400 potters in Mata Ortiz, many of whom proudly declare that they were personally taught by Juan Quezada.
Over the course of many years, there has been a constant burst of creativity among Mata Ortiz potters. Unlike their Native American counterparts in the United States, they do not have to contend with religious prohibitions or tribal conservatism. They can create whatever they want.
Mata Ortiz pottery is prized for virtuosity of both form and design. Potters must not only paint a piece in a way that is pleasing to the eye but they must get their patterns and imagery to wrap around a three dimensional object, something that is much more of a challenge than working on a flat canvas.
Like all great artists, Mata Ortiz potters like to challenge themselves as well as collectors and are known for their innovations in form and decoration. Sometimes the potters prefer to use older, traditional designs; at other times they produce figural works; often pots are covered with repeated patterns, geometric shapes or abstractions of natural forms. Designs, as well as the pieces themselves, may be symmetrical or asymmetrical. Every artist has a unique voice that speaks through the clay and each pot is a conversation between the artist and those who see his or her creation.
Mata Oritiz plate by Anna Trillo, Mimbres-style male, female and bird figures in the center of an abstract design,
6½” in diameter and 2” hign (ca. 2003 – 2004) Collection of E. J. Guarino
A number of Mata Ortiz potters reference (sometimes humorously) the ancient Casas Grandes culture and even that of the Mimbres who lived in what is now New Mexico and flourished between A.D. 200 and 1300. Such pots are not merely slavish copies but original contemporary works inspired by these two ancient cultures. Casas Grandes pottery was influenced by the Mimbres to the north and Mesoamerican cultures to the south, seeming to arise suddenly. Though the villagers of Mata Ortiz are not descendants of either of these groups, they have taken inspiration from them.
Fine line pot, signed Laura Bugarini Cota, 5” tall x 6” wide (2002). Collection of E. J. Guarino
Some Mata Ortiz potters create works with fineline designs that are so delicate that it is hard to believe that they are created freehand. The patterns on these pieces are so tiny that often they must be viewed using a magnifying glass to be fully appreciated.
Cuadritos y Flores pot by Lozaro Ponce, 6”h x 6” at widest point (ca. 1998).
Collection of E. J. Guarino
Among the most interesting graphics are checkerboard patterns called cuadritos, which must be mathematically accurate because they must match up correctly as they wrap around the shape of the piece. Again, astonishingly, the potters create these works freehand, “by eye” directly from their head and onto the pot.
Black sculptural seed pot form by Susy Martinez, Mata Ortiz, Mexico,
7¾”h x 4½”w (2009/10). Collection of E. J. Guarino
Other potters experiment with black-on-black, multiple colors over graphite, or combining various types of clay to produce a marbleized effect. Some even dare to use little or no decoration at all. Some, such as Susy Martinez, are experimenting with pure form in pots that are essentially sculptural such as her exaggerated seed pot.
Olla by Tavo Silveiro, decoration at neck only, 10” x 8½” (Ca. 2003 –2004).
Collection of E. J. Guarino
Tavo Silveiro, for example, has been experimenting with pots that have almost no painted designs. His departure from the usual and expected format of highly decorated ceramics was not only surprising, it was audacious. However, collectors have embraced his large ollas whose sole decoration is around the neck of the pot.
Sgraffito deer pot by Leonel Lopez, Mata Ortiz, Mexico, 4½”w x 3”h (1998)
Collection of E. J. Guarino
In a number of Mata Ortiz pots graphics and form merge. In a technique known as sgraffito, for example, designs are carved into a pot. Leonel Lopez is noted for such work, which is popular with collectors. Sgraffito requires a great deal of time and painstaking work. If a piece cracks or explodes during any part of the creative process it is a great loss to the artist.
Corrugated pot by Efren Betancourt, 11” h x 8” at widest point (2006).
Collection of E. J. Guarino
Mata Ortiz potters are also expanding the limits of form, creating figures, effigy pots, and works with animals attached. The newest and most radical experiment is one of both form and design: corrugated pots. These works, most often created by Efren Betancourt or Fito Tena, take the exploration of minimalism in yet another direction and are the farthest departure from what most people familiar with Mata Ortiz pottery have come to expect. The visual appeal of corrugated pots comes from the hundreds of tiny indentations and raised areas created by pinching the clay before firing. For traditionalists such works are a sacrilege. However, many collectors have seen these pots as yet another example of the evolution of Mata Ortiz pottery. Such open mindedness and willingness to experiment began with Juan Quezada.
“Purpura” olla by Juan Quezada, Mata Ortiz, Mexico, 9 1/2” h x 9”w (circa 1998).
Collection of Richard Cleary
People often mistakenly assume that innovations only come from the young. Juan Quezada, now seventy-two years old, is ageless of spirit and continues to explore the medium of ceramics. An unusual idea may lead to a trend or even to an entirely new style. Some potters emulate what Quezada has achieved while others try to see how far they can depart from his work and still create an exceptional pot.
Miniature pot by Guadalupe Gallegos
with mountain range, trees, deer, cougar, rabbit, hummingbird, geese, and abstract designs with the form of the pot is also in the form of a turkey,
3”h x 2½”w (2006). Collection of E. J. Guarino
Mata Ortiz pots range in size from one-inch miniatures to massive three-foot high works. Large, however, doesn’t necessarily denote important and small need not indicate insignificance.
Black, red, and white Mata Ortiz pot with abstract designs by Carlos Loya,
5”h x 7” at widest point (ca. 2001). Collection of E. J. Guarino
The precision of design and virtuosity of form have gained Mata Ortiz pottery an international following of collectors and curators who are sometimes attracted by the mathematical ingenuity of a design, zigzags that on closer inspection turn out to be stylized animals or pots that convey a whimsical sense of humor or sly references to pre-Columbian cultures.
Juan Quezada holding his “purpura” olla owned by Richard Cleary.
Many of the pots are so dazzling that one’s breath is taken away. Many pieces have a “surprise” hidden on the bottom, which many people miss. Often these are the most spectacular designs on the pot.
The most sought after Mata Ortiz pottery is as thin as china, exquisitely painted, and reveals the creative spirit of a community that, in spite of living in a remote area, consistently produces some of the most exceptional contemporary ceramic art.
NOTE: For more information on Mata Ortiz pottery consult The Miracle of Mata Ortiz: Juan Quezada and the Potters of Northern Chihuahua by Walter P. Parks and The Many Faces of Mata Ortiz, essays by Susan Lowell, Jim Hills, Jorge Quintana Rodrígues, Walter Parks, and Michael Wisner.
By E. J. GUARINO
Throughout history and across diverse cultures, religious belief has been a catalyst for artistic inspiration. The earliest attempts by humans to record the world around them on cave walls have a spiritual component; the churches of Europe are filled with sacred art; indigenous people in the Americas created monuments and art works motivated by religious fervor; and 20th century masters Henri Matisse and Marc Chagall produced religious art. It should come as no surprise, then, that contemporary Huichol art has its roots in ritual and shamanistic experience.
Until fairly recently, the Huichol (who call themselves the Wixárika) were little influenced by outside forces because of their homeland’s remote location high in the mountains of Mexico’s Sierra Madre Occidental. It was not until 1722, more than 200 years after the Spanish Conquest, that Franciscan missionaries were able to penetrate the Sierra Madre, bringing with them glass seed beads that they thought the Huichol would find appealing, thus facilitating their conversion to Christianity. The beads were quickly incorporated into the adornment of ritual objects and other aspects of Huichol material culture. The Franciscans built a church at Tatei Kié, which they renamed San Andrés Cohamiata. Along with Tuapurie (Santa Catarina Cuexcomatitlán), Tutsipa (Tuxpan de Bolaños), Wautia (San Sebastían Teponahuaxtlán) and Xatsitsarie (Guadalupe Ocotlán), Tatei Kié was one of the main Wixárika communities. Although the Franciscans were able to exert some influence over the Huichol, as they came to be called most probably due to the mispronunciation of Wixárika by the Spanish, they were never able to convert them and within 150 years gave up and simply abandoned those they believed were in desperate need of salvation.
As a collector, I first became aware of Huichol art in the 1980s during annual visits to Mexico City. The first objects I encountered were beaded gourds and I was immediately struck by their neon-like colors and striking imagery. However it was not until the early 1990s that I discovered textiles, hats, yarn paintings and other examples of Huichol art and material culture while on trips to Puerto Vallarta.
Initially, it was Huichol beaded gourds that fascinated me. Every inch of a gourd’s interior is completely decorated with sumptuous beading portraying complex designs and symbols. Huichol artists cover the inside of a gourd with a thin layer of beeswax and, then, with the tips of their fingers (particularly the thumb) they press imported Czech glass seed beads into the wax. Very small beads allow for more per inch, producing finer detail. It was much later that I learned that the gourds evolved from those that were sparsely covered with beads and left as ceremonial offerings at Huichol “god houses” or temples.
Gourd with symbolic beadwork, beeswax, Czech glass beads, gourd, Huichol, Mexico,
2 1/2”h x 4 3/4” in diameter (circa early1980s). Collection of E. J. Guarino
Known as rakure in the Huichol language, the word is usually translated into English as prayer, offering or votive bowl. Other ritual offerings are “prayer arrows,” which have tiny objects attached that represent petitions for specific material wishes; small, carved wooden or stone statues of the gods or that animals that represent them; and flat wooden boards. Often these offerings are adorned with beads and/or yarn, which is held in place by beeswax. Huichol art as it is know today had as its roots these ceremonial objects. Making art and decorating objects is integral to Huichol religious life. Just as the churches of Europe are thought of as prayers in stone and some Christians believe the singing of hymns is like praying twice, to the Huichol, their religious objects are visual prayers to their gods.
Huichol yarn paintings, like the beaded gourds, evolved from shamanistic beginnings. Ceremonial boards were not as richly decorated as the yarn paintings later produced for the international art market but they did spark the interest of Mexican anthropologist Alfonso Soto Soria who brought examples of traditional Huichol art to Mexico City and in 1954 displayed them in an exhibit at the Museo Nacional de Artes e Industrias Populares. These examples of Huichol material culture attracted interest and Soto Soria produced another exhibit at the Museo Nacional de Antropología, also in Mexico City. Realizing that this art had commercial potential and could help generate income for Huichol artists, Soto Soria convinced artists to produce works that conformed to Western artistic conventions, the most important being that yarn paintings would only be decorated on one side so that they could be displayed. This adaptation made yarn paintings marketable. As with beaded gourds, Huichol artists drew from cultural traditions and spiritual experience and created yarn paintings in much the same way: beeswax was applied to one side of a thin board (usually plywood) and images were created by using fingernails to press the yarn into the soft wax.
Within ten years collectors became aware of Huichol art because of Soto Sorias Mexico City exhibitions and through the efforts of the Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Zapopán in Zapopán, a suburban city six miles from Guadalajara. Here Franciscans sold beaded gourds, yarn paintings, textiles, and the spectacular hats worn by the Huichol during pilgrimages and other ceremonies. (The basilica was one of the first places I began to collect Huichol art.)
Huichol Harvest Ceremony, yarn painting by Nicolas, wood, beeswax, colored yarn,
Huichol, San Andrés Cohamiata, Mexico, 11 1/2” x 11 1/2” (1998).
Collection of E. J. Guarino
Over time, certain themes and styles began to emerge in Huichol yarn paintings. The earliest works depicted single objects or a small group of symbols such as deer, flowers, eagles, butterflies, snakes, the sun, the moon, clouds, trees, and peyote - all associated with Huichol beliefs and are used to decorate beaded gourds and textiles as well. The use of repeated imagery and patterns is derived from beaded gourds and textiles.
The Sacrifice by Alejandrine de la Rosa, wood, beeswax, colored yarn,
Huichol, Mexico, 12” x 12” (2002).
Translation of inscription on reverse side: “The bull is tied to the tree so it can be sacrificed before the house of the gods with the flowers and other offerings.”
Collection of E. J. Guarino
Eventually, narrative yarn paintings began to be produced, an innovation first developed by Ramón Medina Silva, an artist-shaman who was also the first Huichol to create yarn paintings inspired by his visions after ingesting the sacred peyote. Silva is further credited with being the first Huichol artist to represent the world of everyday reality and the spiritual realm in the same work. However, some artists chose to create yarn paintings that showed the spiritual world as only the mara’akáme, or shaman sees it.
Untitled (birthing scene possibly involving a goddess) by Raymundo de la Rosa Martinez, wood, beeswax, black yarn & white yarn, Huichol, Mexico 12” x 12” (circa early 1990s). Translation of inscription on reverse side” “ The first woman who gave birth to the boy who blessed the earth and the whole world - Tatey Yurienaca.” Note: According to Huichol religious belief, our fertile world was born or formed from a woman, Tatey Yurienaca, is a woman by Kauyumarie, the Deer god, but it is not known exactly how. This painting is unusual because the artist used only black and white yarn. Collection of E. J. Guarino
It was Silva’s wife Guadalupe (Lupe) de la Cruz Rios who is responsible for what has become one of the most popular motifs in yarn paintings - a scene in which a woman is giving birth while her husband is high in the rafters of the house or a tree with a cord around his testicles that his wife pulls as she suffers the pain of childbirth. The idea is that the man is, thus, able to experience childbirth with her. As fascinating and titillating as such imagery is, anthropologists have found no correlation to this practice in Huichol culture and believe ti may have been based on a trickster myth involving Kauyumari, the deer god.
One of the most fascinating aspects of Huichol art is the use of colors that have been described as “neon” and “psychedelic.” Derived from visionary experience, the various hues have meanings, which as shaman can interpret. In addition, since much of the imagery is drawn from the Huichol cosmology gods such as Kauyumari, the Deer God, Tatewari, the Fire God (also known as Grandfather Fire and Grandfather Sun), Nakawé, mother of the gods and vegetation, Elder Brother, and Corn Mother appear in yarn paintings.
The Peyote Seeker by Cecilio Carrillo Bonilla, wood, beeswax and colored yarn, Huichol, Mexico, 11 1/2” x 11 1/2” (2002). Translation of inscription on reverse side: “This is the peyotero in the desert looking for the peyote, the sacrament of the gods. The spirit of the peyote is mentioned in the regional fiesta or ceremony, which is very traditional.” Collection of E. J. Guarino
Because of the vibrant colors and profuse use of symbolism, some people initially find Huichol art, particularly the yarn paintings, confusing and inaccessible. However, others (myself among them) are immediately drawn to this art because of the color and symbolism. Whether depicting the world of the gods, religious rituals and pilgrimages, the Huichol cosmos, visions or creating works that approach pure abstraction, Huichol artists create striking works of art. Although artists do create representational works, strict realism is not of any particular interest. Some contemporary Huichol artists, because of the availability of fine thread, are producing subtly detailed realistic works. However, for the most part, sticklike or cartoon-like figures usually serve the purposes of most Huichol artists. Western standards of realism matter little. The more important a figure or symbol, the larger it will be portrayed without regard for what its size is in reality. Huichol artists are looking to depict spiritual truths rather than documenting reality and to do so employ a complex color palette that displays unexpected combinations.
According to anthropologist Hope MacLean, Huichol commercial yarn paintings are an “urban phenomenon.” Traditional votive objects, which continue to be made, are small so that they are easily transportable on long pilgrimages. Today the major outlets for Huichol arts are Puerto Vallarta, a tourist destination on Mexico’s Pacific Coast, Tepic, capital of the State of Nayarit, Mexico City and the Basilica of of Zapopán. Beadwork and textiles, because they are light and fairly easy to carry, are most often made in Huichol villages and transported to the centers where they are to be sold. Yarn paintings, because of their size (usually 8”x 8,” 12 ½ ” x 12 ½,” 15 ½” x 15 ½” or 23 ½” x 23 ½”), the fact that they are on wood and because they are easily damaged, do not lend themselves to the long walk, followed by an even longer bus ride to travel from the remote Sierra Madre Mountains to the cities where Huichol art is sold. Most artists prefer to create their paintings where they will be sold and where they can most easily obtain the materials to produce them, and then return home with money or goods.
Untitled yarn painting with shaman, deer & peyote by Xochilt de la Cruz Carrillo, Wixarika
(Huichol), acrylic yarn, beeswax, plywood, 12”w x 12”h (2001). Collection of E. J. Guarino
Contrary to popular belief, the yarn used to produce the iconic paintings is not natural wool; it is commercial acrylic that is treated with aniline dyes to produce the vivid colors for which these works are known. The acrylic yarns are available in a wide range of hues and are cheaper and easier to find than sheep’s wool. Over the years Huichol artists have moved from thick yarns to those that are extremely fine, which allows more detail as well as a wider range of tone and shading.
Most yarn paintings have an inscription on the reverse side, which explains the work. Sometimes the artists write it but, more often than not, it is the work of gallery staff that has spoken to the artist about the work. The use of an inscription exemplifies the Huichol aesthetic that an artist should know the meaning of his painting and be able to explain it to others, something that is not a Western artistic concept. Furthermore, originality of imagery is not particularly important to Huichol artists who frequently do their own versions of popular or well-respected yarn paintings. Within fifty years, Huichol art, particularly yarn paintings, have evolved from religious offerings to commercial and fine art, and are popular with collectors because of its psychedelic colors and mystical symbols. Some Huichol artists have achieved international renown and their work is in major museums.
Untitled (Snake) yarn painting by José Benítez Sánchez , wood, beeswax, colored yarn, Huichol, Mexico 15 1/2” x 15 1/2” (circa early to mid 1990s). Translation of inscription on reverse side: “The world breathes through the navel of the gods. This hole was created in the center of the world by the gods. The wind comes through this hole which makes the earth breathe by spinning, which is why the world spins .” Collection of E. J. Guarino
The most famous Huichol artist is José Benítez Sánchez whose bold yarn paintings helped bring Huichol art to the attention of the international art market. Of the younger generation, Xochitl de la Cruz, an emerging artist, is known for her realistic scenes of Huichol life that are noted for their details and the subtlety of their shading. Some Huichol artists are experimenting with non-traditional media as well as combining traditional and non-traditional media. Neikame (José Carrillo Morales), for example, often produces works that combine watercolor and beadwork but his subjects remain rooted in Huichol culture.
According to anthropologist Carl Lumholtz, “Religion to them [the Huichol] is a personal matter, not an institution, and therefore their life is religious from the cradle to the grave and wrapped up in symbolism.” Collectors find Huichol art so fascinating because, despite the fact that it is produced for sale, artists draw from a rich cultural heritage, which is reflected in artworks that are vibrant, deeply felt, richly symbolic, often with a touch of the surreal. The deep spiritual meanings that are intrinsically part of Huichol clothing, hats, gourds and yarn paintings intrigue modern collectors but they are also attracted by the vibrant colors employed by Huichol artists that make their creations blend so well with home decors as diverse as ultra modern and traditional Southwestern. Ultimately, collectors and admirers of Huichol art are drawn to it because of its sheer visual beauty.
The Art of Rose B. Simpson
By E. J. GUARINO
Artists see what we cannot, taking us beyond ourselves, allowing us to experience the world around us from a different perspective and often revealing dimensions that might remain hidden from us. In Thornton Wilder’s play Our Town the main character asks, “Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it. . . every, every minute?” The answer she receives is “No. Saints and poets maybe. . . they do some.” To this group I would add artists.
Reach by Rose B. Simpson, ceramic and steel, 67” x 45 1/2” x 27” (2011).
Image courtesy Chiaroscuro Contemporary Art.
As an artist, Rose B. Simpson uses her creativity not only as a means of self-expression but as a form of self-exploration. Her mix-media sculpture Reach epitomizes what Simpson is trying to do: reach beyond herself and reach out to the world around her.
Despite being constructed of steel and ceramic, Reach fairly leaps out at the viewer, the figure's arms outstretched. It is an apt symbol for the artist, her zest for life and her passion for her art. Simpson is not in anyway a timid artist, working in a diversity of media, creating both large and small scale works. She has produced sculptures, ceramics, drawings, prints, mixed-media pieces, and performance art. “At the time I began making this piece,” Simpson stated, “I had been writing about the importance of the threshold, as something that marks the movement from one space to another; in this case being the emotional space of the hard metal conceptual form to the extremely organic honest emotional space. I sketch quite a bit, and was also interested in 3-point balance, feeling that the tension it created could induce a sense of immediacy, lightness, movement, and, in this case, drive. Clay is so grounded as it is from the earth, and the beauty of metal is it's strength, allowing the clay to lift and then float in the air, making it easier to empathize through our own relationships to gravity, muscles, stretch, desire, drive, and the reach.”
Recently, a number of extremely interesting works by Simpson became available and, though all intrigued me, I ultimately settled on Transparency #6, Wanted and Object of Desire ll because I felt three pieces, although each one is very different, were thematically linked, especially with regard to sexuality. Displayed together, they form a conversation.
Transparency #6 by Rose B. Simpson, Santa Clara Pueblo, inlaid ceramic, tracing paper, 11” x 12” (2011).
Collection of E. J. Guarino (Image courtesy Chiaroscuro Contemporary Art)
Transparency #6 is unusual in that it is part of a series of eight similar, though unique, works. Each piece has slightly different dimensions as well as a singular image. Since the transparencies are made of thin ceramic, they are extremely fragile, suggestive of human frailty. According to John Addison, Director of Chiaroscuro Contemporary Art, the works in Transparencies ". . . are a small series of figurative sketches on clay, with black in laid lines and tracing paper attached. . . .They are thin tile-like pieces with wonderfully loose dynamic figures moving about the surface. Adding the third dimension of paper to the pieces, both softens the presentation, and adds depth to the imagery.” Mr Addison went on to say, “For Rose, they were very liberating to do, as her working methods were fast and direct!”
In discussing the series, Ms. Simpson said that it was about being truthful since she often struggles with just how much of herself she should reveal in her work. The more open an artist is the more he or she becomes vulnerable to extraneous criticism. Each of the pieces in the Transparencies Series has the appearance of a fragment which, in a sense, it is. The viewer is glimpsing parts of herself that the artist chose to reveal – but not completely – giving each Transparency a seductive quality. We not only want to see more, we want to see everything. It is as if Simpson has heeded the advice Momma Rose gave to her daughter, the fledgling stripper Gypsy Rose Lee in the musical Gypsy: "Make 'em beg for more, and then don't give it to them!” Simpson's technique serves to keep us interested in her work. The artist was once challenged to do the thing that scared her the most. “I realized it is to tell the truth,” she said. “What I desire the most about the creative process is its honesty. As an art piece, there is a delay between the performative act of creation and the presentation of the work, so the ‘truth’ may have changed since the objects creation. This series of ‘transparencies’ was mostly about the stages of revealing oneself. As a public figure, baring one's soul can have serious consequences. But being brave enough to do it can also inspire others to believe in themselves to speak their truths as well. But sometimes it is not about what I do, but HOW I do it that matters most. This is what I am trying to understand.”
Transparency #6 bears the image of two nude figures locked in a passionate embrace but the gender of the lovers is intentionally obscured by the addition of tracing paper and small pieces of ceramic, leaving the viewer to wonder if it is a mixed sex or same sex couple. If same sex, is the pair male or female? In the end, perhaps it doesn't matter and that may be the point. It is only after much reflection that one realizes that not only is the form of Transparency #6 controversial but its subject matter may be as well.
Also, hidden in the piece is a word but all that can be made out of it are the letters nd. When asked about this the artist said, “It was concealed on purpose. I write a lot of poetry and I like hiding the words in my work sometimes, the poem sometimes is written where two parts are glued together. I set the essence of the words inside the piece, hoping they will transform it without commanding it. ‘
Wanted by Rose B. Simpson, Santa Clara Pueblo, 9”w x 15.25”h (2012).
Collection of E. J. Guarino
The artist takes a completely different approach in Wanted. Here, nothing is concealed. Simpson uses a ceramic pot as a vehicle for four studies of female nudes. Employing a form reminiscent of a vase, Simpson created a piece that, except for the four figures, is intentionally raw, looking more like cement than ceramic. The figures are refined, the vessel is not. The pot is a means to an end. It serves as a three dimensional canvas. Coming from a family of renowned ceramic artists, many people have a preconceived idea of what Simpson should be doing in her art. The rough aspects of Wanted are Simpson’s way of acknowledging her background and, at the same time, moving beyond it. It is as if she is thumbing her nose (or using another gesture that employs a finger) at those who would have her be anything other than what she is - a unique talent. According to the artist, “This piece is about the desire to have relationship with another, which, in reality, comes full circle to oneself. My desire to experience another is actually a deep need to know myself. So yes, it is based on real situations, real dynamics I have experienced.”
The four female figures on Wanted are beautifully rendered and are evocative of nudes by Gauguin, Picasso and Matisse. These images glorify but do not idealize the female anatomy. The artist wants us to see the truth of the female form and does not even allow the viewer the distraction of hair, often referred to as “a woman’s crowning glory.” “A psychiatrist asked me once why my figures don't have hair. Until that point I never noticed I didn't include hair. . . . it is very much a personal choice of self-representation. I feel like it is ‘extras,’ like clothing, or earrings - unnecessary. Or perhaps it is just because I feel it has a lot of energy, and like a word might; command the energy or point of a piece. Or maybe I just haven't learned about my own hair yet, what it means to me. It feels like there are too many feminine expectations tied to hair. My reaction: Bleh.”
The title of the piece contains multiple layers of meaning. Women are wanted in the sense that their bodies are desired but the title also brings to mind law enforcement posters with the word wanted emblazoned across them. Women’s bodies are objectified and they are sometimes desired to the point of obsession. On the bottom of the piece is a face, something that most people miss. Who that image may represent is part of the work’s mystery.
Object of Desire ll by Rose B. Simpson, Santa Clara Pueblo, 4.25”w x 6.50”h (2012).
Collection of E. J. Guarino
As with Transparency #6, Object of Desire ll is part of a series. Three of the four works are individual pieces but one is made up of two components. In Object of Desire ll, the artist wraps the image of a nude female around what appears to be an attenuated wedding vase, a pottery form popular with collectors but also considered overly sentimental by many. When asked about this, the artist said, “The process of making these objects is allowing the piece to form itself, keeping priority as the way it feels in the hand. Perhaps that issue came across subliminally, as marriage is an extremely finicky subject at times.” Once again, Simpson draws us into a consideration of how women are often reduced to an object of lust. However, for her title she chose the word desire perhaps because desire in and of itself is not necessarily a bad thing.
Transparency #6, Wanted, and Object of Desire ll are but one aspect of Rose B. Simpson’s art. Most Native artists have tended to shy away from themes of nudity and sexuality because of the influence of Christianity but also because in Native culture such topics are deemed a private matter. The Western art cannon has a long tradition of exploring the naked human form for many reasons - religious, political, erotic, and more. Native art does not. However, nudity and sexuality have a larger dimension in Simpson’s work. These subjects refer to the larger theme of Truth. In her art, whether abstract, surreal, representational, large or small scale, Rose B. Simpson will not be dissuaded from showing the truth as she sees it. It is what makes her such an exciting artist. Marcel Duchamp said, “Art is either plagiarism or revolution.” It seems Ms. Simpson would agree.
The author would like to express his gratitude to Rose B. Simpson for her invaluable help with this article.
By E. J. GUARINO
When I was growing up I was a great fan of Superman and Batman and collected scores of comic books featuring these two super heroes. However, I always had a soft spot in my heart for Wonder Woman. True, there were other female super heroes but I found them somehow lacking. Wonder Woman, on the other hand, had golden, bullet proof wrist cuffs, the Lasso of Truth, an invisible airplane and a connection to Greek mythology. But, she had something more; she had chutzpah. As a teenager I thought, “This chick doesn’t take guff from anybody. Cool!” I had rather the same reaction when I first encountered Susan Folwell’s art, especially her satiric pieces. Here was an artist who didn’t slavishly follow one style and was willing to create erotic as well as socially and politically provocative works. When I finally met the artist my first impression was confirmed - I had found a real, live Wonder Woman.
I had been aware of Susan Folwell’s work for a number of years but somehow acquiring one of her pieces eluded me. That situation has been rectified in the extreme, so much so that I now jokingly say that my home contains the Susan Folwell Memorial Museum.
The first pot I acquired by Folwell was quite fortuitous. Uncharacteristically for me, I wasn’t on a quest, nothing was planned. On a fall trip to Arizona I pulled into a parking space in front of the King Galleries (I’ve been known to drive there directly from the airport) and in the window I saw a spectacular cylindrical jar decorated with Northwest Coast designs. At the time, I had no idea who had created it though I did have my suspicions. I was so taken with the piece that I decided on the spot that I would acquire it even if I had to spend my entire collecting budget for the trip to get it. As it turned out, it didn’t break the bank and I have never regretted buying it.
Folwell began employing Northwest Coast designs in her work after spending time in Alaska. It is a motif to which she returns periodically. These designs are not merely copied but are integrated into the artist’s stylistic repertoire. Ultimately, Folwell’s pieces with Northwest Coast designs are not simply an expression of her fascination with the visual language of another Native American group, but are also an exploration of color, form and abstraction.
Northwest Coast designs are highly stylized abstractions of the natural world that have a geometric beauty. Human and animal figures are flattened because they have to wrap around three dimensional objects such as masks, hats, boxes, bowls, dishes, spoons, house fronts, screens, canoes and poles or decorate two dimensional creations such as prints and spectacular Chilkat blankets. Therefore, the imagery is extremely exact and controlled. There is no “looseness” in the execution of these designs.
Bowl with carved and painted Northwest Coast style designs by Susan Folwell, Santa Clara,
4”h x 6½”w (1995). Collection of Ric Welch
In an almost monochromatic pot produced in 1995 the artist adheres to the precise traditional forms found in Northwest Coast art. In fact, the piece is evocative of carved wooden grease bowls produced for centuries by the Haida, Tlingit, Kwakiutl, Nootka, Tsimshian and other groups. “This is one of the very first Northwest Coast pots I made, “Folwell stated. “I remember the piece . . . because of the polish and the design, lacing Northwest Coast imagery. This was when I was coming out of my geometric design faze and moving into the more fluid Northwest Coast style - a successful marriage between the two.”
Cylindrical pot with carved and painted Northwest Coast style designs by Susan Folwell, Santa Clara,
11½”h x 7” in diameter (2005). Collection of E. J. Guarino
By 2005, the year she produced the cylindrical pot with carved and painted Northwest Coast images, Folwell’s interpretation and painting were much freer, even using bright blue and including Santa Clara crosses in the piece. The shape was unusual as well. According to the artist, around this time she had purchased a sixteen foot totem pole to be used as her grandfather’s headstone. “I fell in love with totems,” she said, “and wanted this pot to have the feeling of a totem but also to remain a pot. By this time I had used Northwest Coast imagery considerably and was using it in a more modern/abstract way. By this time I was also very comfortable in using acrylic and wood stain as part of my finish.”
Plate with Northwest Coast and geometric designs by Susan Folwell, Santa Clara,
acrylic paint, natural clay slips and wood stain, 8½” in diameter (2010). Collection of E. J. Guarino
By the time she created a 2010 plate with Northwest Coast imagery and geometric forms, Folwell had fully integrated the designs into her artistic vision. By employing two different geometric styles a tension as well as a conversation is set up. The Northwest Coast designs seem to swirl around interconnected circles that are reminiscent of the work of Wassily Kandinsky, the Russian abstract painter. The front of the piece has a refined quality while the reverse, covered with Santa Clara crosses and painted to resemble sewn leather, has a rawness to it. Once again, Folwell has created artistic tension and visual interest, this time between the front and back of the piece. “This is one of the first examples,” the artist stated, “of me using almost exclusively India ink and wood stain, which is the basis of my design materials to this day. I find those two materials allow for a lot of ‘breathing room’ for the clay surface and are very versatile and forgiving materials.”
"Guns N’ Roses" Jar by Susan Folwell (four views) Santa Clara (2009). Private collection
Many of the artist’s works are highly personal, often inspired by various people and experiences in her life. Such pieces reveal a tender, sometimes romantic nature.
One of Folwell’s most exquisite and heartfelt works is a pot she titled Guns N’ Roses. It is another motif that she returns to periodically and was a product of her “blossoming relationship” with her future husband. “I love that pot, “Folwell said, and rightly so. It is among her best pieces - at once romantic, erotic and playful. Although muted tones are employed, tension is created through the juxtaposition of male symbols (guns) and those that represent the female (roses). The piece also contains images of nails and barbed wire, suggesting that love and sex are fraught with danger. The artist doesn’t simply reference Pop culture but uses it for her own ends - a tribute to the man in her life and their love but also as glorification of romance with its underlying eroticism.
"Tui" by Susan Folwell, Santa Clara, (2011). Private collection
Another of the artists loveliest pieces is a vase decorated with birds gamboling in beautifully drawn branches. The fineness of the painting and the soft tones give the piece a delicacy suggesting an Asian influence. However, the mouth of the vase has a raw quality, once again creating tension and interest. “The vase with the birds on it is called Tui,” stated Folwell. “I made and fired the pot and sat on it for close to six months before I found the design for it. My niece Kaa called me one day asking me to look online for Maori baby names. She was thinking of giving her son a Maori name in tribute to her Grandfather who passed away a few years back . . . he was Native from New Zealand. We came up with the name ‘Tui,” which is a very intelligent, honey eating bird that looks like a raven but mimics like a parrot - visually very striking which gave me the idea for the pot. Kaa ended up naming the baby after his father but we still use Tui as an affectionate nickname.”
A little known and under appreciated aspect of Folwell’s art are her sculptural pieces. Some of her best such works can be found in what she calls the Love Triptych, comprised of Lingam, Yoni and Hridaya. These abstract pieces, as the artist refers to them, represent ideas found in 1st century Buddhist sutras, or teachings. According to Folwell, “There is the penis ‘Lingam‘ and the female ‘Yoni.‘ With Hridaya we have the triad of love.” The works that are part of the Love Triptych, though anatomical abstractions, are at once erotic, earthy as well as spiritual.
Folwell’s art also contains a rich satiric vein. In a variety of works the artist has skewered social and political problems, poked fun of stereotypes and has deflated male arrogance. However, though Folwell’s barbs are sharp they are never mean spirited.
Get On Your Horse and Ride by Susan Folwell (Santa Clara Pueblo) and FranzieWeldgen;
acrylic paint, Native fired; 12” in diameter x 2.5”h (2003). Private collection
Get On Your Horse and Ride, one of the artist’s earliest satiric pieces, came about after Folwell and her mother, famed artist Jody Folwell, attended a tribal meeting about HIV/AIDS. Folwell’s shock, anger and disappointment over the response of male tribal elders resulted in the controversial plate. When told how to prevent the transmission of the disease and what activities were safer, one of the men stood up and proudly stated, “We don’t do that here. We’re taught to just get on your woman and ride.” Other men in the audience grunted agreement. Infuriated by what she heard and insulted at being likened to a horse, Folwell responded by emblazoning a version of the elder’s words on the plate she created. She also included an arrow containing the statement “Next in a fine line of tradition” that pointed to a young Native boy. Here was a burgeoning Wonder Woman at the beginning of her battle for truth and justice.
Folwell again satirized her pueblo’s elders in two later works: The Blockhead Manifesto and Blockhead Leaders. In both pieces she gave visual expression to the term blockhead by portraying the elders of her pueblo in traditional dance regalia but replacing their heads with what appear to be cement blocks, indicating their thickheadedness.
“The Blockhead Manifesto,” Folwell said, “. . . is one of the most powerful pieces I’ve ever done. It is a commentary on pueblo politics in a male dominated society and machismo stupidity.”
In 2009, the artist returned to the blockhead motif with Blockhead Leaders. “This was the first piece I completed after may stepfather passed away,” Folwell stated. “It was very cathartic for me as it was an unbelievably trying ordeal. It resembles The Blockhead Manifesto for a reason. The entire tribe was in an uproar over what to do with Lucky’s body.” Because he was a Maori, some felt his body should be sent back to New Zealand to be buried among his people but since the pueblo’s elders had given permission for him to be interred at Santa Clara, the matter became controversial. Grief-stricken and caught in the middle of the two factions, Fowell’s mother Jody was pressed to make a decison. “. . . and Indian protocol demanded quick action should be taken in a direction I knew my mother didn’t want,” the artist added. Ultimately, due in large part to Folwell, the body of her stepfather was returned to his homeland in defiance of what the pueblo’s elders thought should be done.
" Pueblo Femme Fatale" canteen by Susan Folwell, Santa Clara, 10” in diameter x 3”deep (20011).
Poking fun of Indian stereotypes through sexually provocative imagery is a fairly recent addition to the artist’s satiric repertoire and she has produced a number of works with this motif, employing the canteen form. One of Folwell’s most striking pieces on this theme is Pueblo Femme Fatale. Native women have been portrayed in countless books, movies and on TV as passionless and submissive but the females depicted on Folwell’s canteens are anything but passive and sexless. The woman seen on Pueblo Femme Fatale is voluptuous and seductive. Her pose is sensual and her clothing revealing. She is not in any way retiring but looks unabashedly back at the viewer. No downcast eyes for her! “She is part of the naughty pueblo girl canteen series,” Folwell said. “The mystery of her kind leaves my mind open to the many possibilities of who she is or what her story is. She IS the smoking gun. The bullet from the barrel. The arrow, not the target is the way I see her.”
A 1906 Edward S. Curtis photograph in which a group of Hopi females sit on the rooftop of a pueblo, their backs to the camera looking at something the viewer cannot see became the inspiration for What Are Those Tourists Wearing?. The humor of the piece comes from the fact that Native Americans have long been viewed as colorful “exotics” and an object of curiosity by mainstream American society. Here Folwell turns the tables. It is the tourists, the people who have come to gawk at the “quaint” Indians who are a bewilderment.
Using an old-style canteen form and muted tones, Folwell forces us to imagine the garish outfits (we’ve all seen them) visitors to the pueblos wear. “I always wanted to do something with that Curtis photo,” the artist stated. “Like the Mona Lisa, we will never know what the girls are looking at or what they’re thinking. It was fun to come up with a comical version of my own.”
The artist chose to employ quite a different color palette in Peace and Quiet, a jar inspired by an old postcard of the Grand Canyon. In this work much of the humor is derived from the glaring contrast between the bright visuals and the words written on the piece. It is a work brimming with irony. Although the words “IN NATURAL COLOR” are emblazoned across the jar, those on the pot are intentionally so far from natural that they almost hurt one’s eyes. Another irony is associating the words Gift Shop with Kiva. “There are so many absurdities,” Folwell commented, “not only with the Fred Harvey era and tourism but still alive and well today. I think this pot reflects the irony of being out in the ‘middle of nowhere‘ surrounded by Humanity (hence all the cars), visiting the gift shop replicating the most sacred place on earth, the kiva (shades of things to come). now our shopping places are the most sacred spaces to us on earth.”
Untitled (Lips) by Susan Folwell, Santa Clara Pueblo, 2.75”h x 9” in diameter (2012).
Collection of E. J. Guarino
Sometimes Folwell’s humor is not used to criticize human foibles or to point out social or political issues but rather to create a sense of sheer fun. Untitled (Lips) is a whimsical piece that makes the viewer smile and sometimes even laugh. As soon as I saw it I knew that this was a very special piece. When I asked the artist the title she said, “It’s untitled.” Then, after a moment or two of thought she added, “Lips, I guess.” We then spent the next ten minutes or so laughing as we competed to come up with rude alternate titles. It was a tie.
What makes this piece so appealing is the use of seventeen sets of lips in combination with an elegant form and muted coloration. “I’ve been going through a body parts phase,” Fowell commented, “and lips are the fascination du jour. The firing on the pot is so subtle, yet striking. I wanted a design that would compliment the shape and overall texture. I experimented in the beginning using wood stain to cover my own lips and stamp them on the bottom. Realizing very quickly I was about to give myself cancer, I reverted to copying lips from the Internet.”
Susan Folwell’s ability to move back and forth from one style to another with apparent ease and what seems like lightening speed is astonishing. However, each style serves an artistic purpose as do the forms she chooses as well as the way in which she decorates her ceramic creations. Folwell’s body of work reflects a love of beauty, a keen interest in the world, a sharp intelligence and a social conscience. Aimed with her superweapons of wit, irony, elegance, humor, satire and creativity, this Wonder Woman of the arts will continue to enthrall collectors, curators and museum-goers for years to come.
The author would like to express his gratitude to Susan Folwell for her invaluable help with this article.
By E. J. GUARINO
“Careful the things you say
Children will listen
Careful the things you do
Children will see and learn
Children may not obey, but children will listen.
Children will look to you for which way to turn,
To learn what to be.”
“Children Will Listen” by Stephen Sondheim from the Broadway musical Into the Woods.
Whether we believe it or not, children do listen to what we as adults say. They may not do as we would hope they do, but they are watching and listening. It is, therefore, very important that we try to model behavior that we wish them to emulate. This is equally true with regard to teenagers and those in their twenties and thirties. Curators and collectors of Native art often decry the dearth of young collectors but we must ask ourselves what we have done to encourage a new generation of collectors who will be as passionate about Native art as we are. Andrea Hanley, Director of the Heard Museum’s Berlin Gallery also worries over the fact that there are so few Native young people who are collecting Native art. It is a genuine concern. Of course, we should not expect collectors to acquire only work created by artists of their own race or ethnicity, but Native art poses a special set of challenges because for the last 500 years it has been non-Natives who have collected Native art. It is they who have decided what is or is not important as well as what is to be exhibited and how it is to be presented. Until very recently, Native people had no say in this process. It is, therefore, extremely important that a new generation, Native young people in particular, be encouraged to collect Native art and schooled in how to do so since they will then be able to influence the direction museums take with regard to this important type of American art. The input of Native peoples is not only important, it is essential to the exhibition of Native art.
My discussions with Andrea Hanley set me to wondering exactly how we can groom younger generations, especially those who are Native, to become collectors of Native art and what role educators, collectors, galleries and museums should play in the process.
There is an overwhelming need for education in the most encompassing sense of that word. I did not become a collector because I was told that I could but because it was one of the few things no one ever told me I couldn’t do. Even as an experienced collector, I sometimes become anxious and wonder, “How dare I, a kid from the Bronx, think I’m a collector!” Then, I realize that, once again, I have become a victim of the very stereotype I am trying to combat – that only the rich can and should collect art. I have found that most people believe this and never think that they can become collectors. The first thing young people need to learn is that this is not true. In addition, there are those who may have the mistaken notion that collecting art is something that only White males do. Such outmoded and erroneous ideas can only be changed through education.
Many States mandate a multicultural curriculum but, it has been my experience that, in practice, this concept does not filter down to the classroom level. The reason for this is simple: You can’t teach what you don’t know. State Education Departments make decrees about what should be taught but usually don’t offer sufficient, if any, continuing education for teachers in the mandated information areas. Teachers, who are already overwhelmed, are expected to educate themselves in order to teach their students. It would be very helpful if museums, tribal groups and collectors set up outreach programs to work with school systems and individual teachers.
Those not involved in the arts often find museums and galleries intimidating. In order to encourage young people to collect, it is important that they feel welcome in these institutions. This is particularly true for those who are Native and may feel that when they enter a museum or gallery they are entering “foreign territory” since the idea of putting objects in a specially designated building where they can be viewed is not an intrinsic part of Native culture.
Often when we try to educate people we start with works deemed “the classics” and then work forward in time to the contemporary period. However, I have found that with young people often the reverse works – starting with material that speaks to the here and now and then working backwards in time.
Potential young collectors who are already in the work force can be informed about Native art in other ways as well. Although the idea of combining art and alcohol makes me nervous, I think an evening at a museum billed as “Appetizers and Art” would be appealing. In such a setting, guests could be introduced to Native art and to a few collectors, some of whom were Native, some female, who could say a few words about collecting (no lectures, nothing academic) and then mix with the crowd. In such a casual atmosphere, collectors can be asked questions over cocktails and strategies such as using layaway could be discussed. It would also be helpful for potential collectors to be able to meet contemporary artists who draw from Pop culture such as Jason Garcia, Diego Romero, Rose B. Simpson and Susan Folwell to name but a few. Meeting contemporary artists would provide a personal connection with the art. At such an event it might also be possible for a young person to find a mentor.
Iqalutsiavak (Beautiful Fish) by Kenojuak Ashevak, stonecut & stencil on Osaki Seichosen
kozo paper; Printer: Qiatsuq Niviaqsi, 38/50; Colors: green, blue, orange, yellow, burgundy; Inuit, Cape Dorset, 26”h x 32”w, Cape Dorset Annual Print Collection #11 (2005). Collection of E. J. Guarino.
Acquired on the advice of Elaine Blechman, owner of Arctic Artistry Gallery and the main mentor of the Inuit portion of the collection.
Mentors are an invaluable resource, especially for the younger or beginning collector. Those who have been collecting for years have developed strategies for collecting and they have developed an instinct about which art works to collect. When I first began to collect I had no mentor and was clearly floundering. Over the years I have been lucky enough to find people who generously gave of their time, knowledge and experience to mentor me in quite a few areas of my collecting. Their input has been inestimable.
A Fine Catch by Kenojuak Ashevak, etching & Aquatint on Arches white paper, Printer:
Studio PM, 39/50; Colors: blue, green, red, brown, black, beige; Inuit, Cape Dorset; Paper size: 19”h x 20”w; Plate size: 12”h x 12”w, Cape Dorset Annual Print Collection # 10 (2004). Collection of E. J. Guarino.
Acquired on the advice of Elaine Blechman, owner of Arctic Artistry Gallery and the main mentor of the Inuit portion of the collection.
Galleries can hold similar events that feature a collector who briefly outlines various methods for starting a collection. In addition, gallery staff can set aside an area designated “For the Beginning Collector” that features affordable, “entry level” artworks. Young collectors should also be made aware of the Heard Museum Guild American Indian Student Art Show & Sale. This annual event showcases the best young Native artists and is an excellent way for beginning collectors to acquire art without a large investment of time or money.
Polychrome Acoma olla, signed Lolita Concho, 11”w x 9”h (ca. 1980s)
Collection of E. J. Guarino
Acquired on the advice of Betty Johnston, first mentor of the pottery portion of the collection.
It is important that we model the idea that it is possible to become a collector on a wide range of incomes. Young people must be made to understand that one does not need to be a Rockefeller, Getty or Vanderbilt to collect. Presenting younger generations with those who have built their collections on moderate salaries brings to life the philosophy that “If he or she can do it, so can I.” Young people need to be shown that being a collector is something within their reach. Although many Native Americans have works of art that were created by family members and are treasured and passed down from generation to generation this is not the same as collecting which usually has a specific focus and assumes that, at some point, the pieces will be exhibited. However, there are Native people who do collect Native art and they can be a source inspiration both for Native and non-native young people. It is essential that Native young people see the importance of their having a say in how Native art is presented; collecting will allow them to have a say in the process. Older collectors, curators, and other museum staff should encourage a new generation to become involved with Native art through collecting by making them aware that this is something that is achievable and worthy of their time and, above all, by making them feel welcome.
See also “ART TREK: The Next Generation", September 2009.
The author would like to thank Andrea Hanley, manager of the Heard Museum’s Berlin Gallery, for her invaluable help with this article.
By E. J. GUARINO
The most basic form of resistance is simply to survive and live to see another day. Native peoples have been doing so throughout the entire course of their history but more so during the last 500 years. Since the arrival of Columbus, New World Native peoples have been depicted as exotic curiosities as well as soulless, blood thirsty savages in desperate need of civilizing and salvation. Such notions lasted well into the 20th century and were amplified by motion pictures and TV, which added to the mix images of the docile Indian female and the brooding, sexually dangerous Native male. Until fairly recently such stereotypes went unchallenged.
Faced with the destruction of their languages, cultures and religions as well as forced removal from their ancestral lands, Native people revolted but were ultimately suppressed. Confronted with overwhelming hardships, rebellion took the form of resistance in an effort to survive. Innumerable artworks attest to the resilience of Native people. Rather than challenge political forces head on, artists and crafts people expressed themselves by subtle, often coded means.
In an Email correspondence about Pueblo pottery fellow collector, Ric Welch stated, “With regard to Native Americans and the making of political statements, I have no doubt that none of those . . . matriarchs or the grandmothers of the matriarchs ever thought in those terms. But I believe that everything we do, every choice we make is a political statement. It is irrelevant whether or not [historic Pueblo potters] ever had a ‘political thought’ in their heads. It’s no less political just because it’s unconscious.”
The work created by the Matriarchs of Pueblo pottery – Nampeyo, Maria Martinez, Lucy Lewis, Margaret Tafoya, and Marie Z. Chino - was produced at a time when it was believed that traditional ways were being lost. With the arrival of settlers to their lands Pueblo people had access to machine made products such as metal pots and pans which, unlike ceramics, are unbreakable and do not require a great deal of time to acquire them. Later when the railroad crossed the continent it brought with it an ever-increasing array of outside goods. In addition to new products, the railroads also brought tourists who bought up Pueblo pottery first as souvenirs and later as art objects. Farsighted museum curators also arrived, collecting pieces that became an important part of many Eastern museum collections. Pueblo potters began to create for this market.
Black-on-black pot with prayer feather and mountain pattern on neck and avanyu
below shoulder by Maria and Julien Martinez, (signed “Marie” on bottom), San Ildefonso, 8.5”w x 6.5”h (circa 1920s).
Collection of E. J. Guarino
In creating their pottery Maria and Julien Martinez, as well as other potters of their time period, were affirming their people’s existence. By making their pieces in the traditional way and decorating them with age old designs they were stating, “We are still here and this is who we are.”
Contemporary Native artists have taken a bolder, more subversive approach using irony, humor and satire to make political and social points. Stereotypes are appropriated for their own purposes and overturned. These artists no longer have to rely on coded messages. They are empowered to express themselves openly and do so.
Pueblo Pinup canteen by Susan Folwell, Santa Clara Pueblo, 6”w x 7”h x 3.5”h
(2011). Collection of E. J. Guarino
For example, in Pueblo Pinup Susan Folwell takes a traditional pottery form and utilizes it for her own artistic purposes. Women were traditionally associated with the canteen since it was they who went to a catch basin or river and brought back water to their village in large pots carried on their head. Some of the water was put into canteens (see below) to make it easily transportable over long distances. In addition the vessel’s rounded, protruding shape echoes that of a pregnant woman who, like the canteen, contains a precious life force. However, Folwell uses the form to explore Native female sexuality and attitudes about it. Native sexuality was often seen as mysterious and dangerous or, like Indian humor, non-existent. The artist takes control of the conversation by painting on the surface of her canteen an Indian maiden, replete with moccasins, leather skirt and a feather in her hair, but striking an iconic American pinup pose. Looking provocatively out at the viewer, this figure is not a passive Pocahontas. If this work had been created by a male artist it might have been viewed as sexist but Fowell uses the racy imagery to encourage discussion about a Native stereotype.
Polychrome Acoma canteen, 7” w x 9”h, unsigned (ca. 1920s – 1930s)
Collection of E. J. Guarino
The satiric barbs of Kaa Lazaro’s Savage Nation are even more pointed and provocative. As with her aunt’s Pueblo Pinup, a stereotypical image of a Native female is used to comment on the shortcomings of mainstream American culture.
Savage Nation by Kaa Lazaro, Santa Clara Pueblo,
ceramic plate with acrylic paint, 10” in diameter at widest point (2012). Collection of E. J. Guarino
According to the artist, a quite a number of people who viewed the work completely misinterpreted her intent, mistakenly thinking she was stereotyping Native woman and found the piece offensive. Ms. Lararo had something quite different in mind when she created Savage Nation. The figure at the center of the plate is being served up just the way Americans like - scantily clad, wearing “war paint,” holding a tomahawk, staring defiantly out at the viewer and poised to attack. However, on closer inspection, the tomahawk is piercing a heart and in her left hand the “warrior” holds a sack bearing the words “Bag of” followed by the image of a broken heart. Between the two parts of the heart is a dollar sign. This figure represents the way Native people - both male and female - have been viewed by mainstream culture and portrayed in the media as violent and overly sexual. It is an image that is, for many, both frightening and titillating. The key to Lazaro’s piece is her use of the colors red, white and blue, though within the blue are marks known as Santa Clara crosses. The imagery and colors, and the words Savage Nation, make it clear that the artist is challenging us to reconsider long held beliefs about Native people and the United States, leaving us to wonder who really are the savages.
Never one to shy away from controversy, Diego Romero has satirized contemporary social, political and economic problems, commented on historical events from a Native point of view and created works with sexually explicit imagery. Romero has drawn inspiration from a diverse range of sources such as Pueblo culture, Greek mythology, comic book art, the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, Picasso’s Guernica and Édouard Manet’s Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe so it comes as no surprise that the artist would choose to reference a well-known Hollywood film in one of his works. Apocalypto, 2011 draws its central image from the final, iconic scene of the 1968 movie Planet of the Apes. The title of the Romero print is also a sly allusion to Mel Gibson’s controversial 2006 film Apocalypto.
Apocalypto, 2011 by Diego Romero, Cochiti Pueblo, two color lithograph, XII/XII, 26” x 26”
(2011). Collection of E. J. Guarino
What makes the Romero print shocking is its ambiguity. To the left of the damaged Statue of Liberty is a kneeling Keith Haring-like figure with upraised arms and clenched fists. The hairstyle and bands on the writs and ankles suggest that this is a Native American. Marks around the arms and radiating from the head represent emotion in comic book style but exactly what reaction is being portrayed remains unclear. Does the Indian decry or exalt over the destruction of one of Americas most beloved and iconic symbols? That fact that Lady Liberty’s Torch of Freedom is still held high and her book with the date July 4, 1776 in Roman numerals remains intact may give a clue.
As with other contemporary artists those who are Native have a range of artistic options from which to choose. Sometimes they create works that are benign – beauty for beauty’s sake – but increasingly they are producing art that challenges preconceived ideas of what it means to be both Native and an artist. Controversial themes and political and social commentary are now part of the artistic repertoire. No longer needing to “speak in code” Native artists are making their voices heard with humor, irony and satire. Perhaps contemporary artist Nicholas Galanin (Tlingit/Aleut) said it best: “. . . some forms of resistance often carry equal amounts of persistence.”
By E. J. GUARINO
With few exceptions, for some fifty years Inuit art has shown a benign, some would say glowing, face to the outside world. Aware that the art market (consisting mostly of Canadians living outside of the Arctic, Americans and, to a lesser degree, Europeans) preferred to consume colorful and charming images of Arctic wildlife and scenes of a nomadic life that was no longer lived, that’s exactly what was produced. However, Inuit culture, like all cultures, also has a somber side and drawings and a few prints dealing with disturbing subjects began to trickle out to collectors. Murder, suicide, alcoholism, and domestic abuse were documented by important Inuit artists. Some works also revealed the problems that arose with the arrival of Christian missionaries and other outsiders, the forced introduction of French and English and the boarding school experience. Artists who dared to grapple with such themes faced criticism from their fellow Inuit and possible rejection from collectors. Nonetheless, a few brave artists were willing to go to the dark side of the moon to show us what had so long been hidden from view. Inuit artists, like all artists, want to express their feelings. As with all people, the Inuit want to present their culture in the best possible light and outsiders, for the most part, have preferred not to know about harsh realities. Artists such as Kananginak Pootoogook, Napatchie Pootoogook, Annie Pootoogook, Peter Aliknak, Janet Kigusiuq and, more recently, Jamasie Pitseolak have all explored controversial aspects of Inuit culture in their art.
Vengeance by Peter Aliknak, stonecut, 44/50, #28, Holman Island, 17¾” x 24¼” (1972)
Collection of E. J. Guarino
One of the most shocking Inuit prints ever produced is Peter Aliknak’s Vengeance. The violence in the work is palpable as it captures a horrific moment in time – a knife wielding man in the act of stabbing another man. The intended victim has fallen backwards as a third man attempts to pull him out of harm’s way. This is a life and death struggle and the viewer is left to wonder if the man has been killed or if he has narrowly escaped with his life.
Of the three figures the artists chose only to show the face of the man holding the knife. Because the other faces are not shown, these two men take on a universal quality, raising fear and tension in the viewer that they could so easily be us. Except for the knife and the expression on the face of the attacker, the work has a casual, matter-of-fact quality almost as if viewers are seeing a dance. In essence we are, but it is one of life and death. In addition, the somber nature of the subject is heightened by Aliknak’s use of what are essentially black images on a white page.
The Struggle by Janet Kigusiuq, Inuit, Baker Lake, #19, Linocut & Stencil 1/30, edition 30,
19¾” x 24½” (1980) Collection of E. J. Guarino
Although she was known for her scenes of traditional Inuit life and her abstract explorations of form and color, Janet Kigusiuq did produce a few works that depicted some of the darker aspects of her culture. In The Struggle, for example, Kigusiuq shows a communal conflict. The central figures of the work are two men who are fighting. To their right is a woman (indicated by her long hair) who appears to be pregnant and is pointing at the combatant on the left. Behind her is a person with raised fists, apparently goading the two men on. The three figures on the right side of the print are visually connected to each other by the use of colors for the trim of their garments: blue for the male; blue and yellow for the pregnant female; yellow for the third figure that may be related to the woman. The combination of blue and yellow in one garment suggests the uniting of two families into one.
The four figures on the left side of the print are more puzzling, however. The clothing of the fighter on this side of the print is trimmed in red. The only other figure with similarly colored clothing is an onlooker in the background. Behind the combatant on the left is a man whose clothing is trimmed in black. He appears hunched over and is holding a stick, which is probably a cane, in one hand and in his other is a knife with which he is about to stab the fighter in the red trimmed garments in the back. Behind him is a man wearing brown trimmed clothing who also wields a knife. To his right is the other man in the red trimmed clothing who appears to watch him in stunned disbelief. As in all cultures, there is competition among men over women and between women over men. This may lead to violence and can be disruptive to an entire community.
Kigusiuq has created a scene fraught with drama but leaves the final interpretation up to the viewer. We are left pondering what exactly is taking place. Is one man trying to steal another’s wife? Has an act of adultery taken place or one of rape? Furthermore, the situation is serious enough that others besides the three main players in the conflict have become involved to the point of murder. The work suggests that violence, like a pebble thrown into a pond, has a ripple effect that touches the lives of many people. There is clear documentation by Inuit artists that violence exists in their culture.
Coming to Take a Wife by Janet Kigusiuq, pencil crayon, Baker Lake, 12½” x 16” (2002)
Collection of E. J. Guarino
As happens worldwide often violence is directed against women. Janet Kigusiuq tackled another controversial subject in Coming to Take a Wife. The choice of the word take combined with the drawing’s imagery is very telling: a man is clearly taking a woman by force while a third person tries to prevent the abduction. In 1978 the artist produced Picking a Wife (see below), a print also on the theme of marriage. However, the images and the word picking are much more benign. There is no hint of violence in the work. A man simply seems to be choosing between two women. In reality, the choice belonged solely to the man and rarely, if ever, did an Inuit woman get the husband she wanted.
Picking a Wife by Janet Kigusiuq, Inuit, Baker Lake,
#32, artist proof 2/5, linocut & stencil edition 45, 24” x 39” (1978)
Collection of E. J. Guarino
Other artists, notably Napachie Pootoogook, have also dealt with the practice of forced mariages, which was once part of the traditional Inuit camp system. As she grew older, Kigusiuq became more daring as an artist both in her abstract and representational work. The abusive treatment of women was something that weighed heavily on many female Inuit artists and it was very daring of them to reveal the many ways in which females were abused. Women were often taken in marriage against their will and after being abducted and taken far from their families women had little choice but to submit to the will of their husband. Many men beat their wives but Inuit women never left their husbands. They somehow learned to make the best of their lot in life. When children were born it became impossible to leave. Today, Inuit women refuse to submit to this practice.
Two of the most shocking and disturbing contemporary works on paper by an Inuit artist were produced by Jamasie Pitseolak and together form a whole that must be seen together otherwise what the artist is saying is incomplete. The two prints are based on what happened to Pitseolak while a student in the Canadian Indian residential school system. According to Paul Conroy of the Marion Scott Gallery, “This is the first time this unfortunate episode in the lives of many Inuit children has been addressed in any artwork. While the images are based on Jamasie’s own experiences, the story belongs to almost 150 schoolboys in Sanikiluaq, Iqaluit, Cape Dorset, Kimmirut and Grise Fiord who suffered sexual abuse at the hands of . . . one teacher between 1971 and 1985.”
The Canadian Indian Residential School System was founded in the 1800s and was, in many ways, similar to the Indian Boarding School System in the U.S. The intent of the schools was the forced assimilation of Native people into the mainstream of Canadian life. This necessitated children being separated from their families so that they could be “civilized.”
The earliest schools were established in the 1840s and were propped up by laws such as the Gradual Civilization Act of 1857 and the Gradual Enfranchisement Act of 1869, which were based on the belief that Euro-Canadian culture, English and Christianity were inherently superior to aboriginal culture, languages and religions.
The schools, funded by the Canadian government, were run by a variety of Christian denominations with Roman Catholicism predominating by more than half.
In an attempt to eradicate what they considered the Indian nature of the children in their charge, teachers used corporeal punishment on students for speaking their Native tongues or for practicing aboriginal faiths. In addition, because of insufficient funding, schools were overcrowded and lacked proper medical care, making them a breading ground for tuberculosis and other diseases. Many students were also the victims of physical and sexual abuse. Because they were poorly funded by the government, schools relied on the forced labor of students to maintain buildings and grounds. Between 1894 and 1908 alone it has been estimated that thirty to sixty percent of the students in the residential school system died.
Attendance at the residential schools was mandatory. Students were often taken by force and their parents threatened with imprisonment. Since distances between their communities and their schools were so great, most students did not see their families for up to ten months and some didn’t see them for years. Aboriginal languages were to be forgotten in favor of English or French; Native faiths, considered idolatry, were to be replaced by Christianity.
Most of the Indian residential schools were closed in the 1960s but it was not until 1996 that the last one was shut down. Jamasie Pitseolak, as one of the boys who was sexually abused, drew on a painful experience to create two powerful works of art: The Student and The Day After. Although both works were intended to be seen together they are not the same size. This alone makes an important statement. The Student looms large at thirty-one by forty-four inches while The Day After at nineteen and a half by fifteen inches is much smaller indicating the effect of the abuse in the first work and in the second work how small the victim felt afterward.
The Student by Jamasie Pitseolak, Inuit, Cape Dorset, hand painted dry-point etching,
2/15; paper size: 31.5” x 44;” image size: 23.5“x 35“(2010) Collection of E. J. Guarino
The Student, the first of Jamasie Pitseolak’s print pair, shows a boy (the artist) in a bathtub just prior to being abused by one of his teachers. The color pink is used on this figure to symbolize childhood innocence, while slash marks across the scene are painted chartreuse, indicating the artist’s revulsion about the act that is about to take place. The abuser stands beside the tub, his eyes, chest, genitals and feet colored the same sickly yellow green as the slash marks. The artist has also drawn him with what appear to be two penises. In addition, Pitseolak used strong marks over the image of the attacker as if to cross him out.
The Day After by Jamasie Pitseolak, Inuit, Cape Dorset,
hand painted dry-point etching, 2/15; paper size: 19.5” x 15;” image size: 11.75“ x 8.5 “ (2010)
Collection of E. J. Guarino
The Day After, the second print of the pair, shows the aftermath of the previous day’s attack. This time the teacher is painted completely green with an asterisk, a star and other markings coming out of his mouth, representing expletives and threats, as they do in comic book art. The student, almost formless and looking much like a limp pink rag, is held by his neck near his desk. As in the first print, the teacher is negated by slash marks.
It took a great deal of courage not only for the artist to reveal that he had been sexually abused but more so because he chose to do it in such a public way through his art. According to Paul Conroy, “During his talk about the works. . . Jamasie broke down when asked about the two etchings. Obviously, he has been marked for life. He did say that doing the works and talking about them is helping him to cope though.”
Both The Student and The Day After are a far cry from the expected Inuit images of brightly colored Arctic animals and scenes of nomadic people hunting, fishing and building Igloos but they reflect another aspect of the Inuit experience.
Mother Superior by David Ruben Piqtoukun, Inuit, Paulatuk, N.W.T., 10”tall (1997)
Collection of E. J. Guarino
Mother Superior by David Ruben Piqtoukun also references the Canadian Indian residential school experience but does so in a less direct manner through symbolism and choice of medium. Piqtoukun portrays the nun with cold, staring eyes, no smile and a pointed chin. There is no veil or wimple, just the bare head. The posture of the mother superior is one of rigid authority. This is heightened by the placement of the hands across the abdomen and hidden within the sleeves of the habit.
The artist uses symbolism to make a biting comment: the figure has two holes in it - one where the heart would be and another where the genitals and reproductive organs are found. The viewer can look through the holes which creates the impression that this woman is empty both spiritually and physically. Piqtoukun’s choice of medium, stone which is cold to the touch, adds to the overall tone of the sculpture.
Many collectors believe that controversial subject matter has no place in Native art. They see works that deal with such issues as somehow “inauthentic.” However, some of the harshest criticism faced by contemporary Native artists comes from members of their own communities who feel that problems should not be aired publicly. In spite of this, many Native artists continue to create works that explore shocking and painful themes. They refuse to be anything less than a fully realized artist, fulfilling their impulse to express themselves completely rather than remaining safely within the status quo and doing only what is commercially viable.
The author would like to express his gratitude to Paul Conroy, Marion Scott Gallery, for his invaluable help with this article.
Eliza Naranjo Morse's Beetle Series
By E. J. GUARINO
Rats, mice, snakes and insects, with the notable exception of butterflies, bumblebees and dragonflies, generally don’t come to mind when thinking about appropriate subject matter for works of art. The reason is quite simple: most people find these creatures repulsive. Nonetheless, these critters have made innumerable appearances in artworks throughout history so it should have come as no surprise to me when Eliza Naranjo Morse created a series of stencils with images of beetles, but it was.
And We’ll Live off the Fat of the Land by Eliza Naranjo Morse, Santa Clara Pueblo,
stencil,edition #1; spray paint on butcher paper, 24” x 35” (2011).
Collection of E. J. Guarino
At first, I just couldn’t come to grips with what the artist was attempting to do, but I couldn’t get her colorfully rendered bugs out of my mind. The title of the series, And We’ll Live off the Fat of the Land, only added to my fascination. Of course, it was immediately clear to me that Naranjo Morse’s intention was not to be the Native American Audubon. Her purpose in this series is not to record every physical attribute of the insect she chose to portray. In this regard, the drawings are in keeping with the artistic philosophy of Henri Matisse.
When a large retrospective was mounted in 1948 by the Philadelphia Art Museum of Matisse’s work the artist wrote two articles for the exhibition catalogue. One, “L’exactitude n’est pas la vérité” (“Exactitude is Not Truth”) takes its title from a saying by Delacroix and in it Matisse makes some profound statements about his work and on art in general. “. . . the characteristics of drawing,” he wrote, “. . . do not depend on the exact copying of natural forms, nor on the patient assembling of exact details but on the profound feeling of the artist before the objects which he has chosen, on which his attention is focused, and the spirit of which he has penetrated.” Matisse went on to say that “. . . there is an inherent truth which must be disengaged from the outward appearance of the object to be represented. This is the only truth that matters.”
And We’ll Live off the Fat of the Land by Eliza Naranjo Morse, Santa Clara
Pueblo, stencil, edition #3; spray paint on butcher paper, 24” x 35” (2011).
Collection of E. J. Guarino
And We’ll Live off the Fat of the Land is a quotation from John Steinbeck’s classic novella Of Mice and Men. It is a book that the artist’s mother, Nora Naranjo Morse, read to her children. In it the two main characters, George and Lenny, are motivated by their dream of having their own land, getting some animals and living “off the fat of the land.” For Naranjo Morse this idea is “. . . a representation . . . of wanting to find peace and feel whole, where you’re working hard and it feels good to work for the reward of finding yourself in a life that feels manageable and safe and . . . healthy.”
Naranjo Morse had done an earlier series of stencils for the Heard Museum’s Berlin Gallery that bore the same title and although each of the three prints in this first series was called something different, they were hung together on the wall and she had written in pencil with big letters above the prints And We’ll Live off the Fat of the Land. About the title the artist stated, “I value that quote on such a deep . . . level at this point (because I think I related to the story at such a young age) that when I started making the stencils I attached my own sense of this process being humble, good work. For some reason, when I was finishing these bugs I felt like the title was appropriate.”
According to the artist, the bugs are a type of shiny beetle she discovered while looking at photos in a National Geographic magazine. However, this leaves one to wonder why this title came back to Naranjo Morse now? The artist stated that it may be “. . . because of the place of my mind. This dream that George and Lenny share, is my own humble dream and I find connections to this dream in more and more of my actions.”
The creation of these stencils began with the title, And We’ll Live off the Fat of the Land. “At this point,” the artist said, “I am narrowing down my titles for all my work. Although there is no cultural agenda, I find that I am making things (that may or may not appear connected) for the same 'root' reasons. These are dense complex jumbles of perception and emotion and understanding about my human experience and how I make sense of it. It, of course, is not the quote all on it's own but the emotion and desire that Lenny and George attached to it that creates such a deep attachment in me.” The connection between the Steinbeck quotation and the beetles does make sense since these creatures do, in fact, “live off the fat of the land.”
And We’ll Live off the Fat of the Land by Eliza Naranjo Morse, Santa Clara Pueblo,
stencil, edition #6; spray paint and glow in the dark paint on butcher paper, 24”x35” (2011).
Collection of E. J. Guarino
Each of the beetles in the series was given a different hue, thus creating various emotional tonalities. “The colors are all an experiment,” the artist stated, “but they hold different personalities . . . .” One of the stencils also incorporates glow in the dark paint. The effect is achieved by phosphorus made specifically for print making. “Glow in the dark speaks of the excitement and shared moment many people remember of going into dark closets or peeking in another person’s cupped hands to see a little glowing plastic goblin or something,” Naranjo Morse added. “I really enjoy the glow in the dark; it just takes much more time since the layers go on slowly.”
And We Will Live off the Fat of the Land by Eliza Naranjo Morse, Santa Clara Pueblo,
stencil, edition #9; spray paint on butcher paper, 29” x 41” (2011).
Collection of E. J. Guarino
After a period of deep introspection about her life and her art, Naranjo Morse returned to the series in the summer of 2011, producing three more stencils, each copper in color, and a collage.
The collage is particularly intriguing since it is a simultaneous exploration of figuration and abstraction. The stencils in the series are concerned with color and hue and have a formal, almost staid, quality. The colors employed by the artist in the collage are also important but this piece, which combines figuration and abstraction, is an investigation of line, texture and form and has a spontaneous, playful tone. Of this work the artist has stated, “I imagine if I see that piece when I’m an older lady it will conjure up a deep emotion of searching. The collage was the third and most successful attempt to find change and it describes that searching, the digging, that action of moving forward to find something new. It’s the beetle moving beyond the grass and moving into the earth below. It’s obviously . . . a piece about working hard at searching for something that is there but you are not certain what it is.”
And We Will Live off the Fat of the Land by Eliza Naranjo Morse, Santa Clara Pueblo,
collage on butcher paper; gesso, spray paint, 26” x 48.5” (2011).
Collection of E. J. Guarino
To be honest, of all the works I’ve acquired by Eliza Naranjo Morse I found her beetle series to be the most puzzling. I just could not wrap my mind around them at first. However, since I could not get them out of my head, I knew that they were destined to become part of my collection. Generally, I don’t worry about what a piece I’m considering “means.” The overriding factor is that the work speaks to me. I want to respond to it on a subconscious, emotional level. I usually figure out why I felt the way I did later, sometimes after a long period of time has passed. Fortunately, with the beetle works I had the help of the artist who generously shared her thoughts and feelings with me with regards to the And We’ll Live off the Fat of the Land series – what inspired her and why and how the pieces were made. As a collector it was truly enlightening to have an artist reveal her creative process to me. It was certainly a privilege to be allowed into such a private and personal experience.
The author would like to express his gratitude to Eliza Naranjo Morse for her invaluable help with this article.
By E. J. GUARINO
Ceramic art and flight are, generally, not thought of together but Virgil Ortiz has managed to combine the two. Creating pottery, especially figures, is a slow and time consuming process, not one associated with speed. In the past Ortiz has dazzled and amazed us in exhibitions of his work provocatively titled “Tourniquet, “Vertigo,” “Distortion,” “Contortionista,” and “Saints and Sinners.” In “Velocity,” his latest show for the King Galleries of Scottsdale, he does not disappoint, fearlessly challenging his creativity and the limits of the ceramic medium.
The concept of “Velocity” is to project the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 into the future to 2180. Why does Ortiz choose to reset something that happened 332 years ago 168 years in the future? Perhaps he feels that Native people have yet to achieve true freedom and that it may still be a long time coming. Also, for a contemporary audience, viewing the revolt through a futuristic lens makes it compelling and immediate, rather than a distant historical event.
In the 1600s as more and more Spanish settlers moved onto Native lands, Pueblo people were subjected to cruel injustices. In many instances, although they were not legally slaves, in actuality they were. Finally, under the leadership of Po’pay a plan was devised to throw off the oppressors once and for all using an ingenious system of runners bearing knotted cords to coordinate the attacks. This method of communicating was indecipherable to the Spanish. Many settlers, including priests, were killed. Entire villages were left as smoldering ruins. However, in July 1692 Diego de Vargas returned with six soldiers, seven cannons, a Franciscan priest and a Zuni convert, promising clemency and protection if the Pueblos swore allegiance to the Spanish king and returned to the Catholic Faith. Remarkably, the Pueblos agreed. Perhaps the presence of the cannons was the deciding factor. In subsequent years, there were seventy executions and 400 Pueblo people were sentenced to ten years of servitude. A second revolt was attempted but was brutally put down. Non-Pueblo people were once again firmly in power. This retaking of Pueblo lands became known as La Reconquista (The Reconquest). For over 300 years the Pueblo Revolt was seen quite differently by those of Spanish heritage and Pueblo people. In fact, there is a stature of the Virgin in the Cathedral of Saint Francis of Assisi in Santa Fe that, until recently, was revered as La Conquistadora (The Conqueress). In an attempt at reconciliation, the name was changed to Our Lady Queen of Peace.
Perhaps the most important event in Pueblo history, the 1680 revolt still resonates today among Native people and has inspired many Pueblo artists. In Virgil Ortiz’ futuristic vision of this seminal event, a character named the Translator is charged with the mission of communicating stories of the Pueblo Revolt, past and future, to the world. This mysterious figure is, in essence, Ortiz’ alter ego. It is the year 2180 and Native lands continue to be invaded by outsiders and the Po’Pay of the future summons the Blind Archers, a group of female warriors led by Tahu, and the Gliders, the 22nd century equivalent of the 1680 runners, led by Mopez to Tent Rocks, sacred formations near Cochiti Pueblo. (For more about Tent Rocks see “TEEPEES OF STONE: Tent Rocks National Monument,” January 2011.) As in the 17th century, a revolt is set in motion to free Pueblo people from their oppressors.
Po’Pay is such a legendary figure that often history and myth collide, making it difficult to separate the two. Virgil Ortiz has allowed the stories surrounding this heroic figure to inspire and infuse the work in his current exhibition for King Galleries: an installation, works in clay and a video.
THE SIGHT SPECIFIC INSTALLATION:
Virgil Ortiz painted a prayer on two walls of the King Galleries. It is written in a “secret language” (a combination of Cochiti and English) that the artist and four or five of his friends made up when they were in grade school together. The work, done in a stylized script freehand and intended to be ephemeral, will be painted over when the exhibit ends. The prayer is a translation of one from the 1680 Pueblo Revolt and is intended to have significance for all time periods.
WORKS IN CLAY:
Ortiz created eight figures, plus a jar and a plate that illustrate the theme of the exhibition: the 1680 Revolt seen as if it is taking place in the future. Each of the ceramic pieces is decorated with the artist’s iconic signature designs – swirls, sunbursts, triangles, and straight lines suggestive of tattoo art.
Translator Sprint by Virgil Ortiz, Cochiti Pueblo, 19” x 10” x 10,” (2012).
Ortiz brings the Translator to life again in Translator Sprint, another stunning ceramic figure that pushes the medium to its limits. Twisting much like many of the figures carved by Michelangelo in stone, this piece is a striking achievement in the art of ceramics. The piece is full of movement and drama as only Virgil Ortiz can elicit from clay. That Virgil Ortiz manages to get the clay to do what he asks of it is nothing short of miraculous.
Translator Plate by Virgil Ortiz, Cochiti Pueblo, 11” in diameter (2012)
The image of the character charged with communicating Virgil Ortiz’ unique narrative, the Translator, dominates a plate with a head and neck covered in tattoo-like designs. The character has an intentionally androgynous quality, a treatment that the artist often employs in his representational pieces.
Tahu, Leader of the Blind Archers by Virgil Ortiz, Cochiti Pueblo, 15”w x 19”h (2012).
Largely covered in a black-and-white pattern, the figure of Tahu wields a blaster gun of the future rather than the bow and arrows of the past. She strikes a commanding pose, appearing to be ready to attack. The artist considers this the exhibit’s signature piece.
Two of the most striking figures in the Velocity Series represent members of the Blind Archers. As conceived by Ortiz, these female warriors seem to struggle to emerge from the clay (again, reminiscent of some of Michelangelo's sculptures). According to the artist, this is indicative of how they entered the world of 2180, possibly through a star gate or wormhole. Once again, Ortiz’ mastery of the ceramic medium is astounding. Both figures are covered with the artist’s trademark designs that also include X’s. As explained by Ortiz, these markings represent turkey tracks. Since these birds are hard to follow because the imprint they leave behind resembles an X, the mark symbolizes the idea that “no one will know my next move.”
Tent Rock Glider Set by Virgil Ortiz, Cochiti Pueblo, 15½”w x 16¼”h; individual Gliders 15” long,
One of the most intriguing pieces in the Velocity Series portrays Gliders, the 22nd century equivalent of the 1680 runners as they fly at top speed from Tent Rock. In the work, the natural formation appears to have been personified since its shape is suggestive of a human figure.
Velocity Jar by Virgil Ortiz, Cochiti Pueblo, 17”w x 10”h (2012).
A Glider also makes an appearance in one of the most spectacular pots ever created by Virgil Ortiz. Decorated with tattoo and sunburst designs, the most startling aspect of the Velocity Jar is that one of the Gliders appears to burst through it into the 22nd century, much like a superhero.
Castilian 2180 by Virgil Ortiz, Cochiti Pueblo, 7½”w x 18¼”h (2012).
A figure titled Castilian 2180 represents the Spanish invaders in the retelling of the Pueblo Revolt narrative in the future. Clearly, this is the villain of the story. Bearing a cross on the helmet that completely covers his face and crosses on his thick boots, the Castilian brandishes a spiked shield and a blaster gun. Of all the pieces in the series, this is the only one whose face is concealed, giving the figure an ominous, non-human quality. No one today working in the medium of ceramics is as daring or is able to achieve the same exciting results as Virgil Ortiz.
The Translator Unleashed was created by Ortiz (who also wrote the music) in conjunction with his Velocity Series and is reminiscent of other futuristic films such as Alphaville by Jean-Luc Godard, Blade Runner by Ridley Scott and THX11 by George Lucas. With this video, Ortiz not only explores a new medium but also brings to life the ceramic figures he created as part of “Velocity” and reinforces uniquely Native American ideals: the right to control ones destiny, personal and cultural sovereignty and freedom – that became part of the American fabric.
“Velocity” presents the Pueblo Revolt (sometimes referred to as the First American Revolution) from a Native perspective. This is not the first time Virgil Ortiz has done this. However, in his newest exhibit Ortiz not only, once again, leaves his unique personal mark on the Cochiti tradition ceramic figures known as monos, he continues to expand his artistic range by exploring other media. What is so exciting about the exhibit is the fact that the concept is too complex for just one medium so Ortiz uses three to convey his multifaceted themes. Never before has an artist projected an historical event into the future, forcing audiences to see its relevancy in a new light. Virgil Ortiz’ openness to all forms of artistic expression, his inventiveness and his willingness to embrace experimentation make him one of the country’s most exciting contemporary artists.
Installation photographs by Jeffrey VanDyke.
By E. J. GUARINO
A number of ceramic shapes still produced by Native potters reveal the utilitarian origins of the art form. As Moderns we may think, for example, that we invented the mug, but the truth is that Ancestral Puebloans, who flourished between 100 B. C. and A. D. 1400 and are the ancestors of all Pueblo people, were creating them more than a thousand years ago. Although they produced pottery that was intended for use, these ceramics were artfully decorated and highly sought after in trade. Today we may think of them as works of art but, originally, they served a practical purpose. Nonetheless, they are also beautiful.
Ancestral Puebloan back-on-white mug, 3 7/8” x 3 5/8” (ca. A.D. 900 – 1300).
Collection of E. J. Guarino
Felipe Ortega is a modern artist who creates ceramics that are not only works of art but are meant to be used. A few years ago I became aware of his work and was immediately impressed by their beauty since the micaceous clay he uses gives each piece a natural sparkle. I purchased two mugs, one the traditional orange/brown and the other black. I was told that it would be great to have my morning coffee out of them. Although I know that the mugs are not simply works of art I have yet to bring myself to drink out of them.
Micaceous mugs by Felipe Ortega, Jicarilla Apache/Hispanic;
Left: Black mug, 3½”h x 6” wide including handle (2007); Right: Traditional mug, 4”h x 6” wide including handle (2007)
Collection of E. J. Guarino
Although we might not associate the tall, cylindrical shape of drinking glasses with Native culture, that form has existed among Native people in North, Central and South America for quite some time. Known as beakers, these vessels were made out of a variety of materials – clay, wood, gold and silver – and used to serve an assortment of beverages. In Mexico, they were used by the Aztecs for drinking chocolatl (from the Maya xocoatl), a cold drink made from cocoa, chilies, vanilla and other ingredients, and in South America the Inca and other groups used them for chicha, a corn beer.
I acquired a piece with this particular shape in the 1980s when I started to collect Native American pottery. At an auction in Upstate New York, I bought a number of examples of early 20th century Hopi pottery, among them a cylindrical beaker. However, it wasn’t until many years later that I saw the similarity of this form to our modern glassware.
Cylindrical beaker/pot with brown and rust designs on buff, artist unknown, Hopi, 5” tall
(Circa 1940s -1950s) Donated to the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center at Vassar College from
the E. J. Guarino Collection, 2008
In 2005 I purchased a beaker by Jake Koopee and the light bulb finally went on. Covered by a muted polychrome abstract design with a small figure clearly taken from petroglyphs, the piece is very reminiscent of modern glassware. I bought it for this reason and because it made a wonderful counterpoint to the Hopi beaker I had added to my collection earlier.
Beaker with multi-hued geometric designs and human figures by Jake Koopee,Hopi/Tewa, 7” tall (ca. 2005) Collection of E. J. Guarino
At another 1980s auction I also acquired an Ancestral Puebloan bowl. Although it was broken some time in its history and much later repaired, it remains quite beautiful. The piece displays the same aesthetic as our own since, whether full or empty, we tend to look at the interior of a bowl rather than its exterior. When used at a meal, as the level of the food goes down, the design is revealed.
Black-on-red Ancestral Puebloan bowl, 4”h x 8½” in diameter (circa 1300 A.D.)
Collection of E. J. Guarino
I acquired another prehistoric bowl on a trip to Denver. It caught my attention because, at the time, I was avidly collecting Mata Ortiz pottery, which was inspired by ancient Casas Grandes ceramics.
The Casas Grandes culture, which flourished between A. D. 1200 – 1450, spread across a large portion of what is today the modern Mexican State of Chihuahua and its influence was felt as far north as Chaco Canyon in present-day New Mexico. Paquimé, the culture’s largest city, covered nearly ninety acres and was a major trade center for the dispersal of goods between Mesoamerica and the early Pueblo cultures. Made of adobe, many of Paquimé’s buildings have iconic Ancestral Puebloan T-shaped doors. These same entryways are also found at Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument 200 miles to the north and at Pueblo Bonito in Chaco Canyon, 400 miles north of Paquimé. Many archaeologists believe that the Casas Grandes culture was a blending of some Mesoamerican culture - Aztec, Toltec, or some other - grafted on to the Mogollon culture, which flowered between 200 B.C. and A.D. 1400 in what is now southern New Mexico, eastern Arizona and the Mexican states of Sonora and Chihuahua.
In the early 1970s a young named Juan Quezada from the village of Mata Ortiz often found shards of Casas Grandes pottery as he looked for wood not far from the nearby ruins of Paquimé. These pieces of broken pottery set Juan to thinking and, through a process of trial and error, he re-discovered the techniques of pottery making employed at Casas Grandes so long ago. In the process, he started an art renaissance in his village that is still going on.
Casas Grandes polychrome bowl, 4”tall x 7” wide (ca. 1300-1400 A. D.)
Collection of E. J. Guarino
The two pre-historic bowls in my collection are a study in contrasts because the Ancestral Puebloan bowl has a decorated interior and a plain exterior while the Casas Grandes piece is plain inside but outside it is covered in abstract designs.
Over the years, however, I began to wonder if the pre-historic pieces in my collection had ever actually been used for food and began to feel that they most probably had been part of a burial as most pre-historic Native pottery was. For this reason, I stopped collecting this type of pottery early on. Whenever I speak about collecting I mention the connection between pre-historic pottery, graves and the belief among many archaeologists and collectors that buying this type of ceramic may encourage looting of burial sites. Instead, I encourage collectors to acquire historic pottery (for those who like older pieces) or contemporary pottery, which helps provide an income for a living artist.
A bowl in my collection that does follow the criteria of supporting a living artist is one by Felipe Ortega. The piece, a combination of natural micaceous clay color as well as black, which is produced by limiting oxygen during firing, is a striking work of art. Amazingly, although the piece was fired outdoors using bark, not in a kiln, it has no fire clouds. The scalloped edge gives the work a delicate quality and the tiny specks of mica in the clay make the bowl sparkle when light hits it. Like the mugs I own by Ortega, the bowl was meant for use. However, I find it so beautiful that I can’t bring myself to cook in it.
Traditional and black micaceous open bean pot by Felipe Ortega, Jicarilla Apache/Hispanic, 4½”h; 9” in diameter (2009)
Collection of E. J. Guarino
Some works, which clearly are derived from tableware, are intended solely as works of art. The plate form, probably borrowed from Spanish or Anglo culture, is one that I have never seen in pre-historic Pueblo pottery. However, quite a number of Native artists, from Maria Martinez to contemporary potters such as Steve Lucas, Susan Folwell and Preston Duwyenie, have produced plates, which have no practical purpose. Over the years I have collected a number of them. One of my favorites is a plate with a wildly abstract design by Mata Ortiz potter Cruz Renteria Heras. The piece is shockingly thin and the design, which is arresting, has a spinning quality.
Plate with fine line and geometric designs by Cruz Renteria Heras, Mata Ortiz, Mexico, 11” in diameter (circa 2002 –2003)
Collection of E. J. Guarino
Pottery is the heart of my collection. It’s what I first collected and, almost thirty years later, the love affair continues. I still discover new and wonderful aspects of this wonderful art form and I continue to learn from my collection. I am also pleased that more people are realizing that Native pottery is not simply a craft but fine art as well. Skill and craft are certainly involved but these are not enough to raise a piece to the level of art. Of course, not every piece of pottery is a work of art but neither is every pot simply a craft item. In some cases, such as the work of Filpe Ortega and others, for example, it is functional as well as art. Today, museumgoers, collectors and curators are looking at Native pottery with new eyes and open minds and contemporary Native ceramic artists are demanding that their work be given the respect and recognition it deserves. The spectrum of Native pottery is extremely diverse and offers many opportunities to those to who collect it to broaden their knowledge as well as to educate others.
By E. J. GUARINO
Collectors must ponder the benefits as well as the dangers the Internet offers. On the one hand, it allows us to see a great deal of art in the comfort of our home, or anywhere else for that matter, since most galleries have web sites. On the other hand, at this point in time, the Internet has few checks and balances so I warn people to approach online auctions with caution. The dictum, “Let the buyer beware” definitely applies here. Although it is often said that a picture is worth a thousand words, photographs can be misleading.
For example, for years I had been buying Mata Ortiz pottery from two galleries in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. On one visit I saw a lovely large olla in one of these galleries and asked if I could see it. As I turned the piece around in my hands I noticed an imperfection about the size of a quarter. I had missed it because the pot had been placed on an upper shelf with the flaw facing the wall and, therefore, out of sight. This raised my first suspicion. The gallery owner explained that the mark on the piece had been caused by animal droppings before it had been fired and immediately offered me a discount but I declined the piece.
When I returned home I went on the gallery’s web site where I saw the same olla offered for sale. Neither the photograph nor the accompanying text revealed that this pot had a defect. Had I only seen the piece online I would probably have purchased it. I never again bought from that gallery since I have a very simple rule with regard to my collection: Anyone from whom I buy art must, like Caesar’s wife, be above suspicion. I expect gallery owners to be scrupulously honest and the overwhelming majority of them are since their reputations are at stake.
The owner of the gallery had a number of honest choices she could have made when she received the pot. She could have simply rejected it or she could have offered it for sale at a discount but with full disclosure. That she chose not to do so was very telling as far as I was concerned. Reputable galleries are willing to answer any questions you might have and supply any information you require. The key word in the previous sentence is reputable.
All of the galleries from which I buy art, except one, are located outside of New York State so I must rely on their web sites to acquire new pieces for my collection. I feel comfortable doing so because of the long-standing relationships I have with the owners and staff at each gallery. However, many subtle qualities of artworks, such as color, texture and size, are lost in online images. When a collector is forced to buy art from a JPEG because of the constraints imposed by distance, honest e-mail correspondence and phone discussions with gallery staff are essential. As a collector I have to know that a gallery owner will not let me buy a piece that he or she didn’t think would add to my collection. Buying solely from a JPEG is not enough since it can never replace seeing a work of art in person. The experience is just not the same. It is also essential for the collector to research the artist and the gallery if he or she has not purchased art from the gallery in the past. I came to realize the great difference between viewing a photo of a work of art and seeing it in person while buying Inuit prints.
Every year I purchase a few works from the Annual Cape Dorset Print Collection. I view the prints online and then drive about a half hour to the Arctic Artistry gallery to view them in person and discuss the merits of each one with Elaine Blechman, the gallery’s owner. As always, I arrived with my choices based on what I had seen on the Internet. However, seeing them in person always changes the mix. This was especially true of Sunlit Ravens by Kenojuak Ashevak which I spotted as I was about to leave the gallery.
Sunlit Ravens by Kenojuak Ashevak, etching & aquatint; Paper: Arches White; Printer:Studio PM, 38/50, Inuit, Cape Dorset,
35.5”h x 40”w, Cape Dorset Annual Print Collection # 10 (2009). Collection of E. J. Guarino
“What is this?” I asked? “I don’t remember seeing this. It positively glows!” I gushed. Of course, I had seen it on my computer but it had made no impression on me because the print’s incandescent qualities did not translate to a photographic image. If I had not seen the work in person I would not have purchased it.
However, this incident taught me a valuable lesson. Because I am forced to depend on gallery web sites I now know to ask as many questions as possible about the piece I am considering acquiring. Gallery owners and staff are always happy to supply information, which is not discernible over the Internet.
For personal reasons, in 2010 Elaine did not take the Annual Cape Dorset Print Collection for her gallery. However, we met and went over all the possibilities online and I finally decided on Young Bird in Flight by Kenojuak Ashevak, which she was able to get for me from another source.
Young Bird in Flight by Kenojuak Ashevak, etching, aquatint, sugar lift & hand painted by Beatriz Sobrado Sámano,
31/50, Inuit, Cape Dorset, 30½”h x 40½”w, Cape Dorset Annual Print Collection # 13 (2010). Collection of E. J. Guarino
We both admitted that it seemed strange for us to be making a choice strictly based on our impressions of a print over the Internet but I trust Elaine implicitly and was more than satisfied with my selection.
I was immediately drawn to the inherent humor of the piece – a young bird suddenly finding himself suspended in mid air – but I was also intrigued that a non-Inuit had hand painted each print (something that had never been done before) as well as by the use of the sugar lift process. I had no idea what the term sugar lift meant so I contacted Patricia Phagan, the Phillip and Lynn Straus Curator of Prints and Drawings at the Loeb Art Center, Vassar College who said in an e-mail that it was an aquatint process. She went on to explain that “ . . . you brush a design on the [printing] plate using a sugar solution. Let the plate dry. Coat the plate in varnish. Then soak the plate in water. The sugar will swell and lift the varnish off the plate. These exposed areas are then covered with an aquatint powder and bitten in acid. The resulting little pits in the plate will hold the ink when printed. The process creates an effect of brush like strokes.”
Because of rapid technological advances the Internet presents an ever-increasing amount of benefits as well as dangers for collectors. Some art galleries and even major auction houses, such as Christie’s, have apps for iPhone and iPodTouch. These screens are much smaller than that of the average computer so it is even more imperative that a collector does his or her homework with regard to an artwork that is under consideration for acquisition. In addition, digital aids such as Photoshop can be useful for a gallery to show more accurately the colors of an artwork but such tools can also be used to falsify color and light to make a piece appear better than it actually looks in person. Again, trust is the key factor when dealing with galleries. Collectors can also request that a gallery allow them to take a work on approval. This allows the collector to view the piece in person and see how it relates to the rest of his or her collection. Each gallery has its own set of rules as to whether or not they will send collectors artworks on approval.
As a collector, one of the most problematic aspects of buying from the Internet is getting an accurate idea of a work’s actual size. Since I am math phobic numbers don’t really register with me unless they have a dollar sign in front of them. On more than one occasion, I have been surprised by the size of a work of art when it arrived. Sometimes the piece was larger than expected and at other times smaller. I now read an artwork’s dimensions very carefully and, using a tape measure, block out its size on the floor. One such case was when I acquired Untitled (Successful Walrus Hunt), a monumental drawing by Kananginak Pootoogook (see “For the Record: Documenting Native Life through Art,” June 2010). I had marked out the size, 48”h x 96”L, but I was still stunned when I actually saw the piece. There was just no way to appreciate fully the panoramic aspects of the work on a computer screen.
The success of some artists is based on an easily identifiable style, which they grind out cookie cutter fashion. Such works appeal to collectors who want to own art that is immediately recognized as having been created by a famous artist. I term this “collecting as status symbol.” These collectors have no qualms about buying off the Internet because, in essence, they already know what they are getting. However, other collectors (perhaps most) value works because of their artistic uniqueness and want to know as much as possible about a work of art they are considering acquiring.
Buying from an online auction is something quite different from utilizing the Web site of a reputable gallery. The only information available about sellers on online auctions is what they write about themselves and their rating, which can be manipulated. Also, if an artwork has defects or if it does not live up to the claims of the write up, returning it to the seller in an online auction can be very difficult or even impossible. I always counsel people to buy from galleries since they have built their reputations over many years one client at a time. My advice to those considering online auctions is the same as I give those heading to Las Vegas for a few days of gambling: Never risk more than you can afford to lose. Also, even though the entire transaction is conducted online, it is possible for a collector to be stricken with “auction fever,” a bidding war sparked by the desire of two or more collectors to acquire the same work of art. This can inflate the cost of a piece well beyond its actual value. In addition, the seller can influence prices by simply having friends bid on the item.
Fortunately, the Internet offers collectors a vast amount of information. It is possible to find discussions of a gallery’s reputation, the average price points for work by a particular artist as well as articles critiquing the full range of an artist’s output. However, it is up to the collector to take advantage of the Internet’s benefits while avoiding its perils.
By E. J. GUARINO
Over time, a work of art, like a person, can come to be regarded as an old friend. That’s certainly how I feel about Picasso’s Guernica. For much of its existence the painting was in exile, unable to be exhibited in Spain. Picasso insisted that this seminal work could not be shown in his homeland until the Spanish people lived under a republic. This was even one of the stipulations in his will.
Guernica by Pablo Picasso, Spanish, oil on canvas 137.4” x 305.5” (1937)
Because Guernica was housed at the Museum of Modern Art from 1958 until 1981, I was able to see it often. During the years that the painting was on exhibition in New York my sister (ten years my junior) and I would frequently pop into MoMA whenever we were in Manhattan to stare in wonder at Picasso’s masterpiece. (This was, of course, long before the era of twenty and twenty-five dollar museum admission fees.) Guernica was one of the first works of art I introduced my little sister to and when it was sent to Spain we felt as if we had lost a dear friend that we would probably never see again. It was almost twenty years before I once again stood transfixed before Guernica. This time it was at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid, the painting’s permanent home.
Guernica was first exhibited at the Spanish Pavilion at the Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne at the 1937 World’s Fair. It had been commissioned by the Spanish Republican government and is Picasso’s response to the bombing of Guernica, a Basque town. At about 4:30 in the afternoon of April 26, 1937, in an effort to support Franco’s Nationalist forces, German and Italian warplanes dropped 100,000 pounds of incendiary bombs on what was essentially a quiet village over a period of more than three hours. Sixteen hundred people, mostly women and children since most of the men were at the front, were killed or wounded. Those who sought refuge in nearby fields were mowed down by the machine guns of low flying fighter planes. Fires burned for three days and seventy percent of the town was reduced to rubble. Ostensibly, the target of the attack was a small arms factory on the outskirts of the town but it did not sustain even one hit. The true motivation of the aerial bombardment was to strike fear in the hearts of the Republican forces through the killing of innocents. Although the motivation for Picasso’s painting was a horrific event in a specific war it has come to be seen as an outcry against the devastation inflicted by all wars.
Guernica took on a special poignancy at time of the Viet Nam War and, more recently, during the Iraq War. It was during the latter war that I saw a bowl by Diego Romero titled Dead Solder [sic] and began to surmise that the painting may have had an influence on his art. Although, at the time, I wasn’t a hundred percent sure that the piece had been in some way inspired by Guernica I strongly suspected that it was.
Dead Solder [sic], open bowl by Diego Romero, Cochiti Pueblo, 9”diameter x 4”deep
(2007) Signed: “Chongo made and painted me” Collection of E. J. Guarino
Picasso’s Guernica (detail)
After owning Dead Solder [sic] for a few years I decided to compare it to Guernica and discovered that Romero had taken the figure at the bottom, far left of the painting and had rearranged it for his own purposes. The extended arm of the original was placed straight up and disconnected so that the image becomes one of dismembered body parts. The other arm is separated as well and the broken sword it holds in the Picasso work is replaced by a handgun. The figure is also given a military helmet to reinforce the idea that it is a dead soldier.
My “eureka moment” came in 2011 during a series of Email conversations with collector Ric Welch. As it turned out, Ric was thinking of selling some major pieces of his pottery collection through the King Galleries. My interest was particularly piqued when he mentioned two of the pieces he was considering were bowls by Diego Romero. When the bowls became available for sale through the gallery I immediately knew I wanted to acquire Guernica. I then contacted Ric to get more information on the piece since earlier he had mentioned that it had been a commissioned work.
According to Welch, in 2005 he attended the Santa Fe Indian Market with the sole intention of meeting Diego Romero and acquiring one of his bowls. That year Romero won best in his division and as soon as Welch saw the work that garnered the artist this honor he knew he wanted to acquire it for his collection. He decided that to achieve his goal he would arrive at Romero’s booth at 3:00 AM so as to be first on line. However, much to his dismay, when he got there another collector was ahead of him.
Although he was crestfallen over being unable to buy the piece, Welch said that he spent some thirty to forty-five minutes talking to the artist about his life, his art and the themes in his work. Eventually, Romero agreed to do a commission, a large bowl with the imagery to be decided upon later. In the course of many phone conversations, artist and collector concurred that the design of the bowl should involve Romero’s signature Chongo Brothers visiting some iconic U.S landmark. The piece was to be in the vein of Chongo in the White House. One possibility considered was replacing the Statue of Liberty with a Chongo brother holding a platter of cheeseburgers rather than a torch. Also discussed was the idea of a jar with four panels featuring Chongo, camera slung around his neck, on a world tour of famous landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower, the Pyramids, etc. However, once again, Fate intervened.
During a later phone call, Welch and Romero discussed a video clip from the Middle East both had seen on the news earlier that week, which showed a father and his son caught in crossfire and crouching against a pockmarked wall as shells and rockets exploded in the streets around them. In the course of their conversation Romero noted that the scene reminded him of Guernica. As the focus turned to the Picasso painting both Welch and Romero were excited to discover that they both felt the work was one of the most important paintings of the 20th century. A day or two later Romero sent Welch images of sketches he had done based on Guernica but filtered through his own unique perspective. One of the images was the figure with the severed arm but Welch chose the mother holding her dead child. According to Welch, “It was my hope he would do the entire painting, chongofying it as it were.” Welch went on to state that the bowl “. . . was not, in any way, a collaboration.” He and the artist did discuss the painting on the phone but the use of imagery based on Guernica was completely Romero’s idea. When the bowl finally arrived the collector was astonished. He said that he immediately knew that “one masterpiece had given birth to another” and added, “I had felt very strongly that the collector who got up before me at market that year had gone home with the piece that was meant for me. In fact, his early rising had created the detour needed in the convoluted journey that ultimately led to this magnificent bowl. If he hadn’t been such an obsessive insomniac Guernica might never have been created at all!”
Guernica, open bowl by Diego Romero, Cochiti Pueblo, 13.5” diameter x 6” deep, gold leaf
painting on the inside rim (2007). Signed: Chongo made and painted me “Guernica” Collection of E. J. Guarino
In his reworking of Picasso’s masterpiece Romero made the imagery contemporary but none of its timelessness is lost. Both works are a cri de coeur, a cry from the heart. The woman with the dead child, found in the middle far left in the Picasso painting, becomes the central figure in the Romero version. She still screams out her anguish but Romero makes it visible through the addition of “speech lines,” a stylistic touch borrowed from comic book art. Other changes include giving the figures brown skin, a buried amphora (a reference to the Middle East) and skull (suggestive of all past wars). Perhaps Romero’s most brilliant artistic stroke was the addition of missiles raining down.
Since Romero created the bowl during the Iraq War, Welch suggested its title should be Baghdad. However, the artist rejected this idea in favor of Guernica. By doing so, Romero acknowledges his debt to the Picasso original while at the same time referencing the massacre of innocent townspeople by Franco’s forces and making the bowl a biting condemnation of all wars rather than a political attack on a specific war.
Picasso’s Guernica has a cinematic quality, surrounding and enveloping its audience. At one and the same time, the viewer feels compelled to step back in order to take in the entire scene while wanting to rush forward to see all the details. Although inspired by the Picasso painting, the Romero bowls, because of their size, draw the viewer in with a sense of intimacy. The central image is taken from a large flat painting and concentrated into a much smaller, concave format and, with the addition of the missiles, creates the same tension found in the original. One has no choice but to look closely.
Diego Romero is not the only artist to be creatively simulated by Guernica. The list of those who readily admit the painting has influenced their work reads like a Who’s Who of modern art: Jaune Quick-to-See Smith (who visually quoted the work in her painting Trade Canoe for Don Quixote), Arshile Gorky, Adolph Gottlieb, Barnett Newman, Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, William Baziotes, Robert Motherwell and Jackson Pollock.
As an artist, Romero, like his contemporaries, refuses to allow others to dictate where he may find inspiration for his work. He draws from Pueblo history, Greek mythology, Mimbres designs, comic book art, and mainstream American art as well as from European art.
Guernica is not the only Romero work influenced by a masterpiece of the Western art cannon. The artist’s Luncheon in the Canyon, for example, is a reinterpretation of Manet’s Luncheon on the Grass but from a Native perspective. (For more information on this subject see “New Directions: Pueblo Printmaking,” July 2008.) Romero’s reworking of iconic masterpieces is in keeping with his admiration for Picasso who did his own “versions” of works ranging from Velázquez to Manet.
The author would like to express his thanks to Ric Welch for his invaluable help with this article.
BY E. J. GUARINO
Artists have the power to make us confront aspects of human existence that we might otherwise ignore. They force us to see life as it is rather than as we would like it to be. Good art challenges us to see in a new way, making us introspective and shaking us out of our complacency. The purpose of art is not just to present us with “pretty pictures”. Rather, it is sometimes shocking or disturbing, shedding light on the darker corners of our world. We may prefer to turn away but great art compels us to look.
I was completely unaware of Rick Bartow’s work until I saw “Continuum: 12 Artists” at the National Museum of the American Indian in 2003. Bartow’s paintings in this exhibit were powerful, dark and anguished and I was immediately intrigued. Fortunately, the wall texts indicated that many of the works on view were on loan from the Froelick Gallery in Portland, Oregon, a city I was scheduled to visit in a few weeks.
Since I couldn’t afford one of Bartow’s paintings and, even if I could, they were too large for my apartment, the gallery’s staff suggested I focus on the artist’s works on paper, which were (and still are) quite affordable. I was shown a range of works and I immediately realized that the artist’s output was not solely angst-driven. Many of the images I saw were clearly about strength, survival, facing problems head on and a passion for life. Although Bartow often employs a somber palette he is just as likely to use bold reds, oranges and yellows. I am also fascinated by the numerous influences on the artist’s work that include Vermeer, Chagall and Francis Bacon as well as Expressionism, Japanese prints, and Maori, African and Native American art.
The first piece I acquired by Bartow was Yanagisawa Hawk 100, a multimedia piece. I was not only taken by the powerful image I saw but I was also intrigued that the artist had combined gouache, pencil, graphite as well as painting, drawing and writing on handmade paper.
Yanagisawa Hawk 100 by Rick Bartow, Wiyot,
multimedia: gouache, pencil and graphite on handmade paper, painting/drawing, 9”w x 13”h (1997).
Collection of E. J. Guarino
Bartow often uses images of hawks in his work, which function as a stand in for the artist. In this case the artist writing his name above the hawk and the red printing underneath, which is the artist’s name in Japanese, reinforces the idea. Referring to these birds, Bartow stated, “They’re auspicious. They’re eavesdroppers. I think they are quite special. They are cautionary: warn of impending danger . . . They remind me to be vigilant.”
The word Yanagisawa in the title refers to the Yanagisawa Gallery in Saitama City, where the artist had his first solo exhibit in Japan in 1994. It is believed that this unique mixed-media creation was most likely made for “Drawings: Flowers and Animals,” a 1997 exhibit at the Yanagisawa Gallery. The kanji characters in the work were already on the paper when it was given to Bartow by Japanese printmaker Seiichi Hiroshima. Also curious is the use of 100. Bartow often non-sequentially numbers his pieces but these designations do not refer to the total he has produced on a specific subject. There seems to be no apparent system to the numbering so Yanagisawa Hawk 100 might be the fifth hawk image the artist has created or the fiftieth. It is just a way of identifying a particular work.
My acquisition of Rick Bartow’s works on paper continued with Strong Spirit, a print that reinforces the idea of an animal as symbolically representing the artist. Bartow has also employed this device with the raven, the hawk, the eagle, the coyote, and the bear – each animal expressing a different aspect of the artist’s personality.
Strong Spirit by Rick Bartow, Wiyot, drypoint/etching, 7/20, 18”w x 13¼”h (2000). Collection of E. J. Guarino
The image is a self-portrait with an eagle superimposed over it. In it the man is wearing a stars and stripes bandana, something Bartow often does, which may be a reference to the time he spent serving in the Viet Nam War. A portion of the left side of the figure’s face is scribbled out so that human and bird look out at the world through the same eye. This blending of imagery gives the piece a transformational quality, an important aspect of the Bartow’s work. This is one of the first prints the artist made with Seiichi Hiroshima and was done about a month after Bartow’s wife died of breast cancer.
Although transformation plays an important role in many Native cultures, Bartow expands the conceit from the traditional concept of humans and animals being able to change into one another to the idea that everything we know is in a constant state of change.
While many of Bartow’s paintings have a strong expressionistic quality quite a number of his works on paper are surrealistic. For example, in Sueño Ginka the artist combines images in a cinematic, dreamlike manner.
Sueño Ginka by Rick Bartow, Wiyot, drypoint/etching, 1/20, 10”h x 14”w (2001).
Collection of E. J. Guarino
Sueño Ginka mixes together Mexican, Native American and Japanese elements. The word Sueño means “dream” in Spanish and the kanji characters say Ginka, the name of a Japanese art magazine. Bartow combines the two in the title and visualizes the concept with the head with closed eyes at the bottom of the print. The work also combines varied imagery: a man on horseback (taken from an old, popular Japanese print), a self-portrait, and a crow holding an eye in its beak. Once again, the artist has chosen to blend his own image with that of a bird, in this case the crow, which is one of the most intelligent creatures in the animal kingdom. As an important culture figure in Northwest Coast Native American mythology, Crow or Raven is both a trickster and a figure that often helps humans. His most famous exploit is stealing the sun and carrying it in his beak, thus bringing light into the world. Eyes play an important role in Bartow’s work and in Sueño Ginka the sun is transformed into an eye, perhaps symbolic of the artist’s unique vision.
First Vision by Rick Bartow, Wiyot, drypoint print on handmade Japanese paper by Seiichi
Hiroshima, Tokyo, 2/16, image size: 4½”h x 3¼”w; paper size: 9½”h x 7”w (2003). Collection of E. J. Guarino
Bartow’s art is deeply personal and often reflects difficult inner struggles, an aspect of his work that is clearly reflected in First Vision, another print in which the artist once again blends himself with the crow. The imagery in First Vision refers to similar work produced around 1979 when, as Bartow put it, “. . . what later came to be referred to as ‘transformational’ arrived at the end of my #2 Ticonderoga pencil. . . .” Over the years the artist had to deal with the loss of his wife, his Viet Nam War experiences as well as other personal problems. These struggles have informed his art. Bartow is clearly an artist who is not afraid to confront his personal demons.
The blending of creatures into one surreal image reaches its pinnacle in Nature Observed in which eyes are not just an important symbol but the dominant motif.
Nature Observed by Rick Bartow, Wiyot, drypoint print, /14; image size 9” x 8;” paper size: 14¼” x 11¾” (2006).
Collection of E. J. Guarino
A crow, a coyote, a human eye and a man’s face are blurred together. With regard to this device Bartow stated, “. . . hawks, owls, eagle, coyote, beaver and on and on – they are me and I am them in observation and lesson.” For the artist, this work is an ecological statement about how everything in Nature is interconnected. Although the print is titled Nature Observed, the eyes in the piece stare out at the viewer leaving one to wonder just who is observing whom.
Consisting of amorphous shapes, body parts and seemingly omniscient eyes peering out from an inky blackness, Night in the City is one of Bartow’s most enigmatic works. In it the artist makes our most paranoid fears palpable.
Night in the City by Rick Bartow, Wiyot, Carborundum print, trial proof with hand coloring:
paper size: 15” x 11;” image size: 9” x 6” (2009). Collection of E. J. Guarino
In speaking of Night in the City, Bartow has acknowledged the influence of Max Beckmann, a German artist who, like Bartow, distorted figures and space and whose work defies easy categorization.
Bartow created four versions of Night in the City, each unique because of additions done by the artist’s hand. These works are carborundum prints, produced by a relatively new process invented in the 1930s, which allows artists to work on a large scale while achieving a rough texture and depth of tone. However, this technique does not lend itself to large editions.
Bartow’s work is powerful, sometimes disturbing but it is never banal. Whether it is the expressionistic brush strokes of his paintings, the elemental rawness of his sculptures, or the surreal imagery of his prints, Rick Bartow’s work is always visceral and visually arresting. He is an artist who has taken the difficulties he has encountered in life and transformed them into profound, moving and dynamic art.
The author would like to express his gratitude to Rebecca Rockom, Director of the Froelick Gallery, and to Rick Bartow for their invaluable help with this article.
BY E. J. GUARINO
Why are we attracted to the work of some artists while that of other artists holds no appeal? This is a question that I’ve often pondered. Perhaps an easy answer is that an art work either speaks to us or it doesn’t. That is the mystery and wonder of art. It might also be that, as fellow collector Ric Welch says, the work of some artists “involves so much repetition and so little innovation.” For this type of artist, once they have found a successful “formula” they stick with it. Artists who work this way are often very successful, their work much sought after. Collector’s can immediately recognize that a piece was created by a particular artist and, perhaps more importantly, so can their guests. I find that this type of creativity holds little, if any, appeal for me. I am attracted to those who are willing to take chances and to stretch the boundaries of their art. Eliza Naranjo-Morse is such an artist. Each new piece is a surprise; I never know what to expect. Her restless spirit is like a bird in motion, constantly looking for artistic sustenance.
¡A La Machina! by Eliza Naranjo-Morse, Santa Clara Pueblo, etching with phosphorus for glow in the dark effect,
/25, 18”h x 15”w (2010). Collection of E. J. Guarino
When I first saw ¡A La Machina! I didn’t quite know what to make of it but, nonetheless, it fascinated me. Literally translated, the title means “To the machine!” Of course, the title of an artwork may not have anything to do with what the piece is about. In fact, many artists intentionally do not title their work so that viewers can come to it unbiased and arrive at their own interpretation free of outside influences, including that of the artist. The print ¡A La Machina! is based on a drawing of the same name. According to the artist the piece is a compositional study in which she is attempting to look at a surface in a new way and completely fill it. She was happy to explore this idea again when given the opportunity to create an etching as part of an Arizona State University program called Map(ing).
As it turns out, the title of the piece has a great deal of meaning for the artist. When she attended the Pueblo Day School in Tesuque she and other students used the phrase “¡A La Machina!” to mean “Whoa!” Since Naranjo-Morse and her friends didn’t speak Spanish, it was only later that she came to find out exact meaning of the phrase. In the artist’s mind the term “¡A La Machina!” came to represent the mixture of cultures that is Northern New Mexico. Adding to the complexity of the print is the fact that it glows in the dark which, to me, is just one more indication of Naranjo-Morse’s playfulness, willingness to experiment and her joy in her own creativity.
Baby by Eliza Naranjo-Morse, monotype, colored pencil, marker, 22” x 15” (2010). Collection of E. J. Guarino
Art functions much like dreams: the rules that apply in real life are not necessarily valid. My first impression of Baby, for example, was very different from what the artist had to say about the piece. The horse’s gaping mouth, the focus of the work, reminded me of Picasso’s Guernica so I thought Naranjo-Morse was making a wry comment about children or motherhood. Unconsciously it may be, but consciously the artist was in the process of perfecting her technical skills by drawing animals from life. Since she works mostly in abstraction, Naranjo-Morse felt it was important to explore figurative work as well. “Baby”, the artist explained, “is a less careful, looser, spontaneous piece. Again, I am working with compositional aspects, but really there’s the playfulness that’s fun, easy, sweet, reckless.” The result, however, is not a slavish reproduction of Nature but, rather, a radical interpretation of it. The bright colors and the dominance of the horse head give this enhanced monotype a surreal quality.
Common Cloud by Eliza Naranjo-Morse, monotype, colored pencil, marker, 22” x 15” (2010). Collection of E. J. Guarino
Looking at Common Cloud it is easy to believe that it was inspired by the artist looking up at the sky. Naranjo-Morse said the following about the subject of this work: “The cloud is this nice medium between barely really existing and being totally, certainly there. In its total ephemerality [sic} it always exists as itself. It changes like crazy and is still a cloud . . . . Common Cloud is a valuable and complete idea for me because it’s everybody and everything. It is an expression of the collective unconscious. It is for me like drawing that concept.”
That Common Cloud is loosely based on Nature is beside the point. It is a fascinating abstract work that draws the viewer in by use of shape and color, creating a sense of a sky that hangs over a fantasyland that just might be Oz. This print is yet another example of the artist’s complete openness to inspiration from wherever it might come.
Bird in Motion I by Eliza Naranjo-Morse, Santa Clara Pueblo,
mixed media, acrylic, china marker, colored pencil, and glue on butcher paper, 23“ x 33.25“ (2011).
Collection of E. J. Guarino
Bird in Motion I and Bird in Motion II are part of a series of works in which Naranjo-Morse wanted to explore the parameters of representation as opposed to abstraction. According to the artist, she wanted to move away from what she considered the “total freedom” of her abstract pieces and concentrate on a something that would force her to work within strictly defined limitations such as the image of a bird. The bird’s form became the subject for Naranjo-Morse but she added energy to these works through color (bold strokes of bright yellow-green) and line quality.
Bird in Motion II by Eliza Naranjo-Morse, Santa Clara Pueblo, mixed media, acrylic, china marker, colored pencil on butcher paper, 24“ x 37.50“ (2011).
Collection of E. J. Guarino
In each image the bird is seen in a different aspect of flight, its body in motion. Both works are exhilarating to look at because of how the creature is rendered. In addition, Bird in Motion I employs papier collé, or pasted paper, to create the wings. It is a technique invented by Georges Braque in 1912. The term is derived from the French verb coller meaning “to glue” or “to stick.” A more well-known term is collage though this is used when an entire work is made up of pasted bits of paper, rather than just one section. Use of this method gives the work a layered, almost three dimensional quality. Furthermore, in both Bird in Motion I and II the artist employs holes cut in the paper. Usually, in Naranjo-Morse’s work this represents snow.
Naranjo-Morse is not unlike Willem de Kooning, one of the most important artists of the 20th century who was noted for his restless experimentation. He insisted, “Art should not have to be a certain way.” For de Kooning, figuration and abstraction were not opposites but, rather, different options. He believed that an artist was free to work in either vein or even both in the same work and de Kooning often did so. Eliza Naranjo-Morse also moves comfortably between figuration and abstraction and, like a bird in motion or snow or clouds, her work is constantly changing and reflects an emerging artist who is struggling with abstraction versus representation but doing so with a consistent artistic vocabulary.
BY E. J. GUARINO
At a recent dinner party an acquaintance of mine asked me how I could spend a lifetime collecting beautiful things and then just give them away. He was referring to the fact that every year I donate works from my collection to the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center at Vassar College, something that had become a topic of conversation. I must admit that (perhaps because I have been asked this on numerous occasions) my immediate response was a bit flippant. “Because you can’t take it with you,” I quipped. Then, realizing that the person who had posed the question had approached the subject from the point of view of an architect/designer, I tried to explain (probably poorly) my rational for “giving away” pieces from my collection. Fortunately, a friend who is intimately aware of my collection came to the rescue. “You have to understand that collectors are a bred apart,” he said. “They see collecting as a creative endeavor much like writing or painting. For them it is not merely about decoration or acquiring objects. It is an ongoing process and making donations is often necessary for a collection to evolve.” I couldn’t have said it better.
Whether or not those present who are not collectors truly understood or not is unclear. However, the question that had been asked forced me once again to consider why it is, exactly, that I do “give away” works of art, some of which I’ve lived with for almost thirty years.
For collectors, it is always a good idea to ascertain a museum’s particular needs before offering to donate works of art. If the institution already has ten works by a particular artist they may not want an eleventh or if it has a collection rich in a particular area it may be forced to reject a proposed gift as redundant. Each year before selecting pieces to be donated I contact members of Vassar’s faculty and the staff of the Loeb Art Center to ask which areas – pottery, baskets, beadwork, textiles, works on paper, etc. – would be most beneficial to the museum and to the college’s courses.
In selecting pottery, for example, I try to select as many different styles and shapes from a range of Native groups. I chose a pot by Dolores Garcia Lewis (one of Lucy Lewis’ daughters) because of its bold, classic black-on-white lightning design and its lovely shape. On the other hand, the black and red jar by Fannie L. Pollacca Nampeyo was chosen for its elegant shape and complex Hopi patterns. In addition, the piece had been shown at the Loeb in 2006 as part of Forms of Exchange and it is also on the exhibit’s web site so I felt it was time for it to be in a museum setting.
Adding to the Iroquois beadwork that had already been donated to the Loeb required careful consideration. I wanted to select pieces that were visually arresting and historically and artistically important. Choosing contemporary pieces was a factor but, for educational purposes, I felt that, wherever possible, an historic counterpart should be gifted as well.
Two prime examples of “comparison and contrast” (always a favorite with educators) were two large Iroquois pincushions in the collection. One, circa the 1880s - 90s, bears the image of an eagle holding two American flags in its beak and grasping an arrow in its talons. Collectors covet anything with an American flag or other U.S. symbols and because of the shape and age of the piece it was a perfect choice for donation.
In 2004 Lorna Hill created her own take on this classic Iroquois form. Like the older pincushion, Night/Day, the contemporary version, has eight lobes but makes no patriotic statement. Rather, while it references the past, it is clearly art for art’s sake. The work’s central design, made up of white and pink beads, appears to whirl around a single blue bead.
Comparison/contrast was absolutely on my mind with regard to three Iroquois pinch purses in my collection since that was one of the major reasons for acquiring them. The first of the three to be purchased was the one created circa 1890 and described as “rare” when I bought it. Since I did not have this form in my collection and had never seen a piece like it before I immediately snapped it up. Of course, I now wanted a modern example. (It was the opposite sequence with the large pincushions. I first acquired the modern example and then actively sought out an historic piece.)
Rare three-sided Iroquois pinch purse with flower design, 6¼” x 3” x 3” (circa 1890).
Donated to the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center at Vassar College from the E. J. Guarino Collection, 2010
I decided to contact contemporary beadwork artist Samuel Thomas, who said that he could definitely create a modern version of the historic pinch purse. Although I was familiar with Sam’s work, which is often a wryly humorous critique of historic tourist forms, I was not prepared for what arrived. Sam’s pinch purse was much larger by far than the historic example. By its size and use of strawberries, strawberry flowers and a hummingbird, all symbols of the Iroquois afterlife, Sam’s creation boldly, even defiantly, proclaims itself a Native work of art.
A few years later, I came across a miniature pinch purse by Lorna Hill, Sam Thomas’ mother. While Sam’s 2003 piece exploded a tourist form by super sizing it, Lorna achieved the same artistic result through miniaturization.
As a group, I felt that the three pinch purses would make excellent donations since they illustrate the artistry and inventiveness of historic and contemporary Iroquois beadwork artists.
In considering what examples of basketry to donate I once again wanted a range of works, including some that were unusual. A beaded basket by Betty Hatalie was an obvious choice. In addition to being visually spectacular, the basket is an example of a little known aspect of Navajo art. Many people, even those who are quite knowledgeable about Native American art, are unaware of these Navajo baskets or attribute them to other tribes such as the Ute. (For more information on these striking creations, see Ellen K. Moore’s excellent article “Designing with Light: Navajo Beadwork Today” in the Autumn 1995 issue of American Indian Art magazine.) Furthermore, this type of basket illustrates the cross-culturalization of two Native American groups since Navajo beadwork artists create their bold designs on baskets made by the Tohono O’oodam.
A very different blending of cultures is illustrated by a Native made basketry hat that has clearly been influenced by non-Native forms. The piece is a wonderful example of the skill and adaptability of Akimel O’odam artists but whether or not the hat was made to be worn is unclear. However, after examining it, my feeling is that it was created by the artist primarily to showcase her talents and was inspired by hats worn by cowboys, many of whom were Native American. Interestingly, at the Heard Indian Market I saw miniature versions of this form made by modern O’odam basket weavers.
Akimel O’odam (Pima) basketry hat, ex Fraser Hemdon Collection, artist unknown,
5½”h x 11½” in diameter (circa 1886 – 1914).
Over time, the number of works gifted to the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center has varied, though my goal has become to donate fifty or more works of art annually. Since the museum is part of a teaching institution I feel it is important that students have access to as many Native works as possible as well as being exposed to a broad range of Native art. In less than five years at least three students have done their senior thesis utilizing Native pieces now in the Loeb’s permanent collection, two students have done an independent study on Iroquois beadwork and Pueblo pottery in my collection and another has just requested to do an independent study on Inuit works on paper. In addition, members of the Vassar faculty have utilized gifted works in various ways. As a collector, it is more important to me to educate future generations about Native art than to have bragging rights that one day my collection will reside in a museum with world-wide name recognition.
It is difficult for collectors to part with pieces from their collection, especially those they have lived with for many years. However, it is less so if done for a greater good. For most of the history of my collection I clung tenaciously to each and every piece. I collected in an encyclopedic fashion and it was only years later that my focus changed and I came to realize that giving up some pieces would allow me to acquire those that might otherwise be out of my reach. Museum donations became a perfect solution that benefited me through tax deductions and the museum by acquiring new works of art. In these difficult economic times it is especially important for collectors to consider museum donations since many of these cultural institutions can no longer afford to purchase new works. However, I have recently become aware of a trend among collectors: some are offering to sell their collection to a museum rather than donating it. This is problematic since only those that are heavily endowed will be able to acquire important collections. Museums are an integral part of our country’s cultural fabric and as collectors it is imperative that we support them in any way we can.
Anyone wishing to support the Native American Studies Program at Vassar College through a donation of Native art or a monetary gift should contact Dr. James Mundy, Director of the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, at JAMundy@vassar.edu.
BY E. J. GUARINO
Native people are often portrayed as somber and humorless. Rather than being seen as complex individuals having diverse human characteristics, they are stereotyped as serious and having no sense of the comic aspects of life. Popular culture has often presented them in one way – the “cigar store Indian,” silent and stiff. This notion couldn’t be farther from the truth. Humor has always been a mainstay of Native culture. Though it may not necessarily engender belly laughs, Native art is filled with examples of subtle wit, whimsy, parody and even satire.
One of the richest humorous traditions in Native art, for example, is that of the Mimbres, a culture that flourished in what is today southern New Mexico between A.D. 1000 and A. D. 1280 and created some of the finest ceramics in the world. In addition to wildly abstract designs and detailed representations of their world, the Mimbres also created whimsical, often quite humorous depictions as well.
Among the most beautiful ceramics in the world, Mimbres pottery has influenced a wide range of contemporary Native potters. Emma Lewis, for example, has drawn heavily from Mimbres imagery for many of her designs, as did her mother, the famed Lucy M. Lewis. Many of Emma’s pieces are witty interpretations of ancient pots. One of the most humorous of her works in my collection is a small bowl covered with mosquitoes that are drawn in such a way that they look like Jimmy Durante. It’s impossible not to smile when you look at this pot.
Black-on-white bowl with Mimbres-style mosquitoes by Emma Lewis, Acoma, 2¼” x 4”
(c. 1980s) Collection of E. J. Guarino
Another humorous work in the collection is a Mimbres-style plate by Mata Ortiz artist Anna Trillo. When I first saw this piece I found the two figures, which seemed to me to be playing maracas, quite funny, almost silly. However, the plate’s central image, taken almost directly from a pre-historic Mimbres bowl, is thought to represent the mythological Warrior Twins riding on the neck of a crane, a creature associated with the Underworld. Each figure actually holds a prayer stick and a rattle. These two culture heroes appear in stories and artwork throughout Mesoamerica and the Southwest. What appears humorous to the modern viewer may, in fact, have had a much more serious meaning for the Mimbres. In one version of the story, for example, the Hero Twins defeat the Lords of the Underworld in a ballgame, an activity that had ritual significance throughout Mesoamerica and into what is today Arizona.
Mata Oritiz plate by Anna Trillo,
Mimbres-style male, female and bird figures in the center of an abstract design
6½” in diameter and 2” hign (ca. 2003 – 2004)
Collection of E. J. Guarino
A very different piece is a miniature pot crawling with insects. By working small, the artist forces us to consider these odd looking bugs, creatures most of us would prefer to avoid. Nonetheless, the little pot is whimsical and funny.
Red ware miniature pot with sgraffito insects by Janet Rodriquez, Mata Ortiz, Mexico,
1½” x 2“w (ca. 2000)
Collection of E. J. Guarino
I was immediately taken by the humor in the design of a large plate by César Dominguez, Jr. At first glance the piece appears to be covered with abstract patterns but on closer inspection one sees a series of fish. It is not until one looks even more carefully that the artist’s true intent becomes apparent: the imagery is fish skeletons. When I acquired the plate the artist’s father César Dominquez, Sr., one of the most well known Mata Ortiz potters, shook his head and told me that he just didn’t get what his son was doing. The imagery is not only a departure from what usually decorates Mata Ortiz pots but also its humor is macabre. I laughed and thought to myself, “The generation gap is alive and well in Mexico!”
Plate with skeletal fish design by César Dominguez, Jr., Mata Ortiz, Mexico,
10” in diameter and 2½” high (ca. 2003 – 2004) C
ollection of E. J. Guarino
Susan Folwell’s “Blockheads” pot is an example of Native satire that is in the Pueblo tradition of making fun of people in positions of authority to knock them down a peg or two. This piece was inspired by a dispute involving the leaders of Santa Clara Pueblo and is the artist’s comment on the controversy.
This is not the first time Folwell has used the “blockheads” motif to make a point. In 2006 she produced a plate titled The Blockhead Manifesto through which she satirized tribal policies. The use of these figures is daring, even shocking (depending on one’s point of view) since they are dressed as traditional Pueblo dancers but are literally made into blockheads, indicating their lack of understanding
Blockhead Dancers pot by Susan Folwell, Santa Clara Pueblo, 9”w x 12.75”h (2009)
Collection of E. J. Guarino
Although the wedding vase is an introduced form that has come to be seen as traditional and is popular because it is regarded as a symbol of marriage, Marcus Wall’s version is something else again. Wall has drained the sentimentality out of this vessel through his uniquely cynical sense of humor. Rather than a glossy take on marriage, Wall’s vase pokes fun at the institution by using micaceous clay to give the piece a dun color, which is accentuated by black fireclouds. The mica glittering in the fired clay subtly hints at the joys of marriage so the piece isn’t totally negative or pessimistic. However, the artist’s most powerful and humorous barb is reserved for the section of the vase where there would normally be a handle connecting the two spouts, which represent the bride and groom. In Wall’s version this connecting piece is transformed into a chain. Ironically, this darkly humorous wedding vase is fast becoming the artist’s signature piece.
Wedding vase with chain by Marcus Wall, Jemez, micaceous clay, 11½”h (2011).
Collection of E. J. Guarino
When I first saw Robert Sorrell’s See Other Side bracelet I had no intention of buying a piece of jewelry since I rarely wear any. However, I was immediately taken by the work’s inherent artistry and good natured humor. The cuttlefish casting of the bracelet’s front creates wave-like patterns, evocative of water, and the raised, jagged line may represent an avanyu, a serpent-like creature associated with water or it may signify lightning. There is also a barely discernable hole which, when looked through, directs the eye to an arrow on the reverse side bearing the artist’s last name. The interior of the piece also has the images of two hands with extended index fingers, one pointing to the small hole, the other pointing to the arrow as well as to a “ribbon” bearing the inscription “SEE OTHER SIDE.” The more “traditional” side of the bracelet masks the underlying humor of the piece. Since acquiring this bracelet, everyone I show it to immediately begins to laugh when I direct them to look at the reverse side.
See Other Side bracelet by Robert Sorrell, Navajo, cuttlefish cast silver,
6” x 1¼” x 2½” (2010-11).
Collection of E. J. Guarino
Sam Thomas’s Big Berry Boot was another work that appealed to me because I immediately saw its inherent humor. At the turn of the last century Iroquois artists made pincushions, often called “whimsies,” in various shapes that were sold to tourists at places like Niagara Falls. Those made in the shape of women’s boots were particularly popular. Until recently, these works were not fully appreciated. Regarded as unimportant trinkets, they were often derogatorily referred to as “tourist art” because originally they were created to be sold as souvenirs. With his usual, wry sense of humor, Sam Thomas took the form and turned it on its ear. Most historic boot whimsies were generally not more than eight to nine inches high and about five inches at their widest point. By creating a “super sized” boot Sam makes a humorous comment while forcing the viewer to take note of the whimsy as an important artwork. In addition, he covers the boot with strawberries and hummingbirds, which have spiritual significance for Iroquois people. The artist gets us to chuckle but he also makes us think.
Big Berry Boot by Samuel Thomas, Cayuga,
strawberry and hummingbird floral design, beads, red velvet, white cloth, 14½” x 8½” (2003)
Collection of E. J. Guarino
Funds were low when I first saw Bountiful Sea but it was so delightfully whimsical that I knew that one way or another I would add it to my collection. Once again, layaway came to the rescue. I was much taken by the image of two large salmon trying to eat the scores of little pink sea creatures swimming around them. Each of the little marine animals is amusingly rendered and adding to the humor of the piece is the fact that some of them seem to be swimming out of the print’s border. Also, the colors employed are bright and cheerful, even electric, not something one would expect in a piece about one species devouring another.
Bountiful Sea by Meelia Kelly, lithograph; Printer: Pitseolak Niviaqsi, 36/50; Inuit, Cape Dorset,
28”w x 21”h, Cape Dorset Annual Print Collection #15 (2006) Collection of E. J. Guarino
Ningeokuluk Teevee, one of Cape Dorset’s rising stars, is becoming known for her sometimes-biting sense of humor. She not only has a strong graphic sense, but also has a talent for presenting traditional aspects of Inuit culture in her own unique way. Hers is a decidedly contemporary sensibility. This is obvious in Many Eyes, an unconventional drawing with scores of eyes in varying sizes staring back at the viewer. The humor of the piece is disconcerting since it makes us wonder who or what, for that matter, is looking back at us.
Many Eyes by Ningeokuluk Teevee, ink, Inuit, Cape Dorset, 16” x 13” (2005/06)
Collection of E. J. Guarino
Known for her dark (some might say twisted) sense of humor, Suvinai (also Shuvinai) Ashoona has staked out a territory that is all her own. There is no other Inuit graphic artist who produces imagery quite like hers. Suvinai’s work is complex and highly detailed. Often, she creates fantastical landscapes that seem to have emerged from the mind of Rube Goldberg but much of her work is filled with her unique sense of humor. String of Pearls, for example, presents large hands, which dominate the page, prying open a clamshell. Of course, pearls are found in oysters, not clams, but that doesn’t matter to Suvinai. It is just part of the fun. Also, these little treasures are not found already strung. To add to the humor of the peace the artist makes the pearls look like eyes that are peering out of the shell.
String of Pearls by Suvinai Ashoona, etching & aquatint, 17/30; Inuit, Cape Dorset,
31.5” x 22.6”, Cape Dorset Spring Collection #6 (2008) Collection of E. J. Guarino
There are certainly serious, even controversial, works I’ve acquired but humor is one of the hallmarks of my collection and more than one curator has also told me that it is “fun.” As far as I’m concerned there is nothing wrong with that and the humorous works provide a counterbalance to those that deal with some of the more disturbing aspects of life.
BY E. J. GUARINO
One of the great delights of being a collector is unexpectedly coming upon a work of art that is so wonderful that you feel stunned. It is a reaction akin to love at first sight, as if you have just been hit by the proverbial “lightning bolt.” This produces such a thrill in the deepest part of your being that you must have the piece. I have experienced this with many works in my collection but whenever it happens it always comes as a complete surprise. Recently, a diverse range of artworks created just such an endorphin rush in me.
The first time I saw Tribal Force: Native American Super Heroes by Jason Garcia was via the Internet. Even though I was seeing the piece filtered through a digital medium I immediately knew I had to acquire it for my collection and when I saw the jar in person my first reaction was confirmed. For his inspiration Garcia drew on Tribal Force, a comic book by Jon Proudstar (Yaqui, Mayan, Jewish, Latino) and Ryan Huna Smith (Chemehuevi). The jar portrays the artist’s father reading Tewa Tales of Suspense, a comic book that often appears in Garcia’s work. Other figures on the piece are Captain Johnny Cloud (from the Losers comic book series), Little Sure Shot (from the Sergeant Rock comic), Earth, Little Big Horn, Gaan, and Thunder Eagle (all from Tribal Force) and Scout (another Native American super hero). As a collector, I was quite touched by the artist’s homage to his dad and it was a factor in my acquiring the piece since it made me think of my own father. Beyond that, the jar is full of movement and color and, while it draws on tradition, its use of Native super heroes and the comic book form is thoroughly modern.
Tribal Force: Native Super Heroes jar by Jason Garcia, Santa Clara, 7”w x 9”h (2010). Collection of E. J. Guarino
My reasons for acquiring Tewa Tales of Suspense #18: Behold PO’PAY!, a large format tile by Jason Garcia, were a bit more complex. In 2009 I purchased a print by the artist based on an earlier tile. However, although that tile was available, at the time, I didn’t have the funds to purchase it and lived to regret it. The fact that I had the print (one of only twenty), but not the work it was based on, gnawed at me for three years until I walked into the King Galleries recently and sitting there was “the tile.”
Tewa Tales of Suspense #18: Behold PO’PAY!, tile by Jason Garcia, Santa Clara Pueblo , 11” w x 15”h (2011).
Collection of E. J. Guarino
As it turned out the work I saw was part of a series of numbered tiles created by Jason Garcia. Version #18 (the one I acquired) turned out to be larger than the original one made by Garcia. However, I hadn’t even perceived that at first and as soon as I laid eyes on the piece I pointed to it and exclaimed, “Sold!” I was much relieved to have both tile and print. (For more information on the subject matter of these two works, see “New Directions: Pueblo Printmaking,” July 2008.)
Tewa Tales of Suspense: Behold PO’PAY! by Jason Garcia, silkscreen, 3/20, Santa Clara, 19” x 15” (2009).
Collection of E. J. Guarino
As soon as I saw Casino, a little gem by Susan Folwell, I immediately knew I was going to buy it. Though small, it packs a humorous wallop, poking fun at the proliferation of gambling establishments on tribal lands. Two hundred and twenty-five tribes in thirty-two states run casinos but such establishments are more highly concentrated in the Southwest. However, casinos are controversial among Native people and Folwell, along with other artists, has elected to comment on the debate in comic fashion.
Casino, seedpot by Susan Folwell, Santa Clara Pueblo, 2½”h x 3“ in diameter (2010). Collection of E. J. Guarino
In addition to the images of coins, dice and playing cards, the artist’s use of shape, an inverted seed pot, adds to the commentary. Although an introduced form, in the minds of many the seed pot represents fertility since they mistakenly believe that such pots were used by Native Americans to sprinkle seeds on their fields. Folwell takes advantage of this misconception because, in her version rather than being in the top, the pot’s hole is at the bottom, reinforcing the idea that casino’s, with their paved parking lots, are the antithesis of agriculture.
Eye See You, seedpot by Susan Folwell, Santa Clara Pueblo, 4“h x 17“ in diameter (2011).
Collection of E. J. Guarino
A pot covered with eyes is not to everyone’s taste but it sure suited mine. As soon as I saw “Eye See You” I couldn’t take my eyes off of it (no pun intended) and when I was told the title, I was sold. Yet another take on the seed pot form by Susan Folwell, this work would be the envy of any self-respecting surrealist. In fact, the piece is reminiscent the 1929 film Un Chien Andalou by Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí as well as the Dalí dreamscape in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1945 thriller Spellbound. It was Folwell who pointed out to me the fact that the work is shaped like an eyeball and has a cork stuck in it, which adds to its twisted humor
Guns N’ Roses, pot by Susan Folwell, Santa Clara Pueblo, 6“h x 4“at widest point (2010). Collection of E. J. Guarino
My interest was immediately piqued when I saw another pot by Susan Folwell decorated with images of guns and roses. I found the piece interesting because of its sly reference to popular culture, its beauty, and its subtle eroticism. The title is an allusion to the hard rock group Guns N’ Roses and is a motif that the artist has used before. In addition to the work’s slightly phallic shape, roses are a female symbol while guns are usually a male emblem, giving the pot a sexual component. A sense of delicacy is achieved in the piece through the use of sgraffito which highlights the images of guns and roses.
I first saw one of the plates that came to be part of Glen Nipshanks’s Mermaid Series in December 2008 at the NMAI Holiday Market. I had never seen anything like it and was particularly taken with the combination of abstraction and representation, the contrasting smooth and rough qualities of the piece and the unusual use of turquoise. Since I had very little money on me at the time, I asked if more works in the series would be produced and I was told that would happen the following spring. On the basis of a handshake, an agreement was made (a wonderful experience I’ve had with a number of artists): Nipshank would send me photographs of the new pieces; I would choose the one I liked and then send him a check. (For more information on the background of this series see “The Naked Truth” August 2009.)
Mermaid plate by Glen Nipshank, Big Stone Cree, turquoise, pearl, 10” in diameter (2009).
Collection of E. J. Guarino
Although the artist has told me that he has tried more than once to leave this subject behind, Nipshank seems to be under the spell of the siren’s song and periodically returns to this series, producing variations on the theme. The next time I encountered the mermaid she had taken on a completely different guise – acrylic colors! Again, it was at the NMAI Holiday Market. However, as much as I wanted what would be a wonderful counterpoint to the first plate I had acquired, Nipshank would not sell it to me, however, because it had been damaged in transit. Once more, I would have to wait before I could possess the mermaid.
Since I would be traveling to Arizona a few months later, Nipshank suggested I visit his studio in Tucson (a temporary base of operations) so that I could watch my piece being fired. As luck would have it, during the process my plate exploded as sometimes happens with pottery. I was disappointed but not as much as the artist. It seemed my wait was destined to be a bit longer.
Mermaid plate by Glen Nipshank, Big Stone Cree, acrylic paint, turquoise, diamonds, 9” in
diameter (2011). Collection of E. J. Guarino
When the piece finally arrived I was astonished. In the intervening time, the artist had taken the concept of his mermaid series to another level. As in earlier versions, the piece mixes both the abstract and the representational and, as always, Nipshank had selected the perfect stone for the mythical being’s face but now, in addition to acrylic paint, the artist had added diamonds – for stars in the sky and, more importantly, for the mermaid’s nipples. This daring innovation heightens the eroticism of the piece. Also, in this newest plate the mermaid’s hair and the sand beneath her become one so that the viewer is not sure if she has just risen from the water or is lying on her own long, sensuous hair.
Untitled plate with white-on-black concentric circles and four “golden stones” by
Anita Fields, Osage, ceramic, gold leaf, gold luster glaze, 9¾” in diameter (2010).
Collection of E. J. Guarino
Much like Op art, a white-on-black plate with concentric circles by Anita Fields had a mesmerizing effect on me, drawing me inward toward the four “golden stones” at the work’s center. I’m still contemplating what it is exactly about this piece that so attracted me. Perhaps it is simply that I had never seen anything like it before or maybe I am fascinated because, to me, the work looks like some sort of futuristic prospector’s pan containing gold nuggets. As humans, when we encounter a work of art we immediately begin to question what it might “mean.” I certainly did with this piece. However, the more I thought about it I began to realize that the piece really didn’t have to have a meaning in the usual sense of that word. What made me understand this was a recent visit to the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan where I saw Grey Scrambled Double Square, a 1964 painting by Frank Stella that consists of two squares made up of multi-colored stripes that reminded me of the Fields plate. According to Stella his work is “. . . based on the fact that only what can be seen there is there . . . . What you see is what you see.” Perhaps it is meaning enough that Anita Fields took an everyday functional object and through her artistry transformed it into something of beauty and wonder. Of this work Fields stated, “I started making a series of smaller bowl type forms to begin working out some ideas rolling around in my thoughts about very bold graphic patterns paired with gold symbols, just wanted to see what I could come up with, a little departure from the very large platter forms I usually make.”
Although my collection contains a number of works on paper by Rick Bartow, owning one of his sculptures eluded me until recently. Because the artist’s work in this particular medium is usually quite large it was a challenge to find a piece that I liked and could afford that would be appropriate for an apartment. I had just about given up when I saw Bear and Crow Conversation at the Heard Museum’s Berlin Gallery. As soon as I saw this sculpture I knew it was “the one.” It struck me as raw, spontaneous, and playful. Since the piece appears slightly off kilter, with Crow standing on Bear’s head, it has a humorous quality that appealed to me. According to the artist, “Crow is a messenger/rascal of sorts and bear is a healer/doctor of sorts. The whole piece is a ‘crow’ job in that it is composed of wee bits of this and that found most often on the shop floor as detritus from other jobs. If the shop were cleaned I wouldn’t know how to proceed but when I am done I feel good and that I suppose is the ‘bear’ part of the work.” It is somehow fitting that the work is made up of found objects since crows regularly collect materials that catch their eye.
Bear and Crow Conversation by Rick Bartow, Wiyot, wood, 16”h x 9.5w x 7.5d (2008). Collection of E. J. Guarino
Looking at the sculpture one can’t help but wonder just what the conversation of the title might be. Is Bear asking Crow what it is like to be a trickster or is Crow asking what it is like to be a healer? Then again, it may be a discussion about transformation since, with such large lips and an oddly shaped head, Bear looks quite human. In the wild crows have been known to amuse themselves by repeatedly flying by a bear and pecking it in the head so, perhaps, Bear is simply saying to Crow, “Get off my head already. You’re annoying me.” The possibilities are endless.
Sunflowers in Winter by G. Peter Jemison, Seneca Iroquois, acrylic, mixed
media on Takashima bag, 18” x 17” x 5.5” (1995). Collection of E. J. Guarino
When I was shown an array of G. Peter Jemison’s mixed media creations on paper bags at the Heard’s Berlin Gallery my eye immediately went to the work I ultimately chose. However, with so many pieces before me I started to second guess myself, never a good thing to do. I decided I would think about all my possible choices for a day or so and pray that none sold until I could reach a final decision. Since images of Sunflowers in Winter kept popping into my head I finally realized my selection had been made.
The dead sunflowers have a delicately Asian quality that is reinforced by being drawn on a Takashima bag. The purpose of the sunflower is to be a vessel for seeds and when the plant dies it is discarded. Shopping bags are also thrown away once they have served their purpose as a container for goods. Both the flower and the bag are ephemeral and this work is a meditation on the transient nature of existence.
Collecting Native art can be exhilarating because there are always so many surprises to discover. True, sometimes there are disappointments when a work of art you covet is purchased by another collector. However, savvy collectors eventually acquire a philosophical outlook, believing that what is meant to be will be. Of course, I have heard tales of collectors who break down and cry or berate gallery staff if a piece they want is purchased by someone else. Of course, such behavior takes the fun out of collecting for everyone and it is my personal belief that it affects a collection’s karma. On a number of occasions I have missed out on a work by a particular artist only to discover a better one by the same artist a short time later. Native artists create so many amazing works of art in a diverse range of media that a new and exciting acquisition is always “out there.”
BY E. J. GUARINO
As a collector with limited funds, I have always focused on areas that were underappreciated by other collectors and by museums and were, therefore, undervalued. When I became interested in Inuit drawings in 1995 prices where shockingly lower than for Inuit prints and so they were quite affordable. Over the years the market has righted itself thanks to the farsightedness and advocacy of art dealers such as Patricia Feheley of Feheley Fine Arts in Toronto and Judy Scott Kardosh and Robert Kardosh of the Marion Scott Gallery in Vancouver. They helped build a base of collectors who have an avid interest in Inuit drawings. Charles King, owner of the King Galleries of Scottsdale, and Andrea Hanley, director of the Heard Museum’s Berlin Gallery, are performing the same service for Pueblo works on paper, which currently do not garner the same high prices as Pueblo pottery. Having collected Inuit works on paper for over fifteen years, my interest in Pueblo graphics is a natural progression.
My introduction to Pueblo works on paper came via the prints of Diego Romero, Virgil Ortiz and Jason Garcia and eventually, I became aware of Eliza Naranjo-Morse’s work. At that point I was hooked and my appetite for Pueblo graphics became insatiable. With this new collecting interest I was once again on a quest to find the best examples to add to my collection. Building a new area of strength within a collection is both challenging and exciting.
Recently, while browsing the King Galleries web site (something I do on an almost daily basis) I came across Bobcat and Butterflies, etchings by Joseph Lonewolf. As soon as I spotted them, I was immediately interested since they were an aspect of the artist’s work that was completely unknown to me. I was also drawn to the pieces because they have a distinct Asian quality, which I found intriguing. The etchings, based on designs found on Lonewolf’s pottery, were done in editions of sixty and produced in either 1977 or 78. (Research is still being done to pin down the exact year.)
Bobcat, although it clearly has Native American elements such as the small swarm of Mimbres-style mosquitoes in the upper center, also employs images that look very much like those found in Chinese art such as a semi-circle inscribed with what is known as a meander or meandros, also called a Greek key design. At the top end is a small Mimbres goat and at the bottom is a small, naturalistically rendered butterfly. The meander is found in the Hellenistic world, Native America and in China where it appears in Shang Dynasty (1700 -1050 BC) bronzes and on many buildings. However, it is the coupling of this pattern with a round medallion surmounted by a bobcat, looking very much like a tiger, which gives the work its Chinese feeling. The etching is a blend of abstraction and realism since a butterfly and a flowering yucca plant are realistically rendered while nearby is a feather pattern, which has a snake-like appearance, reminiscent of an avanyu or feathered serpent, an important Native symbol throughout much of the Americas.
Bobcat by Joseph Lonewolf, Santa Clara Pueblo, etching on brown rag paper,
17/60, 17“h x 22“w (1977 or 78). Collection of E. J. Guarino
At first glance, Butterflies simply appears to be a naturalistic print of a plant attended by a group of butterflies. Upon closer inspection, however, much more is revealed. In addition to the delicately rendered plant with its hanging seed pods and the group of flying insects, there is a hummingbird and a group of Mimbres-style mosquitoes on the right side of the work. On the left there is a design similar to a feather pattern, which includes a butterfly and a kokopelli figure. The base of the plant has four bear paw prints, a swirl design, a feather design and a lizard with an abstract pattern on its back. Once again, the artist has combined the naturalistic and the abstract to great effect, producing a work of startling delicacy.
Butterflies by Joseph Lonewolf, Santa Clara Pueblo, etching on brown rag paper, 17/60,
17“h x 22“w (1977 or 78). Collection of E. J. Guarino
Jarrod Da’s art was also completely unknown to me when I came upon it on the King Galleries’ Web site. I was struck by the variety of the artist’s images, drawn from traditional Pueblo culture, yet all thoroughly contemporary. Da has stated, "I learned to live my life by merging the two worlds of a contemporary lifestyle with the native way of life.” It is a philosophy that is clearly reflected in his art. Also, according to the artist, Nature’s complex patterns and colors have had an important impact on his work.
The influence of the natural world, though abstracted, is evident in Da’s Dragonfly/Texture, a spectacular pastel work combining a biological form, geometric shapes and traditional Tewa patterns on the insect’s wings. Through the use of sharp angels and non-naturalistic shapes the artist has captured the essence of this creature since these insects are, in fact, geometry in motion.
Dragonfly/Texture by Jarrod Da, soft pastel drawing, San Ildefonso, 21“x 29“(2010).
Collection of E. J. Guarino
As with much art produced by Native artists, representations of animals and plants are often perceived as literal and are usually viewed almost solely through an ethnographic or anthropological lens. This is not the case with the work of non-Native artists. Would anyone insist that the flowers painted by Georgia O’Keefe were just flowers? Although dragonflies do have symbolic significance among a number of Native groups, the drawing of this insect by Jerrod Da is more about abstraction of form than representation of Nature.
When I first saw Da’s Restoration/Underground the word apocalyptic instantly came to mind since the drawing’s startling imagery is at once unsettling and mesmerizing. I had no idea what the piece might “mean” but I knew instinctively that it was an important work.
The images in the piece take on the appearance of collage and include a circular feather pattern, a Pueblo structure and a skyscraper, most likely Chicago’s Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower). Particularly disturbing are the depictions of a faceless Statue of Liberty and a faceless Pueblo woman. The artist’s words with regard to Restoration/Underground are quite interesting: “Our lives are constantly being exposed to media, technology and a fast moving world. The skyscraper represents technology and our human achievements. The statue towers over the piece as a reminder of a government ruled society. The Native imagery . . . is a reminder of how life used to be and how so much old world knowledge was lost but still remains in all of us today, Native or non-Native alike.”
Restoration/Underground by Jarrod Da, San Ilsefonso, soft pastel drawing, 26“x40“ (2009). Collection of E. J. Guarino
I am always dazzled by Eliza Naranjo-Morse’s work. She is constantly experimenting and her willingness to take chances is exhilarating. Her work exudes an exuberance that is infectious. The viewer can’t help but be caught up in the artist’s pleasure in the very act of creation. She is someone who clearly enjoys making art.
Obviously inspired by a simple snowfall, Snow Study is not merely a record of a natural phenomenon. Instead, the artist allowed her imagination to roam freely, resulting in a fascinating work of art that is an exploration of shape and color as well as texture since the artist has chosen to sew a border around the drawing. According to Naranjo-Morse, Snow Study is an experiment with sewing paper on a machine, which she has done before but is still working out. Such drawings are, in a very real sense, studies for projected larger works. They are improvisations that allow the artist to create freely from deep within. Of this process Naranjo-Morse said, “It reminds me of being little and spinning around with your arms out and then everything you see from 360 degrees is blurring and melting into each other and the feeling is fantastic, right? This part of my art works in the same way. Everything is informing me and everything is loosing its original shape or meaning.” According to the artist, Snow Study was a “sort of private sketch experiment” that she intended to keep to herself but that sort of “snuck out.” I’m certainly glad it did.
Snow Study by Eliza Naranjo Morse, Santa Clara Pueblo, gesso, gold leaf an thread on butcher paper, 21” x 35” (2010).
Collection of E. J. Guarino
When I first saw works from Eliza Naranjo-Morse’s Deer in the Dirt Series I was intrigued but a bit stunned. “Whatever could these mean?” I thought. Being someone who collects from intuition rather than intellect, ultimately it didn’t matter. I bought all three works that were available and figured I’d ask questions later since I felt they were very special creations. My first impression (totally wrong) was that they had something to do with violence. The reason for this mistake was that the pastel chalk drawing Deer in the Dirt has cut outs and, in order for the largest (representing water) to be protected in shipping, fuchsia tissue paper was inserted under it. The color is very misleading. Curious as to what inspired such a work and the subsequent editioned stencil I contacted Eliza Naranjo-Morse about it and was quite surprised at how far off the mark my interpretation had been.
Deer in the Dirt by Eliza Naranjo-Morse, Santa Clara Pueblo, pastel chalk, spray paint on butcher paper, 51” x 24” (2010). Collection of E. J. Guarino
According to the artist, she had taken a figure drawing class a few years ago and each student was asked to draw a portrait of him or herself in absolute happiness. “I have always been averse to drawing myself even though I love to draw people, “commented Naranjo-Morse. “I struggled with this, thinking that the exercise would be good for me. Finally, I really thought of myself in happiness and drawing is a way I create my own happiness. I hang out alone and make things and it's a lot of fun when it's easy and I don't pressure myself. It seemed weird to me after thinking about that to make a portrait of myself that was a struggle. A drawing of a deer with heavy scribble line and not much worry for accuracy came out. The space as I see it is calm. The work as I see it is at peace. I loved making it and I loved looking at it. It was my creation of absolute happiness. I ended up making a stencil out of it because I liked it and there it is!”
However, the figure, though recognizable as a deer, is not naturalistically rendered. Its color, especially the red of its tongue, the tuft of hair on its head and the spots on its body are not realistic. In addition, the image also looks somewhat like a photographic negative. All these aspects combine to give the work a surreal quality. In essence, then, the deer is an inner portrait of the artist.
Deer in the Dirt by Eliza Naranjo-Morse, Santa Clara Pueblo, Editioned Stencil, 5.0 spray paint on butcher paper, 38.5 x 24 (2010).
Collection of E. J Guarino
I acquired the stencil of Deer in the Dirt at the same time as the drawing. I knew that, as a multiple, it was one in an edition. However, the designation 5.0 was puzzling since usually with prints and other editioned multiples the number of works in the edition is given as well as the number of the individual piece within the edition such as 30/50, 6/15, etc. This was something unusual so I contacted Andrea Hanley at the Berlin Gallery who contacted the artist. Although with each subsequent stencil Deer in the Dirt was changing in focus it was still essentially the same image so Eliza Naranjo-Morse conceived the idea of tracking the works much the same way as if they were a product such as an iPhone which might be branded iPhone 4, iPhone 3G, etc. In essence, each stencil becomes an “artist proof.”
Deer from the Future by Eliza Naranjo-Morse, Santa Clara Pueblo, spray paint, pastel chalk and acrylic paint, 24” x 24” (2010).
Collection of E. J. Guarino
Deer in the Dirt (drawing and stencils) and Deer from the Future are what Naranjo-Morse has termed her “first resolved series of work.” The artist feels she is finally understanding her esthetic and enjoying the various techniques she has learned and, at last, feels comfortable enough to use. According to the artist, at first the stencils were really hard to make. She commented that since she already knew what they were going to look like the excitement was gone. Furthermore, the process of stenciling is somewhat methodical. At the time Naranjo-Morse was involved with creating large paintings and said that she saw making the time consuming stencils as an obstacle. Finally, one day she decided to employ spray painting and felt that with that choice she had left every rule behind. She realized that there really weren’t any hard and fast rules with regard to stencils and that she could make, break and reinvent them. It was then that she started to look at the process and material of stenciling in a completely new way. As with the drawing, the artist sees the white deer stencils as calm and blessed, full of a place in herself that was giving. When asked about Deer from the Future, Naranjo-Morse humorously responded that she sees it as a hybrid because her understanding of stencil making moved ahead so quickly from the previous sets of stencils that this one was from the future!
Although Pueblo works on paper are a relatively new interest for me I am passionate about collecting them because I feel that the pieces I have acquired are important works of art. A major consideration when new works are added is how they will relate to those artworks already in the collection. I believe Pueblo graphics fit in beautifully since the ultimate purpose of my collection is to educate all who see it about the depth, breath and diversity of Native art. Pueblo works on paper are generally not considered “traditional.” To me, that’s the point. Native artists have always been innovative, adaptive and willing to do the unexpected. As a collector it is very exciting for me to watch this new area of Native creativity unfolding.
For more information on Pueblo graphics see the following:
“New Directions: Pueblo Printmaking,” July 2008 (Diego Romero and Virgil Ortiz)
“Dark Shadows: Controversial Themes in Native Art,” October 2009 (Jason Garcia)
“The Naked Truth,” August 2009, and “Out There: Pushing the Boundaries of Native Art, March 2010 (Eliza Naranjo-Morse).
BY E. J. GUARINO
On a recent trip to Albuquerque I decided to make yet another excursion to Petroglyph National Monument. No matter how many times I’ve visited I always discover something I haven’t seen before. This time I decided that I would approach the petroglyphs in a way I had not done before - solely from an artistic perspective. I would not speculate on what the markings meant or why they were made; I would simply respond to them as works of art. I then chose to concentrate on Rinconada and Piedras Marcadas Canyons rather than the more popular Boca Negra Canyon or the Volcanoes section, which has few petroglyphs.
Petroglyph National Monument contains over 20,000 anthropomorphic (human-like) and zoomorphic (animal-like) images as well as a dizzying array of abstract designs. Some of the human images have full bodies that are round or square and often bear designs while others appear deceptively simple, resembling stick figures.
The anthropomorphic carvings also display a wide variety of heads, some attached to bodies, others not. There is even one with arms and legs. This “walking head” may seem bizarre, humorous or whimsical to the modern visitor but its creator’s original intention may have been quite different.
Some faces consist simply of eyes, nose and mouth but many are covered with designs that may represent paint or tattoos. Each one is expressive in its own way.
Although these ancient visages are semi-abstract they do elicit a wide range of emotional and intellectual responses from the modern viewer. I have yet to see any visitor walk by them impassively. Everyone has an opinion and discussions among total strangers are not uncommon. Such is the potency of this ancient art.
One figure in particular impressed me with its unique visual power. With what are essentially just three lines the artist was able to suggest movement by having the end of each arm undulate, creating the impression that “the dancer” is holding ribbons or, perhaps, snakes. If the image had been drawn on paper it would seem to have been dashed off with a few quick strokes rather than having been painstakingly chipped from basalt rock. I was immediately caught up in the figure’s suggestion of fluid movement. Such economy of expression would be the envy of many contemporary artists.
The ancient rocks of what is today Petroglyph National Monument also bear the likenesses of what are instantly recognizable as snakes, turtles, birds and mammals, their essence captured with a minimal use of lines, in some cases only one. Some birds, for example, have bodies that were formed by the artist completely chipping away the rock, producing a squat effect suggestive of quail or ducks. Others, consisting of a few thin lines unmistakably depict cranes. In quite a number of cases, the creatures are simply and clearly suggested by tracks.
In a similar way, humans are suggested by “handprints” that are placed on rocks at various angles and in clusters consisting of a few to many. Taken as a whole, each group forms a pattern that is at once arresting and pleasing to the eye. One cannot help but respond, knowing that an artist, a fellow human, placed his hand upon the stone and pecked around it to form an outline and then continued working to create the impression of a solid hand. A single handprint may simply signify “I was here,” but multiples of the image take on a strange beauty that is mesmerizing.
As interesting as the anthropomorphic and zoomorphic images are, the abstract designs are even more fascinating. There are spirals, designs consisting of a series of dots that are reminiscent of a board for Chinese checkers and others that look strikingly similar to blankets.
Many of the designs resemble those found on textiles, baskets and pottery produced by the ancient Sinagua, Hohokam, Mimbres, and Ancestral Puebloan cultures of the Southwest and also parallel motifs found in the Casas Grande culture centered at Paquimé in the modern Mexican state of Chihuahua as well as in other Mesoamerican cultures such as the Toltec, Maya, and Teotihuacán. The “blanket designs” look very much like those found on Navajo textiles. Interestingly, the vast majority of rock art at Petroglyph National Monument dates to between 1300 and 1600 AD, the same period in which the Navajo entered the Southwest. Many of the other images and patterns found on the rocks are still in use by contemporary Native American ceramic artists.
A number of large boulders in the monument have broken off from the escarpment in such a way that they form “panels.” Many of these have been decorated with large and diverse groupings of petroglyphs, creating what are, in essence, galleries of rock art. Seen together, the haunting, mysterious quality of the petroglyphs is heightened.
Whether the work of one person’s creative vision or produced by a series of artists over years, decades or even centuries is unknown but, the designs, figures and symbols always form a pleasing visual composition. If the panels are the work of consecutive artists leaving their mark, it is obvious that each image was placed with careful thought as to its relationship with others on the panel.
Covered with human figures, heads, handprints, birds, turtles, serpents, bears, long horned sheep, handprints, animal tracks, suns, stars, weird human-animal combinations and enigmatic abstract designs, the large boulders create the impression of a world teeming with life. Like oversized canvases some of the rock art panels create a space that envelops the viewer. Some force you to look up since they are high up on the sides of the mesas; others are directly at eye level; and many are at one’s feet. Because the petroglyphs can be in any direction, visitors become engaged in “finding” the art. The fact that these art works stand in nature where they were created should not be underestimated. The desert and the rugged rock strewn mesas give them a sense of immediacy and timelessness. In such an environment the artist’s presence is palpable. While it is difficult to view any type of art and not wonder what it means, with rock art you are also confronted with the fact that the artist once stood in the place you now occupy to see it.
Ultimately, I realized that it is impossible for the modern visitor to see petroglyphs purely as art because they are so mysterious and raise so many unanswerable questions. Though their purpose was surely as diverse and complex as art from any other culture or time period, their meanings remain frustratingly elusive. However, it is impossible to resist the desire to know more.
At the very end of the trail through Piedras Marcadas Canyon there is a rock that is important for historical reasons rather than for it’s artistic merit. Carved with a simple cross and the date 1541, it is a subtle but powerful reminder of the sweeping changes that came to the Rio Grande Valley and the rest of the Southwest.
Petroglyph National Monument is not simply another national park; it is unique because all of the landscape contained within its borders is hollowed ground and it is the only unit in our National Park System dedicated to protecting and preserving petroglyphs. Like all rock art sites, it should be viewed as holy site as well as an art museum comparable to European churches that, though filled with priceless works of art, are first and foremost spiritual places. Walking on the petroglyphs can damage or destroy them; touching them can do the same since our perspiration contains salt and our hands leave behind harmful oils that cause the images to fade. Taking rubbings, often mistakenly considered harmless, is also forbidden by park regulations. Petroglyphs should be treated with the utmost respect not only because they are sacred works of art but also because they are fragile and irreplaceable.
(Photographs by Jeffrey VanDyke)
For more information on Petroglyph National Monument see “Pecks in Time” (May 2008) in the list of King Galleries web site articles.
DIRECTIONS: From downtown Albuquerque take I-40 west to the Unser Blvd exit (#154); go north three miles to Western Trail; turn left and follow signs to the visitor center where you will find information on the monuments units.
NOTE: To learn more about petroglyphs (images pecked or caved on a rock surface) and pictographs (images painted on rock), contact the Colorado Rock Art Association at Colorado State University in Fort Collins (www.coloradorockart.org) or the Rock Art Foundation (www.rockart.org).
BY E. J. GUARINO
Native people have always had a special relationship with the natural world. Animals, in particular, are seen as fellow beings with which they share the planet and its resources. For thousands of years, animals have provided food as well as materials for tools, clothing and shelter. Many indigenous groups believe that people can transform into animals and that animals can take human form. Native people do not view other creatures merely as “dumb beasts” but see them as fellow sentient beings that frequently use their gifts to aid humans. Often, Native people feel so connected to the animal kingdom that they look upon many species almost as if they were simply another race with some being referred to as “nations.” Many animals are so highly revered that they are referred to in familial terms such as “mother,” “father,” “brother,” etc. In countless Native stories throughout the Western Hemisphere animals are personified and play an important role in art and culture. From Coyote of the American Southwest or Raven of the Pacific Northwest Coast (both tricksters) to Turtle of the Northeast who carries the world on his back in Iroquois myth, scores of creatures have delighted, frightened, and taught lessons to Native people.
Although I can definitely be described as an “animal lover” artworks depicting them generally do not appeal to me perhaps because they are usually overly sentimental. However, in going through my collection I realized that it did, in fact, include quite a number of pieces portraying a wide variety of creatures. I began to wonder what it was about these particular depictions that attracted me. Generally, I am drawn to portrayals of animals that are in someway bold. Usually, I avoid those that are “photo-realistic” in quality, preferring ones that capture an animal’s essence. I also like images in which a creature is in someway stylized or is more than simply representational.
Polychrome olla with twelve parrots, artist unknown, Acoma, 9”h x 11”w (c. 1930)
Collection of E. J. Guarino
One of my favorite pieces in my collection is an olla with twelve parrots drawn on it. It took close to three years to pay for it on layaway but I knew that it was very special. Surrounded by geometric designs, none of the birds are quite alike. Drawn in a unique style, these creatures delight the eye. The pot reflects the importance of parrots in Native culture since ancient times. There were even cities, such as Paquimé in northern Mexico, which specialized in breading these birds for commercial purposes. These tropical birds, as well as their feathers, were traded as far north as the Pueblos of New Mexico and beyond where their brightly colored plumage played an important part in ceremonials.
Pot with deer and turkey images by Gloria Gachupin, Zia, 9“ x 9“ (c. 1995)
Collection of E. J. Guarino
Another favorite, though far less costly, is a pot by Gloria Gachupin. While traveling in New Mexico, I decided to visit Zia Pueblo where I stopped in at the Governor’s Office and asked where I could buy pottery. I was directed to Ms. Gachupin’s home and, when I knocked on her door, she graciously invited me in. A number of pots were pulled from here and there but one immediately caught my eye. On it were a turkey and a deer, both of which were charmingly rendered. I bought it on the spot. Not only is the pot pleasing to look at, it reflects the importance of the two animals portrayed on it as food sources for Pueblo people.
One of my more recent acquisitions reveals how Native culture may view a creature very differently from how it is seen by mainstream culture. Thanks to novels, movies and TV, bats, for example, are generally associated with the forces of evil. When most people think of these winged mammals, Dracula usually comes to mind. Other creatures such as spiders and snakes are also viewed negatively but such is not the case in Native culture. Every animal has a purpose.
Polychrome seed pot with two bats by Lois Gutierrez de la Cruz, Santa Clara/Pojoaque; natural clay slips,
4.5”w x 3.75”h (2009) Collection of E. J. Guarino
The seed pot in my collection by Lois Gutierrez de la Cruz does not portray bats as vile creatures. Rendered for the most part realistically, they amuse more than frighten, their faces almost seeming to smile. Painted in muted tones of brown, the bats seem to swoop around the pot and also create at design where their wings come together at the opening. Some species of bats keep insect populations in check while others pollinate plants, two very important functions. Since they are often seen leaving or entering caves many Native groups associate bats with the Underworld, regarding them as messengers between our world and the spiritual realm.
Native artists are keen observers of Nature and take great delight in incorporating a wide variety of fauna in their creations. Scores of creatures of the air, land and water have always made an appearance in Native art.
Bowl by Robert Tenorio, Santo Domingo,
Exterior: black and white geometric designs; Interior: four fishes and a turtle, 6”h x 11” in diameter (2006)
Collection of E. J. Guarino
Robert Tenorio, a master potter from Santo Domingo Pueblo, often incorporates a variety of animal images into his work. I had wanted a piece by this artist for a number of years but every time I found one I liked it was usually already sold. Finally, while visiting Albuquerque in 2006, I saw a bowl by Tenorio that I thought would be a perfect addition to my collection. The exterior of the bowl is covered with geometric patterns but its bold interior has four fish, each with different abstract patterns, swimming around a stylized turtle. The piece is at once striking and charming and makes an interesting contrast to an older Santo Domingo dough bowl in my collection whose exterior also has geometric designs but has an undecorated interior.
Often I have an idea in my head of what kind of piece I want by a particular artist. In the case of LuAnn Tafoya, it was one of her large pots for which she is most noted. As is often the case with my collecting, what I wished for and what I eventually acquired were quite different. As soon as I saw a long necked jar by this artist I knew that it was a very special piece. It is visually elegant and I was struck by the image of an avanyu carved in deep relief around the base of the jar. The avanyu, or water serpent, is a very important image that has been used since ancient times and is found throughout Mesoamerica and the American Southwest. This creature symbolizes many things: lightening, water, rain, fertility and rebirth. While snakes in Western culture represent evil, Native cultures take a more nuanced view of this reptile. Like everything in the cosmos, it embodies duality – nothing is pure good or pure evil.
Black long neck jar with carved avanyu by LuAnn Tafoya, Santa Clara, 5 ½”w x11¼”h (2009)
Collection of E. J. Guarino
Perhaps because they have their eyes in the front of their head as we do, we tend to invest owls with special powers, not that they need any help from us. They have exceptional sight and hearing and can turn their head 270 degrees. This, combined with the fact that their flight is all but silent, makes them excellent predators. In many cultures, they are symbols of wisdom perhaps because their face has such a human quality. Because they are active in the evening and because of the mournful sounds they make, they are also often associated with death as they are among the Iroquois.
Beaded purse, artist unknown, Iroquois,
floral designs with owl on one side and “Remember Me” on the opposite side;
clear, red, yellow, orange, and black beads on blue cloth, 9 5/8” x 6 3/8” excluding handle and fringe (c. 1880s)
Collection of E. J. Guarino
A few years ago, I was offered an Iroquois purse that I knew was unique. Most, if not all, purses and pouches made by the Iroquois at the turn of the last century were made to be sold to White tourists at places like Niagara Falls. Some have dates, some animals, others floral or geometric designs. Generally, they are rather “cheery.” The piece presented to me was something else again. Referred to as a “mourning purse” by the dealer, it has the image of an owl (symbolizing death) on one side and the words “Remember Me” on the other side. It did not seem generic to me. If fact, it was probably quite specific and possibly commissioned. It is one of the treasures of my collection.
Another piece I enjoy looking at is a basket with the image of a tortoise. Made by an unknown Tohono O’odam artist it reflects this group’s connection to their desert home. In fact, I have a number of Tohono O’odam baskets in my collection that depict desert creatures, one with a centipede and another with lizard and coyote track designs.
Basket with tortoise design, artist unknown, Tohono O’odam (Papago), 7½” diameter (ca. 1991)
Collection of E. J. Guarino
The Inuit, who live in the Arctic, also have a close relationship with the Natural world. Although these once nomadic people now live in permanent settlements, animals play an important role in their life and in their art.
One of the earliest Inuit prints, an untitled work by Kenojuak Ashevak, for example, shows an owl, another bird (probably a loon) and what appears to be an Arctic fox. However, the artist includes a “walking head,” a strange being from Inuit lore, giving the work a surreal quality.
Untitled work by Kenojuak Ashevak, etching, ed. 22/50, Inuit, Cape Dorset;
Paper size: 12”h x 17½”w; Plate size: 8½”h x 11¼”w,
Cape Dorset Annual Print Collection #30 (1962) Collection of E. J. Guarino
A number of the artist’s early works have a surrealistic edge to them. However, it is Kenojuak’s depictions of Arctic birds, usually portrayed with fantastical feathers, which have brought her fame. These works are highly sought after by museums and collectors and one of these images was even used for a Canadian postage stamp.
Initially, I was more attracted to other aspects of Kenojuak’s graphic art than to her famous birds. However, I finally came to appreciate them and felt that the collection should have at least one example of a Kenojuak bird. I saw a print that I liked in the 2008 Cape Dorset Print Collection but Elaine Blechman, the mentor for the Inuit part of my collection and owner of the Arctic Artistry Gallery, told me “That’s not the one.” I trusted her judgment and expertise but I was on pins and needles because I would have to wait another year for a chance at a bird by Kenojuak and there was no guarantee that, even then, I would find “the one.” Sure enough, in the fall of 2009 Elaine showed me Long Necked Loon and we both agreed that this was the piece to add to the collection.
Long Necked Loon by Kenojuak Ashevak, lithograph; Printer: Pitseolak Niviaqsi, 36/50, Inuit, Cape Dorset,
30”h x 41.5”w, Cape Dorset Annual Print Collection # 16 (2008)
Collection of E. J. Guarino
Lucy Qinnuayuak is another Cape Dorset artist who is best known for her images of bird life. However, the drawing I chose by her was of a bear, making it a rare work. This piece was the first Inuit graphic I acquired that portrayed an animal. I was drawn to the piece because the bear is so charming and because the animal’s fur is clearly depicted. At the time, Pat Feheley of Feheley Fine Arts in Toronto cautioned me about the fugitive nature of Pentel but I had to admit that I had never hard that word before. When it was explained that Pentel was another word for Magic Marker things began to become clear. Works using this technique can fade over time. However, more importantly, if stored with other works on paper they could “bleed up” and “bleed down” thus damaging or destroying other prints and drawings. As it turned out the Pentel used in the Qinnuayak piece is of a more stable nature but, nonetheless, I keep a thick barrier between Walking Bear and my other graphics stored in the same archival box. I’ve never regretted acquiring the drawing and it still brings a smile to my face whenever I see it.
Walking Bear by Lucy Qinnuauak, Pentel drawing, Inuit, Cape Dorset, 20” x 26” (1976/77)
Colledtion of E. J. Guarino
Fish, especially salmon, have played an important part in the lives of Native people living in the far north, including the Inuit. In Nineteen Fish Janet Kigusiuq combines representation and abstraction in a way that not only documents one aspect of Inuit life but also creates a visually striking work of art. The salmon are delightfully drawn, the water is a lovely shade of blue and the shoreline is depicted as soft shapes in muted colors. The fish are swimming towards a lighter area, indicating that they are swimming upstream. This is an important part of their lifecycle and one which is a time of abundance for human and animal alike since at this time the fish are easily caught.
Nineteen Fish by Janet Kigusiuq, colored pencil, Inuit, Baker Lake, 22¾” x 30¼” (1999)
Collection of E. J. Guarino
Noted for her highly detailed prints, Pitaloosie Saila’s work has been represented over the years in many Cape Dorset Annual Print Collections. Although Pitaloosie is not noted for her depictions of Arctic wildlife when I saw her print Lost I was immediately taken by the work’s haunting quality. Although the piece is representational, there is clearly something more going on. The image takes on an almost surreal quality since the artist chose to employ only three colors – grey, white and blue – and the animal, the ubiquitous Arctic fox, seems frail, almost dazed. The expression on the creature’s face epitomizes pathos. The viewer is drawn in and wonders what exactly is going on. How can an animal be lost? If it is, what brought it to this state? This is not the usual benign image of Arctic wildlife. Lost functions on a much deeper level than merely recording Nature and it is left up to us to ponder its meaning.
Lost by Pitaloosie Saila, lithograph, Printer: Pitseolak Niviaqsi; 20/50, Inuit, Cape Dorset, 22” x 30,”
Cape Dorset Annual Print Collection #7 (2007)
Collection of E. J. Guarino
One of the most delightful Inuit prints in my collection is one I initially had no interest in acquiring. I first saw Auvviq (Caterpillar) by Ningeokuluk Teevee online and it held no appeal for me. However, seeing the print in person made all the difference. At a mere four inches by five inches, it is one of the smallest Inuit prints ever produced.
Auvviq (Caterpillar) by Ningokuluk Teevee, lithograph, 8/30, Inuit, Cape Dorset,
4”h x 5”w, Cape Dorset Spring Release #8 (20010)
Collection of E. J. Guarino
The small size of this work combined with the handling of the subject matter gives the work charm and whimsy. The caterpillar, shown not much bigger than life size, is a creature most might overlook. However, the artist, who is known for her humor and inventiveness, uses the dimensions of the print to draw the viewer closer to consider this most marvelous of creatures which will transform into a butterfly.
One of the pleasures of collecting Native art is that it is always filled with surprises. In spite of my resistance to what can be described as “animal art,” there are quite a number of pieces in my collection that depict a diverse array of creatures: mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and insects. It turns out that the animal kingdom is well represented. Critters, as one of my mentors liked to call them, have a special place in the collection because of the variety of interesting ways in which they are presented by Native artists and I’m sure that I will continue to acquire works with animals as their subject.
BY E. J. GUARINO
In spite of my many visits to Phoenix, it was only in the last few years that I became aware of White Tank Mountain Regional Park. Since then I have hiked in the park three times. The largest regional park in the country, White Tank encompasses over 29,000 acres of desert and mountain landscape and is only about an hour’s drive from Phoenix/Scottsdale. In addition to spectacular scenery, the park contains hundreds of examples of ancient Native American rock art, many of which are over 1,000 years old.
From prehistoric times to early in the last century Native Americans were drawn to the White Tank area by a reliable year round source of water concentrated in tinajas, or “tanks,” a series of rock depressions, located in the larger canyons. Rain water collected in these natural catchments and, combined with nearby streams, allowed humans to exploit an otherwise arid landscape. Archaeologists have discovered the remains of several sizeable villages as well as evidence of temporary habitation by hunter-gatherers.
In the course of seven thousand years the White Tank area was home to three Native American groups. The earliest inhabitants, who have been given the name Archaic People, occupied the canyons from 5,000 B.C. to 300 A.D. According to the archaeological record, the Hohokam appeared about 100 A.D. and remained into the 1200s, although their culture survived in the area around present-day Phoenix until 1450. After the Holokam abandoned their villages there is no indication of a human presence until the Western Yavapai entered the region in the 1700s and utilized it until the early 1900s. Each culture left its mark on the area’s rocks.
Of the eleven village sites that have been identified in the park, the Hohokam built seven. One of the Southwest’s major ancient cultures, the Hohokam are noted for their platform mounds, complex systems of irrigation canals that moved water from where it was to where it was needed, sophisticated jewelry, and beautiful pottery. The Hohokam also had extensive trade routes which stretched to the California coast, West Central Mexico and, perhaps, even far south into Mesoamerica.
In addition to growing cotton for clothing, the Hohokam cultivated edible crops such as corn and several varieties of beans and squash. They gathered other foodstuffs such as weeds as well as the fruit of saguaro, prickly pear and other cacti and hunted deer, rabbit, a wide range of birds, and possibly mountain sheep and antelope.
The origins of the Hohokam, however, are unclear. There are indications that they may have migrated from Mexico since, like a number of Mesoamerican cultures, the Hohokam built ball courts. However, this may simply indicate a Mexican influence rather than a Mexican origin.
It is also possible that the Hohokam culture evolved from the earlier nomadic Archaic People as they developed farming, irrigation, and construction techniques that allowed them to remain in one place. The archaeological record clearly shows, for example, that Archaic humans were extremely adaptable, able to change their diet based on the availability of seasonal foods and to respond to a variety of geographic and climatic conditions.
The end of the Hohokam culture is equally mysterious. Although it is often said that the Hohokam vanished (Hohokam is a derivation of the O’odam word huhugam, meaning “those who are gone”) such is not the case. It seems more likely that the Hohokam dispersed to other areas when their way of life could no longer be sustained. The reasons for this collapse are still being investigated. However, two modern tribes – the Tohono O’odam and the Akimel O’odam – say that they are descended from the Hohokam and many scholars believe their claim to be true.
Five hundred years after the Hohokam left the canyons of White Tank the Western Yavapai, also known as the Tolkepaya, arrived. They most probably used the area on a seasonal basis since they were mainly hunter-gathers who migrated to take advantage of ripening edible plants. They erected simple shelters such as lean-tos without walls or closed huts depending on the time of year. When food sources in one area were exhausted the Yavapai moved on, returning the following year. In the late 1800s and early 1900s the Western Yavapai were forced to live on reservations.
Today the petroglyphs pecked into rocks are the most obvious indication that humans once lived in what is now White Tank Mountain Regional Park. Archaeologists have defined two main petroglyph styles within the park: the Archaic and the Hohokam. The rock art of the Archaic period is abstract with curving lines while the petroglyphs produced by the Hohokam can be either abstract or representational, incorporating geometric designs and symbols as well as figures of humans and animals.
Petroglyphs are not simply random markings. It took considerable time and concentrated effort to produce them. Clearly, they had significance to their creators. Although to modern eyes the imagery may seem bizarre, mysterious or even mystical, their original meanings continue to elude us. We can make educated guesses and infer what a specific figure or design might represent but we may never understand them completely since the petroglyphs were made for a variety of reasons and each one may have multiple meanings depending on their location and their relationship to other nearby symbols.
Recording events, controlling nature, such as weather and game animals, and marking water sources or trails are thought to be among the reasons the petroglyphs were created. Some appear to represent sacred beings and religious concepts; others strongly suggest familiarity with the movements of heavenly bodies; and a number may indicate the migrations of a particular clan or group.
The desert in the area of White Tank Regional Park
When they first entered the area some time around 1540, some of the Spanish carved their initials into the canyon’s rocks, possibly in imitation of the rock markings they saw.
Of the park’s ten trails, one is best for seeing an abundance of petroglyphs. Waterfall Canyon Trail is two-miles round trip and leads to a high concentration of the carvings in an area designated “Petroglyph Plaza” and a waterfall at the end of the box canyon. (Unfortunately, just before reaching the falls there is striking evidence that some modern visitors felt compelled to carve their own markings into the rocks, thus vandalizing some of the rock art.)
Many artists, both Native and non-Native have been influenced by rock art. Harry Fonseca, for example, (Niseman Maidu/Hawaiian/Portuguese) briefly worked with images inspired by petrogyphs he saw in California. In 1985 he returned to this theme with his “Stone Poem” series, petroglyph-inspired paintings done on unstretched canvas. Also, Les Namingha (Hopi-Tewa/Zuni) has recently used imagery inspired by rock art on his pottery.
Although petroglyphs are fascinating they are extremely fragile and easily damaged and should not be touched. They also have spiritual significance to Native Americans and should be given the same respect accorded any other sacred art.
Looking at petroglyphs is an amazing experience, especially since it is a journey of discovery. Unlike museums where the art is arranged for easy viewing, rock art requires more effort since some petroglyphs are out in the open while others are more hidden away. As with other rock art sites, each visit to White Tank Mountain Regional Park reveals something new.
(Photographs by Jeffrey Van Dyke)
White Tank Regional Park is open 365 days a year. Hours are Sunday through Thursday from 6:00 AM to 8:00 PM and Friday and Saturday from 6:00 AM to 10:00 PM. Hikes in the park are not recommended for the warmer months. Sufficient water, snacks, insect repellant and sturdy shoes that cover your feet, not flip-flops, are essential.
DIRECTIONS: From Phoenix/Scottsdale take I-10 west to 303 north. Turn left at Olive Avenue, which goes into the park. At the entrance there is a self-pay station requiring an exact fee of $6.00. I you don’t have the correct amount drive on to the visitor center.
FOR MORE INFORMATION: www.maricopa.gov/parks/white%5Ftank
NOTE: To learn more about petroglyphs (images pecked or caved on a rock surface) and pictographs (images painted on rock), contact the Colorado Rock Art Association at Colorado State University in Fort Collins (www.coloradorockart.org) or the Rock Art Foundation (www.rockart.org).
BY E. J. GUARINO
Whenever I speak about Native art I am invariably asked how I became a collector. To be honest, until fairly recently I never gave it much thought since, as far as I was concerned, it was something that just sort of happened. More precisely, it was a slow but steady evolution that took place over the course of many years and continues to this day.
My first memory of seeing Native art was as a small child with my father in the early 1950s at the Iroquois Museum that, at that time, was housed in the Old Stone Fort in Schoharie, New York. The materials were, of course, presented ethnographically but I distinctly remember being fascinated by them because they were so different from my own Italian-American background. Throughout elementary school, high school, college and graduate school there was little if any mention of Native people except with regard to Christopher Columbus and the Spanish Conquest. The only images I saw of Native peoples were negative ones in stereotypical Hollywood movies. It was only much later that I began to educate myself about New World people and their cultures through my own reading and travels. It became a quest as I traveled over the years from Alaska to South America with a particular emphasis on the American Southwest and Mexico. I felt I had a lot of ground to cover and not enough time to do it in. I wondered why I hadn’t been taught about Native cultures and their diverse art forms and suspected that, nation wide, our educational system, in general, had given Native people short shrift.
Living in the New York Metropolitan area I thought I could find a college or university that offered courses on New World Native cultures but even in the 1980s they didn’t exist. Instead, I attended auctions and powwows in Upstate New York where I bought some of the first pieces of pottery for what was to become a collection. One of the first pieces bought at a powwow at Hunter Mountain was a pot by Josephine Garcia. The collection has changed a great deal since that early purchase but I still enjoy the pot. However, I now realize that it is neither well polished nor as well formed as subsequent ceramics I acquired.
Black-on-white pot by Josephine Garcia, Acoma, 7½”h x 8”w (c. 1980s)
Donated to the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, Vassar College from the E. J. Guarino Collection, 2008.
One day I wandered into Common Ground, a now defunct shop in Greenwich Village that sold Native American art, and asked how I could learn more about Native American pottery, which had quickly caught my interest and became my first love. I was promptly handed a copy of American Indian Art magazine. As I read I quickly came across an advertisement for Speaks of the Earth, which I contacted. The owner, Betty Johnston, ran her business from her home and the first piece from her was purchased for me as a birthday gift. I had been looking for a pot by Lucy Lewis but since Betty had none at the time she suggested a gorgeous olla by Emma Chino and with it my collection immediately went up a notch. For more than twenty years Betty would send me photographs (this was before the Internet) of pieces she thought would interest me and I would pick out what I wanted and put the pots on layaway. Some took a year to pay off and one even took three years. Betty was my collection’s first mentor and is a dear friend who guided me to collect pieces that were traditionally made. For a long time I was obsessed with Acoma pottery and try as she might Betty couldn’t convince me to broaden my collection to other pueblos. As a result I passed up works by such artists as Lonnie Vigil, Maria Martinez, and Rondina Huma.
Black-on-white olla by Emma Chino, Acoma, 11” x 10” (circa early 1980s)
Collection of E. J. Guarino
However, I came to realize that even great collectors could make mistakes. Duncan Phillips, art critic and founder of the famed Phillips Collection, called Cezanne and Van Gogh “unbalanced fanatics,” Gauguin “half savage,” Picasso and the Cubists “ridiculous,” and Matisse “poisonous” and “depraved.” Of course, Mr. Phillips later reversed such opinions.
Fortunately for me a number of influences helped me to broaden my outlook on Native art and I was eventually able to add work to my collection by Lonnie Vigil, Susan Folwell, and Virgil Ortiz.
In 1993 I made my first trip to Alaska and British Columbia and bought my first piece of Inuit art, a sculpture by Elisapee Ishulutaq. I was hooked. I realized that I knew nothing about Inuit art and culture and, as usual, this became another aspect of my quest to learn more. On that first trip I saw many carvings (I had not yet encountered Inuit graphics) but I bought the Ishulutaq piece because I thought it fit in with what I considered the “primitive” nature of my collection.
Standing Man by Elisapee Ishulutaq, Inuit, Pangnirtung, whale bone, 8½” tall (circa mid 1970s)
Collection of E. J. Guarino
On my second visit to Alaska in 1994 I bought a traditional Nunivak spirit mask. The mask, consisting of a carved wooden musk ox head, two concentric wooden rings and appendages, represents the world of the musk ox, an animal introduced to Nunivak Island in the 1930s. The inner wooden circle symbolizes the earth, the outer one the heavens while the feathers and carved fish are indicative of the animal’s island environment. Like the small whalebone sculpture I had collected the year before I though it was a wonderful example of primitive art that would was perfect for my collection.
Musk ox spirit mask, artist unknown (but possibly Andrew Noatak), Nunivak Island, Alaska, wood, paint, feathers, ivory, ex Lowery collection, 21” x 15” including carved wooden appendages
Collection of E. J. Guarino
For years I collected from an outdated ethnographic perspective since that was the model I saw in museums. The heart of the collection was pottery but I also bought baskets, beadwork or anything else that caught my eye at auctions or on my travels. The turning point in my collecting was seeing “Changing Hands: Art without Reservation I &II,” two groundbreaking exhibitions in 2002 and 2006 at the Museum of Art and Design (formerly the American Craft Museum) in Manhattan. Afterward I immediately started to seek out edgy contemporary Native art and my collecting has moved from conservative to outright wild.
By the time of my third trip to Alaska I was already under the influence of “Changing Hands” so I was very much open to an exhibit of contemporary Native art at the Anchorage Museum of History and Art that included sculptures by Susie Silook. Silook’s work was something completely new to me. Mostly portraying the female form, she addresses social issues such the effects of assimilation, Christianity and the abuse of Native women from a female perspective. The sculptures are informed by the artist’s personal experiences, Inuit and Yup’ik culture as well as by European, African and Asian influences. Although Silook works mostly in walrus ivory, using an entire tusk for each piece, she also sometimes produces wooden figures. After discovering Susie Silook’s art I became a man on a mission.
Yup’ik Woman with Inua by Susie Silook, Siberian Yup’ik/Inupiaq/Irish, cottonwood, walrus ivory, 19½” tall (2003)
Collection of E. J. Guarino
I was determined that if I could only add one new piece to my collection it would be by Susie Silook. My plan was to acquire one of the artist’s iconic ivory sculptures but it didn’t turn out that way. The first gallery I walked into had one of Silook’s wooden figures, which I thought amazing and I was pleasantly surprised by the affordable price. When I inquired about that I was told that the artist had come into the gallery that day and had sold the piece for a low price because she needed money to go to Fairbanks. When I asked if the piece had a title the staff member jokingly said “Susie Needs Gas Money to Drive to Fairbanks.” However, the next day she phoned to say that she had learned from the artist that the actual title was Yup’ik Woman with Inua. The sculpture has remained one of my favorite works in my collection.
On that same trip I saw among the many traditional pieces for sale at the Hospital Auxiliary Craft Store in the Alaska Native Medical Center (one of the best places in Anchorage to buy Native art) a contemporary spirit mask by Jack Abraham. Not only was the piece a unique modern take on a traditional form but also it made a wonderful counterpoint to the Nunavik spirit mask already in my collection. As an educator, I always like to have comparison/contrast examples whenever possible since I believe it shows the continuity as well as evolution of Native art.
Nightmute (contemporary spirit mask) by Jack Abraham, Yup’ik Eskimo, Nelson Island, Alaska, wood, acrylic paint, feathers, 9”h x 5”w, excluding feathers (2003)
Collection of E. J. Guarino
I first became aware of Inuit works on paper during a trip to Toronto in the mid 1990s after my first two trips to Alaska. I became obsessed with learning more about the art and cultures of Arctic peoples but, as with other collecting areas, I acquired works based on an ethnographic mindset. I sought out prints and drawings that I thought would fit into my collection and viewed those I acquired as examples of primitive art. One of the first prints I bought was an untitled work (Hunters and Animals) by Saggiak. The work employs pre-contact imagery to portray “the old ways,” life as it was once lived on the land. Such “traditional” scenes of hunting, fishing, and igloo building, coupled with a visual esthetic very different from Western conventions, was very appealing to me as it was to many collectors. It was only much later, after re-evaluating the graphics in my collection that I came to realize that these works were quite sophisticated and that there were levels of meaning that I had missed.
Untitled (Hunters and Animals) by Saggiak, Inuit, Cape Dorset, engraving on paper, artist’s proof,
13¼” x 19 1/8” (1962) Collection of E. J. Guarino
For example, Mother and Children, a print produced by Pitseolak Ashoona in 1962, seems at first glance to be a portrait of a woman holding her two offspring but the title is misleading. On closer inspection, the mother, whose mouth is twisted in what could be a smile or a scream, is struggling to hold on to her two children who appear to be only part human. Their lower bodies are covered with fur, which may or may not be clothing. There is a deliberate note of ambiguity in the imagery. Is the work a representation of shamanic transformation or a wry comment on motherhood? Perhaps it is both. Adding to the surreal quality of the work is the fact that the figures seem to “float” on the page.
Mother and Children by Pitseolak Ashoona, Inuit, Cape Dorset, engraving on paper, #40 31/50
Cape Dorset Annual Print Collection, 12 5/8” x 18 1/8” (1962)
E. J. Guarino Collection
Complicating my misconceptions about Inuit graphics was the fact that until recently the only early prints I had seen were black-and-white etchings and engravings. This gave me a rather distorted view. This changed when I saw and later acquired Animals Out of Darkness produced in 1961. The use of color by artists just learning the possibilities of the print medium, which had only been introduced to Cape Dorset in the late 1950s, is stunning. The animals emerge from darkness into light and each of the figures has a surreal rather than representational quality. Clearly, this work is not “primitive” by any definition of the word.
Animals Out Of Darkness, signed Kenojuak Ashevak, but possibly the work of her husband Johnniebo Ashevak (1923-1972), Inuit, Cape Dorset, stonecut on paper, 5/50, 19½” x 21¾” (1961).
Collection of E. J. Guarino
The inventiveness and experimentation of Inuit artists, especially those from Cape Dorset, has propelled my evolution as a collector. Rather than seek out works that are ethnographic examples of a culture, I now look for those that are important as art. As a collector, it has been exciting to follow the careers of contemporary Inuit graphic artists. Unlike the first generation, such as Kenojuak and Pitseolak, the third generation is keenly aware that they are artists and they owe a debt they to those who preceded them.
Recently, I acquired Tribute by Shuvinai Ashoona, one of Pitseolak’s granddaughters. The print is fascinating on many levels. It is visually arresting because of the sweep of the figure's arms, the face and the use of the color blue. The piece is a self-portrait in which the artist has chosen to indicate that she "carries" what is essentially the history of modern Inuit graphics by placing on her clothing the names of promoters (James Houston, Terry Ryan, etc.), artists (Kananginak and Napatchie Pootoogook, etc.), gallery owners (Pat Feheley) and collectors (John Price) all of whom contributed to making Cape Dorset graphics what they are today. Shuvinai is aware that she is where she is as an artist because of them.
Tribute by Shuvinai Ashoona, lithograph, 8/50, Inuit, Cape Dorset, 40.5”h x 30”w,
Cape Dorset Spring Release #4 (2010) Collection of E. J. Guarino
Tribute by Shuvinai Ashoona (detail)
Collecting is a journey that often requires adjusting one’s course. For nearly half of the almost thirty years that I have been acquiring Native art I didn’t think of myself as a collector. It was only when I realized that I owned one thousand artworks that I started to consider that I might, in fact, actually be a one. Like most who find themselves in this position, it wasn’t planned. I had started out buying objects I found interesting or beautiful to decorate my apartment. As time went on I realized that I was buying from an educational, though ethnographic, perspective. The problem wasn’t what I was buying but rather the reasons for buying it, which limited my understanding. During that early period I was teaching film courses and a statement made by D. W. Griffith, the great silent film director, became my collecting inspiration: “The task I am trying to achieve is above all to make you see.” Even though at the time very few people saw the art I owned, I wanted those who did view it to realize that this was, in fact, American art and I wanted them to appreciate a type of art that was often overlooked or dismissed as craft.
For a number of reasons I have been isolated from other collectors. However, since I live so close to New York City I have always had access to a diverse range of art. Over time this has allowed me to re-evaluate my collection and change direction whenever I feel it necessary. Relatively free of the influence of other collectors, I have followed my own path, though now and then I do make a detour or two.
BY E. J. GUARINO
Like so many other visitors to Santa Fe, after a while I need a break from the many museums, art galleries and crowds. Coming from the East, I always want to see as much Native art as possible and, not wanting to miss a thing, I eventually become overwhelmed and need time to absorb all that I’ve experienced. As a collector, I find it essential to see the art I collect in a broader context. A place that allows me to do this is Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument.
What I remember most about Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument is how the smell of pine perfumes the air, the broad vistas containing a landscape ranging from lunar to lush, and the low lying, sandy slot canyon that gives way to hillsides covered with ponderosa, piñon and juniper. Hiking through the monument one cannot help but reflect on how environment has shaped and informed Native American art and culture. For example, many of the colors visible in the landscape of Tent Rocks National Monument can be seen in the pottery filling Santa Fe’s museums and galleries.
The varied Tent Rocks Monument landscape
Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument takes its name from odd looking, cone-shaped volcanic formations that look remarkably like tents. In the Keresan language of nearby Cochiti Pueblo they are called “kasha-katuwe” or “white cliffs.” These unique natural structures are “hoodoos,” bizarre spires carved out of sandstone, mudstone and limestone by the forces of erosion and are most notably found at Bryce Canyon National Park.
The famous tent rocks
Although signs of habitation are not obvious, Native Americans have lived in this environment for more than 4,000 years and by the 1300s Ancestral Puebloans had constructed a number of large villages in the area. Their descendants, who live at Chochiti Pueblo, consider Kasha-Katuwe sacred.
The tent rocks close up
Visiting Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument is an experience that should not be rushed but rather savored. There are three areas of interest that can fill most of a day: the Canyon Trail, the Cave Loop Trail and the Veteran’s Memorial Scenic Overlook.
If time is limited, the one thing that should not be missed is hiking the Canyon Trail which passes through a spectacular slot canyon and then ascends 630 feet to reveal incredible views of Cochiti Lake, the Rio Grande Valley and the Sangre de Cristo, Jemez and Sandia Mountains in the distance. Sturdy shoes, sufficient water, snacks and insect repellant are essential. Although the walk through the canyon is extremely beautiful it is not recommended for those who are claustrophobic since in some areas the walls are less than two feet wide. Looking up on various points on the trail one sees towering trees, multi-colored bands of rock along the cliff face and the famed tent rocks. The color and lines in the rock stratification would be the envy of any contemporary abstract artist.
With luck, a wide variety of animals – eagles, hawks, owls, swallows, wild turkeys, elk, mule deer, coyotes, ground squirrels, rabbits, chipmunks and lizards – might be spotted.
The canyon’s towering trees
The Canyon Trail is three miles round trip and involves a strenuous climb to the mesa top, which is well worth the effort. Not far into the canyon at marker SC-9 there is a tall pine tree next to a large rock formation. Just behind the tree are three petroglyphs – two serpents and a human hand – which most visitors never see.
Pine tree and rock formation that hide three petroglyphs
The trail ends at Vista Point, reached via a small spit of land, a crossing not for the fainthearted or those with a fear of heights. The spot is a great place to rest, have a snack and enjoy the unobstructed views of the surrounding countryside before making the reverse trip back down to the canyon and through it to the trailhead.
Near the beginning of the slot canyon
Note: Do not hike the Canyon Trail if a thunderstorm is in the area since the canyon is prone to flash floods and lightening often strikes the mesa top.
The slot canyon
For those who prefer a shorter, though definitely less spectacular hike, the Cave Loop Trail is only 1.2 miles long, relatively flat and considered easy. It can be done as a leisurely walk and affords close-up views of some of the tent rocks and passes a cave used by Ancestral Puebloans.
The mesa top’s lush vegetation
Detached from the main part of the monument, the Veteran’s Memorial Scenic Overlook affords expansive views of Camada and Peralta Canyons, the Jemez Mountains as well as the Dome Wilderness. Opened in 2004, the overlook is reached via a nine mile stretch of dirt road, most of which is very rough and filled with rocks and should be driven slowly and with extreme caution.
Visiting Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument can be a contemplative experience. The geology, vegetation and animals of the area offer much to think about but perhaps the most fascinating thing to consider is the adaptability and inventiveness of Native Americans who were able to flourish in such an environment.
Panoramic view at the summit of the Canyon Trail
Directions: Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument is thirty-five miles south of Santa Fe and fifty-two miles north of Albuquerque.
From Santa Fe: Take I-25 south to Exit 264 (Cochiti Pueblo). Make a right onto NM Route (SR) 16. Follow signs to Cochiti Pueblo and Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks.From SR 16 turn right onto SR 22.
From Albuquerque: Take I-25 north to Exit 259 (Santo Domingo/Cochiti Lake Recreation Area) to NM Route (SR) 22. Follow the signs to Cochiti Pueblo and Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks. At the water tower, which is painted to resemble a drum, turn right onto Tribal Route 92 which connects to BLM Road 1011/FS266 to the monument.
For more information go to the monument’s website which offers a downloadable brochure as well as excellent student trail guides for both the Canyon Trail and the Cave Loop Trail: http://www.blm.gov/nm/st/en/prog/recreation/rio_puerco/kasha_katuwe_tent_rocks.html
BY E. J. GUARINO
When most people think of abstract art, works created in the 20th century and in the current era usually come to mind. However, Native artists have been abstracting natural forms for centuries – in pottery, beadwork, basketry, clothing designs and jewelry as well as rock art.
The Ancestral Puebloans, whose culture flourished from about 100 B.C. to around A. D. 1400, covered much of their pottery with abstract designs although they also created plain ware pieces. However, it was their highly decorated pieces that were much sought after and widely traded.
Ancestral Puebloan Tularosa black-on-white pitcher 6½” x 5¼” (c. 1100 A. D.)
Collection of E. J. Guarino
Although the Hohokam, who flourished between 200 B.C. and A. D. 1400, dug more than 500 miles of irrigation canals, some of which are still in use today, and constructed large platform mounds, it is their sophisticated jewelry and beautifully decorated pottery that resonates with collectors and museum visitors. Although the Hohokam did create plain ware ceramics and those with representational designs, for many, those covered with complex abstract designs remain the most interesting.
Hohokam gila shoulder pot, 2 1/8” x 2 ¾” (c. 500 – 1130 A. D.) Collection of E. J. Guarino
Abstraction has continued to be an important part of the Pueblo ceramic tradition. Hopi pots from different eras reveal how cultural and spiritual concepts are represented by abstract symbols. Some designs are obvious – lightening, clouds, birds – but others require a bit more effort and even research to understand. Nonetheless, the pottery speaks to us across time as well as cultures. A number of years ago I came across an old Hopi pot for sale at the Museum of Northern Arizona that came with very little information, including the time frame of when it was created. I could guess at what some of the designs represented but what was more important was that I thought the pot was simply beautiful.
Polychrome pot, unsigned, Hopi, 3½” x 6½ “(c. 1910). Collection of E. J. Guarino
A number of years later I had the opportunity to acquire a lovely, small pot by Nampeyo. Again, I had no idea what the designs on the pot represented but it didn’t matter. What’s wonderful about abstraction is that it can be appreciated simply for line, shape and color without regard to meaning.
Often the only information a collector has about a piece is what he or she receives from a gallery or dealer. When I discuss this aspect of collecting with students I tell them that sometimes a collector is given a great deal of information, sometimes very little and, in some cases, no information at all. It is also possible to get misinformation. I always figure that, as a collector, it is my job to acquire a piece and that it will be the responsibility of some future Vassar College student to do the research on it.
Polychrome jar with Sikyatki-style designs in black and red by Nampeyo,
5¼” x 4½” (c. 1920s – 1930s) Collection of E. J. Guarino
I must admit that, early on, I was not a fan of abstract art which is odd since so much of the pottery I’ve collected is covered with imagery that is, more often than not, abstract rather than representational. My tastes have certainly changed, however. For example, I was immediately drawn to a pot by Les Namingha that is covered in abstract designs. It is an extremely striking work and, although it draws on Hopi, Tewa and Zuni traditions, it clearly has a very modern look, something quite different from earlier pieces produced in the 20th century. Although the artist uses Native clays to form his pieces he often employs acrylic paints to decorate them, an element that is distinctly “non-Native,” and while the imagery he creates is usually traditional it often appears quite contemporary.
Polychrome jar by Les Namingha, Hopi/Tewa and Zuni, 6” x 8½” (c. 2003-04).
Collecion of E. J. Guarino
It might seem a bit bizarre to use the term “love at first sight” with regard to art but other collectors certainly understand the feeling of seeing a piece and thinking that it is so beautiful or unique that you just must have it. That was the case when I came across a large pot by Helen Bird. The piece was deceptively simple, decorated with geometric patterns and only three colors – black, off white and red. However, it was the pot’s angularity combined with its abstraction that really caught my attention. I was on a trip through the Southwest and by the time I saw the Helen Bird pot I had already spent my entire budget for art so I walked away. However, things don’t work that easily. The pot kept “calling” to me. Dreaming about it that night clinched it for me and the next day I went back to the gallery and purchased the pot. Although contemporary, it makes a very interesting contrast to other, older Santo Domingo pieces that have been in my collection for many years.
Angular pot with geometric designs by Helen Bird, Santo Domingo Pueblo 8“h x 12“w (2007).
Collection of E. J. Guarino
Considered one of the modern masters of Pueblo pottery, Dorothy Torivio is noted for pots that are usually referred to as “eye dazzlers” since their graphic quality is mesmerizing. Reminiscent of Op Art, Torivio’s pieces are a tour de force because the complex abstract designs, all drawn free hand, are not created on the flat surface of a canvas but must swirl around a three dimensional object while remaining balanced and visually arresting. Torivio’s work is decorated with finely painted geometric patterns that are repeated over and over as they encircle or spiral up the neck of a piece. She always uses the same number of repetitions regardless of the size her creation, adjusting their size accordingly. Often called vases, according to the artist her pots are more accurately elongated or exaggerated seed pots.
Black-on-white eye dazzler seed jar by Dorothy Torivio, Acoma, 4 3/8” x 6 1/8” (c. 2000).
Collection of E. J. Guarino
Similarly, Mata Ortiz potter Carlos Loya often decorates his pots with fine line checkerboard patterns known as cuadritos. The attention to detail is amazing and the designs are hypnotic. Such works usually hold what I call a “surprise” on the bottom. Many people fail to turn such pots over, thereby missing some of the most beautiful aspects of the piece. Collectors are often astonished when I tell them that a pot doesn’t have to be displayed head on. It can be exhibited sideways or even upside down. For example, every so often I change the presentation of some of the pots in my collection. Doing so allows me to see them in a totally new way. Once in a gallery in Santa Fe a woman was considering buying a pot but felt she didn’t have a space for it. “What if you put it sideways?” I asked. “I never thought of that,” she replied and instantly bought the pot.
Pot with checkerboard pattern by Carlos Loya, Mata Ortiz, Mexico, 5”h x 7” at widest point (2001) Collection of E. J. Guarino
It was only recently that I acquired a piece by Nathan Youngblood but I had wanted to add one to my collection for quite some time. I became more determined than ever to do so after a conversation I had with the artist last year when he expressed his desire to be recognized as an American artist as well as a Native artist. It was clear to me that his work certainly fit with the direction in which I was taking my collection. For years, Youngblood has been expanding the boundaries of Native American pottery in his own unique way. Although construction of his pieces is done following time honored techniques, their decoration is abstract and highly complex. After forming a pot Youngblood draws a design on it in pencil when it has completely dried. Then, using a knife and small screwdrivers he cuts into the clay. The depth to which he carves is daring and often astonishing. The piece is next sanded, covered with slip (liquefied clay), stone polished and then individually fired. Curving around the bowl I own is a deeply carved abstract Avanyu or water serpent as well as a second abstract version of this sacred creature that has been etched into the piece. Whether or not one knows what the designs “mean,” they can be appreciated for their sheer beauty.
Tan Bowl with carved and etched water serpents (Avanyus) by Nathan Youngblood, Santa Clara, 7”w x 4¾”h (2009) Collection of E. J. Guarino
Susan Folwell’s work never ceases to astonish me. For example, she is able to combine disparate abstract elements in the same piece and, somehow, it works. In particular her ability to fuse Northwest Coast designs with other imagery is often startling. Northwest Coast art abstracts and flattens human and animal figures because they have to wrap around three dimensional objects such as masks, hats, boxes, bowls, dishes, spoons, house fronts, screens, canoes and poles or decorate two dimensional creations such as spectacular Chilkat blankets. The designs have a calligraphic quality because of the varying widths within individual lines. Recently, I acquired a plate by Susan that is daring in so many ways. On the front of the piece she mixes Northwest Coast imagery with circles that are reminiscent of the work of Wassily Kandinsky, the Russian abstract painter. The edge of the plate was treated with water to give it a rough look and the reverse side has iconic Santa Clara crosses with dots around the edge that have the appearance of sewn leather.
Plate with Northwest Coast and geometric designs by Susan Folwell, Santa Clara,
acrylic paint, natural clay slips and wood stain, 8½” in diameter (2010). Collection of E. J. Guarino
In the mid 1990s I acquired my first examples of Inuit graphic art when I purchased two drawings by Janet Kigusiaq. Much impressed by the artist’s use of line and detail to depict scenes of Inuit life as well as her use of multiple perspectives in the same piece, I thought the works would fit perfectly with what I believed was the primitive nature of my collection. Over the years I have come to see that Native art is many things but it is not primitive. Also, as I acquired more of Kigusiaq’s work I realized that she was a complex and highly sophisticated modern artist. I was so taken with her artistry that she is represented in my collection more than any other artist. For many years all I knew of Kigusiuq’s work was her representational prints and drawings. The first time I saw her abstract drawings was a revelation. Some were comprised of bold colors but others, such as Arctic Landscape (Greys and Browns), were done in duller shades, reflecting the many hues seen in the Arctic. I suddenly had a new quest: to acquire as many of the artist’s abstract works as I possibly could. Having done so, I feel they bring balance not only to the Inuit portion of my collection but to the collection as a whole.
Arctic Landscape (Greys and Browns), abstract by Janet Kigusuiq, pencil crayon, Inuit,
Baker Lake, 22¼” x 30” (2001) Collection of E. J. Guarino
Photo courtesy of Feheley Fine Arts, Toronto
Inuit artist Tony Anguhalluq began his career as a sculptor but in the last few years has gained recognition for his abstract and semi-abstract drawings. His first solo exhibition, held at Vancouver’s Marion Scott Gallery, immediately sold out. It was followed by a second, equally popular exhibit at the same gallery less than a year later. Anguhalluq’s drawings have been compared to Japanese woodblock prints as well as to the abstract landscapes of Milton Avery and even to the work of Matisse, Gauguin and Bonnard. Anguhalluq’s work is certainly very different from that of any other Inuit artist. The paper blazes with color – reds, greens, oranges, purples, and more. Clearly, the artist is not interested in realism or perspective but rather form, line and color. Lloyd Dykk, art critic for the Vancouver Sun, described Anguhalluq’s colors as “ravishing” and stated that many of the artist’s smaller, unpeopled works are “like meditations on the landscape.”
High hills and mountain in June, 2007 by Tony Anguhalluq, colored pencil and graphite on paper, Inuit, Baker Lake, 14”h x 11”w (paper) (2007) Collection of E. J. Guarino
Even utilitarian objects made by Native people often bear the marks of abstraction. Cornhusk bags are a perfect example of useful objects that were also works of art. These flat rectangular bags are unique to the Columbia River Plateau area of the Pacific Northwest and were made by the Nez Perce, Yakama, Cayuse, Walla Walla and Umatilla tribes. Originally used to store roots, they were highly prized trade items. Later they were used by women as accessories on special occasions and became symbols of cultural identity that were passed down to succeeding generations. In spite of their name, cornhusk bags were made out of a variety of plant materials as well such as string and yarn. Cornhusk bags always have a different design on each side. Some bags have geometric patterns on both sides while others are geometric on one side and have a pictorial image of humans, plants, insects, birds or other creatures on the reverse. The bags are particularly noted for their vivid colors and striking abstract designs.
Cornhusk bag, possibly Nez Perce, 12”h x 10½”w (circa 1900) Collection of E. J. Guarino
Little attention is often given to fiber art, perhaps because it is something made by women and relegated to the realm of craftwork. However, women have been using textiles as a means of personal expression for centuries. Among the finest examples of this type of art are the molas of the Kuna people who live in a 140 mile area of rainforest and on the islands of the San Blas Archipelago on Panama’s Caribbean Coast. This region is now called Kuna Yala, or “Kuna Land.” For generations, Kuna women have been creating cloth panels with highly complex designs as a way of communicating their feelings and ideas through visual means. The panels, called molas, have many levels of meaning and are made from layers of colored cotton cloth, the more layers the more complicated the design becomes. In order to produce a mola the women draw a design on a piece of cloth and then use cutting, basting and sewing to create a panel which is then sewn onto a blouse. Both the blouses and the individual panels are highly sought after by collectors. Each is unique and even the more representational pieces have a distinctly abstract quality. Kuna cultural specialists can identify specific abstract designs and interpret them. Each has a name and a meaning, something that needs to be researched with regard to the mola in my collection.
Mola, artist unknown, cotton appliqué, Kuna People, Panama, 15¾” x 14½” (c. 1998)
Donated to the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center,Vassar College from the E. J. Guarino Collection, 2010.
Humans seem to have a need to abstract and Native people are no exception. In the course of thousands of years each cultural group has covered a vast array of objects with complex designs which clearly have deeper meanings but can be appreciated solely for their visual beauty. Abstract art was something that never appealed to me and I particularly did not appreciate Contemporary art. However, collecting Native art has opened my mind to many more artistic possibilities and through it I came to value a wider range of artistic expression.
BY E. J. GUARINO
Traveling in the Southwest is exciting. There is always so much to see and learn, including the chance to discover lesser known sights that, with a little effort, can offer the savvy traveler a variety of experiences such as unique photographic and educational opportunities. Most people are first drawn to major cities – Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Phoenix, and Tucson – because of the many cultural attractions they offer. Of course, the Grand Canyon and other national parks are always important destinations as well. Some travelers venture to the more famous archaeological sites – Mesa Verde, Canyon de Chelly and Chaco Canyon – and to one or two pueblos, usually Acoma and Taos. However, there are a number of small gems such as Jémez State Monument that are well worth a traveler’s time. The site encompasses the ruins of the 17th century mission of San José de los Jémez and Giusewa, a Pueblo village which spanned both the prehistoric and historic periods.
The monument is named for the Jémez people who were the original settlers of the area, arriving in the Cañon de San Diego from Hua-na-tota, what is now called the Four Corners region, sometime in the late 1200s A.D. According to Jémez tradition, one He’mish group migrated southeast, perhaps coming from Mesa Verde or even Chaco Canyon, and founded Pecos Pueblo (see “Santa Fe Side,” March/April 2008), which is located east of present day Santa Fe.
Sometime around 1275 the remaining He’mish left their ancestral homeland, traveling south to what are today called the Jémez Mountains where they eventually built numerous pueblos on the mesas and in the canyons as well as one and two room homes utilized in the spring and summer and located about an hours walk from the larger villages.
The first Europeans entered Pueblo lands in the winter of 1540-41 when Francisco Vásquez de Coronado arrived in the area leading a group of 1,200 men, consisting of soldiers, priests and Mexican Indians, and settled in at Puaray, a pueblo whose exact location has yet to be discovered. The He’mish people first encountered the Spanish in the spring of 1541 when Coronado stopped his army at Pecos before moving on to the Great Plains where he wandered for the almost a year. Ultimately, the Coronado expedition was a failure, never having found the Seven Cities of Gold, and returned to Mexico City in 1542 with little to show for the hardships endured. However, other expeditions followed in 1581, 1583 and 1598. The Spanish divided Pueblo lands into provinces to which they assigned a Franciscan priest charged with the task of converting Native souls to the Christian Faith. Missions were founded throughout New Mexico, including at Pecos and Giusewa. To the Spanish ear, He’mish (meaning “the people”) sounded like Hemes, which eventually became Jémez.
One of the largest of the He’mish pueblos, Giusewa had been constructed over 200 years prior to the arrival of the Spanish. The name, which means “place of the boiling waters” in Towa, refers to nearby hot springs. (Towa is only spoken by the Jémez people and is one of three Tanoan linguistic groups, the others being Tewa and Tiwa.)
Pueblo Ruins at Giusewa
The arrival of the conquistadores and the Franciscan priests changed Pueblo life forever. The Spanish introduced unfamiliar crops such as wheat, grapes, pomegranates, figs and chiles as well as strange animals – horses, donkeys, mules, cattle, sheep, goats, pigs and chickens. More importantly, however, they brought a new world view, a new faith and the domination of Pueblo people.
The Spanish saw Native people as idolaters, doomed to the fires of Hell and in need of salvation. In 1630 Fray Alonzo de Benevides wrote that the Jémez people were “. . . subject to the demon, and his slaves until this time; and all filled with estufas of idolatry . . . . “ The Spanish, having no word for Pueblo religious structures, referred to kivas as estufas, which in their language meant a sweating room or drying chamber.
Kiva 1, Giusewa
Because they believed that Native people were in danger of losing their immortal souls, it became imperative for the Spanish friars to build churches. The priests designed mission complexes that were then constructed with Native labor, which was often forced.
Church of San José de los Jémez
The first mission compound was built at Giusewa between 1598 and 1601. A second, larger church, San José de los Jémez, was designed by Fray Gerónimo Zárate Salmerón and constructed during the winter of 1621–22. It was a massive structure with an octagonal bell tower and a complex of living and working quarters, known as a convento, attached to it. The interior of the church was decorated with multicolored frescoes, the Stations of the Cross and retablos, images of saints painted on pine panels, and bultos, hand carved wooden statues.
Giusewa was once a bustling community, its plaza filled with the comings and goings of its inhabitants. People met in this central area to exchange information and to barter with long distance traders who brought goods from other pueblos, the Navajo and Apache lands and even from Mexico. Today, however, silence reigns. The plaza is empty as are the three kivas, the church and its convento.
In 1680 the people of Giusewa, along with other pueblos throughout New Mexico, revolted against the injustices of Spanish rule. At Giusewa, the He’mish burned the church, killed its priest and then, sometime around 1692, abandoned their village forever.
Today all that remains of most of the pueblo are mounds of rubble. Close to the church are low walls - all that is left of a three-story apartment-like pueblo structure.
The church, though stripped of its once sumptuous decorations and religious objects, is still impressive. The imposing two-story façade, the enormous window openings and the beautifully proportioned nave that seems to draw you forward towards the sanctuary, the structure’s most sacred area, hint at former glory.
Façade (left) and nave (right) of the Church of San José de los Jémez
Attached to the east side of the church is the convento which contains the ruins of rooms once used for church business, classes, sleeping quarters, a kitchen, a pantry and a secure storeroom.
Refectory area of the convento of San José de los Jémez
Jémez State Monument offers the visitor the opportunity to consider the various forces that came to shape the history, culture, politics and economy of the Southwest. It is a very humbling experience to stand amid the ruins of a once thriving village that is now devoid of humans and know that its inhabitants were part of the first American Revolution.
Currently, the majority of Jémez, some 3,400 people, live at Walatowa (the Pueblo of Jémez), located a few miles beyond Jémez State Monument. The pueblo has a small but extremely informative museum in its visitor’s center that tells the story of the He’mish people from their perspective.
DIRECTIONS: Take I-25 north from Albuquerque to Exit 242. Go west towards
Bernalillo on State Highway 550/44. Continue west to San Ysidro and take Hwy 4 to the monument.
FOR MORE INFORMATION: www.nmmonuments.org/inst.php?inst=6
NOTE: A visit to Jémez State Monument can easily be combined with Coronado
State Monument (See “If These Walls Could Talk,” October 2010).
A combination pass is available at either site for $5.00.
BY E. J. GUARINO
Descending by wooden ladder into the subterranean chamber of a kiva is a very special experience. Doing so at Coronado State Monument in New Mexico is especially powerful since the site’s Kiva 3 contains murals that are considered the best example of pre-contact art in the country. Standing in front of the murals with their colorful symbols and portrayals of humans, animals, lightning, rain and kachinas (spiritual beings still integral to Pueblo culture) it is easy to imagine what it must have been like to see the images by firelight, amid the sounds of chanting, drums, rattles and, perhaps, the shuffling of feet.
One of Kuaua’s kivas
Living in the 21st century, it is hard to imagine what the first contact between Pueblo people and the Spanish was like for either side. For us, an equivalent meeting would be encountering visitors from outer space who landed a flying saucer on our front lawn. As hard as it may be to accept such an idea, at the time of the entrada, in addition to mutually unintelligible languages, both groups heard and saw things that were totally alien to them.
Pueblo people saw strange beings encased in metal and riding astride bizarre creatures, which at first may have been perceived as one animal with two heads and four feet since they had seen nothing like it before. Possessed of seemingly all-powerful weapons, the newcomers also traveled with other strange sounding, odd looking beasts – cattle, sheep, goats, pigs and massive hounds
The Spanish, according to their own accounts, were shocked to discover an organized society in the middle of what they considered a vast wilderness which they named simply la tierra incognita, the unknown land. They were surprised to find that those they considered primitive and inferior had produced multi-story dwellings and were possessed of exceptional artistic, agricultural, architectural and governmental abilities as well as complex religious ceremonies and beliefs. (At the time, the great minds of Europe were still debating whether or not New World Natives had been endowed with a soul.)
Lured north from Mexico by tales of Seven Cities of Gold that were supposed to be located in the mythical Cíbola, nearly 300 Spanish soldiers, led by Francisco Vásquez de Coronado, penetrated la tierra incognita in 1540, first stumbling upon the Zuni pueblos. For the inhabitants, their arrival was a disaster and one that was soon to be repeated.
Having defeated the Zunis, the Spanish sent out an advance guard of twenty men, led by Hernando Alvarado, to make further explorations. One hundred and twenty miles to the east they entered Tiguex (pronounced Tee-wesh), a province comprised of twelve (possibly fourteen) pueblos along the Rio Grande River in an area stretching from modern Isleta Pueblo to what is today the town of Bernalillo, some sixteen miles north of Albuquerque. The rest of the army soon followed, settling in to Puaray, a pueblo whose exact location has yet to be discovered by archaeologists. The inhabitants had no choice but to accept the intruders and treated them as guests. For their kindness the people of Puaray were repaid with brutality. The Spanish remained in the village, which also appears in the historical record as Coofar and Alcanfor, for two years. During that time the Spanish simply took anything they wanted and at least one rape was documented. No longer able to endure such treatment the villagers revolted, first killing some of the horses. The Spanish swiftly retaliated. Native bows and arrows were no match for guns, crossbows, and metal swords.
In 1542 the Spanish finally left, returning to Mexico but leaving behind three Franciscan priests charged with converting the natives to Catholicism.
The ruins of Kuaua
Among the pueblos of Tiguex province was Kuaua (Kwah-wah), an important center of commerce in pre-contact times. Diverse trade goods from the Hopi mesas, the Pacific Coast, the Gulf of California, Mexico and the Great Plains passed through the pueblo. Construction on the village began sometime around 1300 A.D. and it was occupied for some 300 years. By 1625 it was abandoned though for reasons that remain unclear. Kuaua may have fallen victim to reducción, a Spanish policy whereby villages were consolidated in the belief that this would more easily facilitate the conversion of the Indians to Christianity. It is also possible that the people of Kuaua, for reasons unknown to us, relocated to other pueblos, such as Isleta, Sandía, Picurís and Taos, which also spoke their Tiwa language or to non-Tiwa speaking villages such as Acoma, or even far off Zuni or the Hopi mesas. The pueblo was briefly re-occupied a hundred years later, perhaps by Spanish settlers. It then fell into ruin and was ignored until the 1930s when archaeologists, in preparation for the 400th anniversary of Coronado’s entrance into New Mexico, began excavating at Kuaua and another site hoping to find Puaray.
View from Coronado State Monument
What was unearthed answered many questions, but raised even more. Of the many discoveries, the most astonishing was finding ceremonial kiva murals. Hidden among eighty-five layers of adobe plaster were seventeen that were covered with paintings depicting Pueblo life and religious ceremonies. In order to save the murals, special techniques had to be improvised to separate and remove them.
Wild flowers at Coronado State Monument
There are other fascinating aspects to Kuaua besides the murals. During excavations, the ruins of six kivas were uncovered. Two were round, indicating cultural influence from Ancestral Puebloans to the north, while four were square or rectangular, typical of the Mogollon culture located to the south as well as to the west of Kuaua.
For modern visitors the high points of a visit to Coronado State Monument are Kuaua’s reconstructed Kiva 3, with its painstakingly reproduced murals, and the Kuaua Mural Hall in the visitor center, which contains the originals.
We may never fully understand the many meanings the murals hold, but the walls do speak to us through their delicate, fragile beauty and by revealing to us a unique vision of Pueblo life.
Like the frescoes and sculpture that adorn European churches, Kuaua’s murals are religious art and Kiva 3, though reconstructed, is still considered holy and should be respected.
Fifteen panels from the original murals are exhibited in the visitor center. They are the only murals of this type open to the public and they are among our national treasures.
Rio Grande from Coronado State Monument
Although Kuaua is a stone’s throw from a major freeway and a Jackalope store, it is, nonetheless, extremely sacred to Pueblo people. For this reason, no photographs may be taken of any of the kivas or of the murals, both the originals and the reproductions.
DIRECTIONS: Take I-25 north from Albuquerque to Exit 242. Go west towards Bernalillo approximately 1.7 miles on State Highway 550/44 to Kuaua Road.
FOR MORE INFORMATION: www.nmmonuments.org/inst.php?inst=4
BY E. J. GUARINO
Whether we like to admit it or not, collecting art is just plain fun. That may not be the most sophisticated way of stating it but it is certainly the most truthful. There is an adrenalin rush when you find a new piece that is just perfect for your collection or when you discover an artist whose work excites you. As a collector of Native art, there is always something new for me to learn and interesting people to meet as I search out new works for my collection. One of my most enjoyable collecting areas is art created by Native young people.
Art produced by children is always charming, truthful and lacking in pretension. It has a spontaneity and originality that many contemporary adult artists envy and try to achieve in their own work. Artworks made by Native youngsters have these qualities as well but, in addition, draw on rich cultural traditions.
As collectors, it is very important that we encourage and support young artists, especially since classes in the arts are the first to come under attack when there is a budget crunch in public education.
I collected my first piece of art created by a Native young person in 2000. I was visiting Durango, Colorado and wandered into a shop that sold beautiful baskets. I knew nothing about them but the owner of the shop was not only very knowledgeable but passionate about the Wounaan baskets she was promoting. She explained that the Wounaan, a Panamanian Indian group that lives in the Darién Rainforest east of the Canal Zone, number less than 7,000 people living in eighteen scattered villages.
Although the Wounaan live in an extremely remote area, they have become known in the outside world as the creators of extremely fine baskets. Females are taught to make baskets at an early age and continue to do so throughout their lives. Utilitarian baskets are plain but those made for decorative purposes as part of the international art market are often masterpieces. Such works have an intricate weave and complex designs. Some of the baskets have representational imagery such as toucans, serpents, frogs, butterflies, spiders, grasshoppers and various trees; others are covered with detailed geometric designs, some of which are stylized versions of patterns found on boa constrictors.
Small Wounaan basket with geometric designs and self-portrait on bottom by
Orfeuna, (done when the artist was 12 years old), Panama, 3”h x 4½”w (2000).
Collection of E. J. Guarino.
I purchased a couple of baskets, some with representational motifs and others with geometric patterns. However, I was particularly struck by one basket that had the image of a person with upraised hands on the bottom. When the owner explained that the piece had been made by a twelve year old girl and that the image on the basket’s base was a self-portrait, like any self-respecting teacher, I bought it.
My next acquisition of a work of art by a Native young person was also in 2000 when I came upon a small pot by Elana Navasie Nampeyo, a great-great-granddaughter of Old Nampeyo. It was exciting that this charming little piece was the first pot made by a direct descendant of one of the most famous and important Native American potters. I marveled that after so many generations family members were still connected to the clay.
Pot with brown and rust designs on buff by Elana Navasie Nampeyo, (done when the artist was 16 yrs. old) Hopi, 2”h x 4 ½”w (2000).
Donated to the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center at Vassar College from the E. J. Guarino Collection, 2008.
However, what most attracted me to the piece was that it is simple, unpretentious and delicately painted. The fact that the pot was a young girl’s very first piece was particularly appealing. I felt that my buying it might encourage her to continue exploring this art form.
Painting of a katsina by Aaisha S. Warner (done when the artist was 9yrs. old), Laguana/Navajo, 6”h x 4½”w (ca. 2002).
Donated to the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center at Vassar College from the E. J. Guarino Collection, 2009.
A few years later, as I was buying a piece of pottery in a gallery in Sedona, Arizona I noticed a small painting of a katsina done with strong lines and bold colors that reminded me of Fritz Scholder’s work. Although the piece is small, it is quite striking. When I inquired about it I was amazed to learn that the artist was only nine years old. As before, I bought the piece without a second thought.
This past May at the King Galleries Pueblo Pottery in New York City show I came across a wonderful little pot made by Dominick Ortiz, a fifteen year old who shows great promise. Ortiz is the nephew of Virgil Ortiz who is mentoring this young artist and told him to follow the rules but then "do whatever you want." The pot is constructed and fired in the traditional manner and the paint is made from wild spinach. The decoration around the rim of the pot is also classic Cochiti.
Black-on-white pot with abstract designs by Dominick Ortiz, Cochiti, wild spinach paint, 5”h x 4”w (2010).
Collection of E. J. Guarino
However, the body of the piece is another story. It is covered with abstract designs that at once call to mind holly leaves and bats. The pot is daring in its use of such imagery, especially coming from one so young. Ortiz is certainly an artist to watch.
Over the years when I’ve spoken at various schools about Native art I always make sure to include a few works by Native young people. I mix them in with art created by adults and the students are always surprised when I reveal the pieces made by children. As a lecturer, I use these pieces to get the students talking.
Recently I added up the cost of the basket, the two pots, and the painting.
Wounaan basket by Orfeuna: $ 50.00
Pot by Elana Navasie Nampeyo: $112.00
Painting by Aaisha S. Warner: $ 20.00
Pot by Dominick Ortiz: $175.00
Total cost: $357.00
To paraphrase a well-known credit card commercial: three works of art - $357.00; supporting four young Native artists – priceless.
Young Native artists need our encouragement and support. For example, the Heard Museum Guild American Indian Student Art Show & Sale offers collectors the opportunity to view and purchase the work of over 1,000 Native students from across the U.S. and Canada. However, as collectors, whenever we come across a young Native artist that has talent we can offer praise and support by purchasing his or her work. A few years ago I was at Canyon de Chelly and as I traveled the rim drive there were a number of people, young and old, selling small slabs of rock on which images based on the site’s petroglyphs had been etched. I looked at many examples but one young boy’s work stood out from the rest. Clearly not more than ten years old, he had talent. During a brief conversation I learned that, even at his early age, he saw himself as an artist and he hoped to go to school to study art. Needless-to-say, I bought one of his pieces which I gave to my young nephew.
It is very satisfying to buy art created by Native young people but, as with their adult counterparts, it is exciting to be able to buy a piece directly from the artist. It is always enlightening to get information about the piece that would otherwise be lost and it is a joy to watch the reaction on the child’s face when you express interest in their art and they tell you how they made the piece, what it means to them and how they feel about being an artist. It is just such experiences that make collecting art so much fun.
BY E. J. GUARINO
In order to build a strong collection it is important to develop what collectors and gallery staff refer to as a “good eye.” This attribute is acquired by experiencing as much art, both good and bad, as possible. Without an “eye” one is doomed to make poor choices and often costly mistakes; with it one may discover an incredible gem and avoid serious missteps.
A number of years ago while buying some Navajo folk art pieces in a Mom and Pop style shop in Moab, Utah I glanced around at the dust covered shelves and spotted high up, almost out of sight what I thought were katsinas and asked the shopkeeper if I might see them. He took down six wooden sculptures each dressed in a cloth costume. The pieces were actually Navajo female Yei-Bei-Che figures carved by Drake Jones sometime around 1974. The attention to detail was an indication that they had been made with great care and feeling. I had never seen anything like them before and asked whether they were for sale and, if so, for how much. I was told the price was ninety dollars. Being from New York, I assumed the man meant ninety dollars each! To my surprise, the shopkeeper explained that the amount he had quoted was for all six figures. I immediately purchased them, having realized that this “find” was something very unusual, indeed. Excited as I was, however, I really had no idea just how special the carvings were and wondered if they were the treasure I thought them to be or if my collector’s eye had led me astray. A few months later I sent photographs of the pieces to a friend and mentor in Sedona, Arizona who told me that although such objects can be found they were not common and added that the ones I had were unusual because of their cloth costumes. I was relieved and ecstatic to learn this. The Yei-Bei-Che figures from the old fashioned shop in Utah remain among the jewels of my collection.
Six Navajo female Yei-Bi-Chai figures by Drake Jones, Navajo,
wood, cloth, paint, yarn, leather, sequins, beads; each 9” tall (ca. 1974). Collection of E. J. Guarino
On another occasion, I was offered a large pot by a well known artist at a surprisingly low price for a New York gallery. After a cursory inspection I decided it was exquisite and dashed home filled with excitement, all the while trying to figure out how I would come up with the money. (I am not a wealthy collector; I’m a retired high school teacher.) Frantically pulling out cash I had squirreled away in my various secret stashes, I came up with the necessary amount and raced back to the gallery. Fortunately, I decided to take a closer look at the piece and, to my dismay, discovered a number of imperfections caused during the firing process. Although I felt like a deflated balloon, I realized that although I had very much wanted a piece by this artist, this was not it.
This story illustrates a number of points which, though not new, bear repeating: first, if it seems too good to be true it probably is; second; let the buyer beware; third, knowledge is power; and fourth, not every piece made by an artist, even a great one, is a masterpiece.
Traveling in New Mexico near Nambé two years ago, I stopped at a gallery that had been recommended by friends who live in the area. As soon as I walked in I spotted a large, spectacular pot by Jacqui Stevens. It was one of the artist’s iconic works that blurred the line between pottery and basket making. As soon as I saw this piece I knew that I wanted it but doubted I could afford it. As it turned out, the pot was within my price range but I hesitated because I was at the beginning of my trip. Saying, “I want to think about it” I left the gallery. However, by the time I reached my car I thought, “What is there to think about?” I went back inside and purchased the piece but continued to wonder if I had done the right thing. A few days later I saw a similar pot by the artist in a Santa Fe gallery for three times what I had paid and I knew that the eye I had developed over so many years of collecting had once again served me well.
White bowl with woven reeds by Jacqui Stevens, Winnabago, 1
0”h x 14”w, 44” in circumference (2008).
Collection of Edward J. Guarino
For me, success in buying art only came after years of collecting. Early on I made mistakes that today seem terribly naïve. Looking back, the words “What were you thinking?” come to mind. Then I remind myself of what I tell others: Collecting is a process. In all fairness, I must admit that, like most collectors, my worst errors in judgment were made long before the thought of being a collector had entered my mind.
Two of my biggest mistakes, which could easily have been avoided, happened on the same day but I didn’t become aware of them until much time had passed (in one case twenty-five years).
In the early 1980s, out of a desire to learn more about Native American culture, I attended a powwow in Upstate New York. At the time, I had never seen pottery for sale except at very high prices in Manhattan galleries but at the powwow there were tables displaying pots that I could easily afford. I bought three pots and a basket, very pleased that I had made good buys. A number of years later, unable to find anything out about the basket I took it to a gallery owner who had become a friend and mentor. She took one look at it and said, “This is a nice basket but, I hate to tell you, it’s not Native American; it’s African.” At that moment I felt like the world’s biggest idiot, figuring I was the only person on earth who could go to an American Indian event and leave with an African basket.
My second blunder came to light under even more embarrassing circumstances. In 2006 while preparing for Forms of Exchange: Art of Native Peoples from the Edward J. Guarino Collection at the Loeb Art Center at Vassar College Dr. Bruce Bernstein, the current Executive Director of the Southwestern Asssociation for Indian Arts (SWAIA) came to my home to help select works for the exhibition. One by one he picked up each piece of pottery, examined it and commented on it. When he came to one of the pots I had bought at the powwow all those years ago I mentioned that I really didn’t know very much about it. His next remark stunned me. “Well,” he said, “I can tell you that it is definitely mold made. See the line where the two pieces were joined together?” My face must have turned every shade of red. It was a pottery collector’s worst nightmare. A mold made piece in my collection! And to have it discovered by such an important and knowledgeable person! Seeing my great discomfort, my guest assured me that this sort of thing happened all the time and that I should keep the pot to use as a teaching tool.
I still have the African basket, which is lovely, as well as the mold made pot as a reminder of the importance of “doing the homework.” If I had seen more examples of good Native American pottery and had looked carefully and had asked some questions I could have avoided an inexpensive but foolish misstep. Fortunately, I learned from those mistakes and I have never forgotten them.
Keeping my “mistakes” in the collection also serves as a powerful teaching tool. Showing these pieces to students and other collectors illustrates that collectors at any level can make a blunder. Having a laugh at my expense is a reminder that “to err is human” and that making an error is okay as long as you learn something from it.
BY E. J. GUARINO
Americans traveling to Europe are generally focused on things European – fashion, cuisine, churches, historic monuments and museums filled with centuries of the Continent’s great art. It would probably come as a surprise, as it did to me, that European museums have vast and important holdings of New World Native art.
When Europeans first arrived in the Americas what they saw was so alien to them that they referred to these lands as the New World, which to them it was. If we of the 21st century discovered another planet teaming with life the shock would probably be the same as when Europeans encountered lands with vast stretches of forests, plains, prairies and deserts filled with animals and plants their eyes had never before beheld and beings who appeared to be human but spoke, dressed, and lived so differently that they were a bewilderment. New World natives were so puzzling to Europeans that for an extended period of time theologians and philosophers debated whether or not they had souls and were, therefore, human. In his 1550 treatise A Second Democritus: on the just causes of the war with the Indians, Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda, a Spanish humanist, philosopher and theologian, argued that New World Natives were “natural slaves.” In response, Bartolomé de Las Casas, the first resident Bishop of Chiapas, Mexico, offered Defense Against The Persecutors and Slanderers of the Peoples of the New World Discovered Across the Seas. Eventually, it was decided that Indians, as they came to be called, were human – sort of – but needed to be Christianized and civilized. That such a debate should have even taken place may seem shocking from a 21st century perspective. However, it should be remembered that until fairly recently the world was a much larger place. In 1661, for example, an African king seeing a European doubted that he was human until the man stripped completely naked. Even then he thought the man looked like a devil because of his extremely white skin. (For more on this fascinating era see All Mankind Is One by Lewis Hanke.)
Ironically, at the same time Europeans were destroying Native people (usually intentionally, sometimes unintentionally) they were also collecting examples of their material culture. Many of the earliest Native objects reside in European museums, sent home to impress monarchs into funding further expeditions. Often Native people were taken captive and presented in Europe as “exotics” along with examples of their cultures.
Over the centuries as European explorers, adventurers, mercenaries and scientists continued to penetrate and colonize the vast reaches of the New World they collected plant and animal specimens as well as examples of Native life. Native holdings in European museums began as cabinets of curiosities or Royal Cabinets, collections of what were considered rare and exotic. Such collections were ethnographic in nature and remain so in the modern European museum setting. However, there are signs that things are slowly beginning to change.
Most of the Native objects in European museum collections are the result of English, Spanish, French, Dutch, Portuguese and Russian colonialism. That these countries would have large caches of American Indigenous objects is no surprise. However, the New World connection of other countries such as Germany, Austria, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and the Vatican is more complex, circuitous and often unexpected.
Two experiences provoked my curiosity about what treasure troves of Native art might be housed in the great museums of Europe. One was seeing “ALASKA: Russian America,” an exhibit of very early Indian, Eskimo and Aleut objects drawn from the collections of the National Museum of Finland, presented at the Alaska State Museum in Juneau in 1992. The other was visiting the Museum of the Americas in Madrid and the Barbier-Mueller Museum of Pre-Columbian Art in Barcelona. Of course, that Spain should have New World Native materials was not unexpected but the rarity, quality and the early dates of the objects was astonishing. On the other hand, the Alaska Native holdings of Finland were an outright shock that demanded further investigation.
In the early 1800s many Finns served in Alaska, then part of the Russian Empire, with the Russian American Company, among them Adolf Etholén. The rich collection of early Alaska Native materials in Helsinki’s Museum of Cultures was collected between 1840 and 1845 by Etholén while in the employ of Russia. The museum also has a large cache of objects from Mesa Verde “collected” by Finnish geologist Gustaf Nordenskiöld in 1891 as well as materials from the Gran Chaco and the Amazon that came from the collection of Rafael Karsten, a social anthropologist who traveled to South America to study Native groups.
Russia itself has a large repository of Native materials housed in the Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography in St. Petersburg, once the country’s capital. Founded by Peter himself as a kunstkamera, or “art collection,” the museum was opened to the public in 1714 and contains Native objects collected from the early to late 1700s when the Russians explored the New World from the Aleutian Islands to California. The museum contains many Aleut, Eskimo/Inuit, Athabascan, Northwest Coast and California Indian objects. In the late 1800s the museum’s holdings were increased through exchanges with the National Museum of Copenhagen, the American Museum of Natural History in New York and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. This resulted in one of the richest Native North American collections in the world.
Other Scandinavian nations besides Finland also have a wealth of New World materials. The ethnographical collection of the National Museum of Denmark, for example, grew from the Royal Cabinet of Curiosities circa 1650. The Arctic holdings were brought back to Denmark in the early 1900s by Knud Rasmussen (Inuit/Danish), a Greenlandic/Danish explorer, writer and lecturer. The museum also has rare pre-Columbian artifacts as well as Prairie Indian costumes.
Norway’s Historical Museum in Oslo also benefited from the contributions of explorers such as Roald Amundsen, who traveled in the Arctic and collected Netsilik Inuit materials, and Carl Lumholtz, an ethnographer who carried on meticulous field studies in central Mexico and Mesoamerica.
On the other hand, the manner of acquisition for some Native objects in Sweden’s Ethnography Museum in Stockholm is not clear while for others it is. Most people don’t know that from 1638 to 1655 Sweden had a New World colony, New Sweden, on the coast of what is now Delaware. Then, in the 1800s Swedes such as Carl Hjalte Fredrik, who traveled to New Mexico and Arizona, and Armand Fouché d’Otrante, who crossed the Northern Plains, donated Native American objects they had collected to the museum. Currently, the Ethnography Museum is mounting “First Nations of North America,” a new permanent exhibit that has as its goal to show a large number of objects in an eighty-two foot long display case in ten sections. In addition, 130 objects from the museum’s extensive Northwest Coast holdings will be displayed in another part of the museum. Although sections of the exhibition will have titles such as “To Be Educated White,” “Personal Narratives,” “Powwow,” “The Image of ‘The Others,’” and “Life on the Plains and in a Pueblo,” some aspects are troubling, especially statement’s in a press release which is quoted below.
“Ethnographic museums are currently being discussed in relation to expansionism and colonialism. Many people – not the least of whom representatives of Native America – place demands on museums to raise issues relating to their collections and exhibitions.
“When objects from Native America are to be exhibited in American and Canadian museums it often happens in collaboration with the ethnic group from which the objects originate. The collections at the Ethnographic Museum are so extensive and varied in origin that the museum has decided to carry out the project on its own terms, albeit in consultation with accredited researchers.”
Native people are to have no input with regard to this exhibition. However, more disturbing is the attitude concerning culturally sensitive materials. According to the same press release, although Native American people have criticized museums for displaying sacred objects a group of them will be exhibited anyway “to bring to light the problems surrounding a number of ‘charged’ objects and thus reflect a current international discussion.”
However, the Rietberg Museum in Zurich, which is dedicated to non-European cultures, is one of the more progressive European museums to display New World Native art. The Rietberg presents the objects in its collections as works of art rather than ethnographic specimens. The core of the museum’s holdings came from Baron Edvard van der Heydt but grew from donations made by private collectors, corporate sponsors and foundations. As an art museum, the Rietberg avoids the use of wall texts, lengthy labels, descriptive cards and TV screens. Instead, visitors have access to an introductory brochure and audio guides. The museum’s main New World focus is Mesoamerica and Peru but also exhibits artworks from the Arctic, the Pacific Northwest Coast and the American Southeast and Southwest. A highlight of the museum is an Aztec (Mexica) stone sculpture of a rattlesnake taken back to Europe by German naturalist Alexander von Humbolt. The Rietberg Museum also has a visible storage area which allows visitors to view 4,000 additional works of art.
Zurich’s Nordamerika Native Museum, also displays Native North American art. Begun with the purchase of the Hotz Collection in 1961, the museum offers works from the Arctic and sub-Arctic regions as well as from the Northwest Coast, the Great Plains, the Prairie, the Northeastern Woodlands and the Southwest. In addition, exhibits about contemporary Native American life are also presented.
Exhibits in German and Austrian museums might be considered a bit old fashioned in terms of presentation but they contain an abundance of materials and tend to avoid controversy.
Berlin’s Ethnology Museum, for example, originated from the Cabinet of Art and Rarities in the 1600s that evolved into the Royal Prussian Art Cabinet. Objects in this museum are unusual and beautifully displayed.
The State Museum of Ethnology in Munich, second only in size to Berlin’s museum, houses exquisite pre-Columbian textiles from South America as well as a Hawaiian feathered cloak circa 1820 and a painted Pawnee bison cloak from 1903 among its many treasures.
Anyone visiting Austria should make a point of visiting Vienna’s Museum of Ethnology, which grew from donations made by the Imperial House of Hapsburg and diplomats as well as through purchases and exchanges. Objects collected from Arctic peoples by Captain James Cook, a spectacular feathered headdress (which may or may not have been worn by Montezuma) and many other rare examples of Aztec feather work are on exhibit. The Museum’s South American holdings cover the continent’s incredible diversity of Native cultures, particularly the Andes and Amazonia. Of particular interest to Americans are objects from the Schwarz and Klinger Collections. Johann Georg Schwarz was a Viennese fur trader who collected examples of Native American material culture from the Great Lakes area. Joseph Klinger, another fur dealer, collected Plains-Ojibwa objects, which were donated to the museum in 1825. The pieces in the Klinger Collection are considered the oldest Plains-Ojibwa objects in the world but they reside in Austria!
Between 1874 and 1918 many Native New World artworks originally held in Vienna’s Royal Court Museum made their way via a complex network to Hungary, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire which commissioned war ships to collect Native materials from the United States, Mexico, Columbia and Peru. These objects eventually became part of what is today the Néprajzi Museum in Budapest.
Long considered two of Europe’s most important repositories of art, the British Museum in London and the Louvre in Paris now both exhibit Indigenous New World art.
Among the British Museum’s vast holdings are some of the earliest Native objects from North America dating back 8,000 years. Rare Aztec and Maya works from Mesoamerica are also on view.
Long considered a bastion of the Western art cannon, the Louvre has finally opened its doors to non-European art. When most of the holdings in the Museum of Man were transferred to the new Quai Branly Museum, 108 masterpieces from around the world, many from the Americas, were selected to be exhibited in the Louvre’s Pavillon de Sessions, not as ethnographic examples but as works of art. These galleries are a satellite of the Quai Branly Museum, which will house the majority of non-European artworks held in Paris.
Although most European museums continue to present New World Native materials ethnographically rather than as works of art, it should be remembered that such institutions were founded (many a hundred or more years ago) as ethnographic museums and still function as such. Even in the United States, it remains rare for Native objects to be presented simply as works of art, not examples of a culture. Also, U.S. cultural institutions did not begin to collect Native materials until well into the 1800s. The very earliest examples of New World Native cultures reside in European museums because from the beginning of the Conquest Native objects were collected and taken to Europe. However, it is important to be able to see rare and early works of Native art no matter what the setting and Europe’s premier museums off savvy travelers many opportunities to do so.
MUSEUM WEB SITES:
BY E. J. GUARINO
Native artists have always documented and commented on the world they saw around them. They often did so in such artful or abstract ways that outsiders failed to see or understand what was right in front of their eyes. In the 1880s, for example, potters at Cochiti Pueblo produced monos, ceramic figures that recorded and parodied the new people coming into Pueblo lands. However, much to the delight of the Cochiti, the people who were being lampooned never realized that they were being ridiculed. In more recent times, documentation has become less subtle as artists address a wider audience and use a broader range of artistic media.
Since ancient times pottery making has been a major art form for Pueblo people. Long before the arrival of Europeans, the Hohokam, Ancestral Puebloans, Mogollon, and, in particular, the Mimbres were creating masterpieces of ceramic art. In addition to producing works with wildly abstract imagery, the Mimbres created pottery that documented their lives. It is through their detail rich imagery that we know much about this ancient culture since they left no written records. Similarly, modern Pueblo ceramic artists document Pueblo life. Lois Gutierrez de la Cruz, for example, created a large polychrome jar depicting Pueblo dancers. It is at once a record of a Native ritual and a window into traditional Pueblo customs for outsiders.
Polychrome jar with three Pueblo dancers by Lois Gutierrez de la Cruz,
Santa Clara/Pojoaque, 9¼” x 9” (2002) Collection of E. J. Guarino
The Iroquois also documented their culture through art, especially through corn husk dolls. Many of these dolls were made for the tourist trade at the turn of the last century though others were made as toys for Iroquois children. Travelers to such popular destinations as Niagara Falls bought the dolls as souvenirs of their trip and they were often displayed in curio cabinets or an “Indian room” in a wealthy home. By custom, the dolls did not have a face because they were meant to teach a lesson, which was totally missed by tourists who purchased them. According to tradition, the first doll was given to the Iroquois people by the Creator in response to Corn Spirit’s desire to do more for her people. This doll traveled from village to village and because of the reaction to her beautiful face she became extremely conceited. One day while she was admiring her own reflection in a pool of water the Creator sent a great screech owl to whisk away the reflection as punishment for her vanity. To this day, whenever the Iroquois make corn husk dolls they leave the face blank to remind children not to become filled with their own self-importance. However, some historic corn husk dolls do have crude faces that appear to have been drawn on with pencil. This may have been done to make the pieces more marketable to White tourists or the faces may have been added at a later date by their non-Iroquois owners. Sometimes corn husk dolls are just that – no more than corn husk. However, those that are most prized document traditional Iroquois clothing. Female dolls, probably the most common, often wear beautifully beaded jackets, skirts, leggings, and moccasins.
Corn husk doll, artist unknown, Iroquois, 13” tall; corn husk, grey, black and red cloth, beads, (c. 1880s)
Collection of E. J. Guarino
Some of the most detailed records of Native life can be found in Navajo pictorial rugs. Although there are many styles of Navajo rugs, the pictorial remains one of the most popular. The Navajo are thought to have learned weaving from Pueblo people and also, perhaps, from their Spanish-speaking neighbors sometime in the 1700s. Not only did they absorb this craft, they excelled at it, raising it to an art form. Pictorials, rare before World War II, were more frequently made in the late 1940s onward and became extremely popular with collectors beginning in the 1970s. Contemporary weaving artists such as Florence Riggs not only record what they see using woolen yarn as their “paint,” they often make satiric comments as well. The viewer is presented with a vision of life from the Navajo perspective. Pictorials especially delight collectors when they reflect the changes wrought by contemporary culture. Often they show trains, cars, planes and modern houses along with hogans (the traditional Navajo dwelling), sheep and cattle. Some rugs even include images of TV sets.
Miniature pictorial rug by Lula Brown, Navajo, 3 1/8”h x 3¾”w, excluding fringe (2009)
Collection of E. J. Guarino
The Wixarika of Mexico, more commonly known as Huichol, record their customs in what are called yarn paintings – images created by impressing strands of yarn into bee’s wax spread onto wood. The roots of Wixarika art are shamanistic and, among Mexico’s Native groups, they have resisted the influence of the outside world the longest. The Wixarika are also noted for covering three dimensional objects with exquisite beadwork. Recently, Neikame (José Carrillo Morales), a contemporary Wixarika artist, has combined watercolor (a decidedly non-traditional medium) with beadwork to create mixed media paintings that have a three dimensional quality.
Los Peyoteros, mixed media painting on cardboard by Neikame (José Carrillo Morales),
Huichol, Mexico, acrylic paints, beads; 11”h x 14”w (2007)
Collection of E. J. Guarino
In Los Peyoteros, for example, the artist documents the annual pilgrimage to Wirikuta, a sacred site. To reach it, the pilgrims must cross scorching deserts as indicated by the fiery orange sky. This trip is one of the most important events of the year. Along the way, peyote, a plant with hallucinogenic properties is collected. Eaten during religious ceremonies, the Wixarika believe it allows them to communicate with their ancestors to ask for good crops and success in hunting. In the painting the artist highlights the peyoteros’ hatbands and a swath of cloth over the shoulder of one of the pilgrims with beads.
Documenting Inuit life has been a major theme in the modern Inuit graphic tradition since its inception in the middle of the 20th century. Inuit refer to non-Inuit, in particular Whites, as kabluna (also written as kabloona) or gallunaat in Inuktitut, their native language. The term may come from a word meaning “body hair” since the outsiders the Inuit saw had considerably more hair in the form of beards and mustaches as shown in the print titled Kabluna. The two White men are also shown smoking pipes, something that would be of note to the Inuit since it was White men who introduced tobacco into the Arctic.
Kabluna by Marion Tuu’luuq; Printer: Irene Avaalaaqiaq Tiklallaq,
stonecut & stencil, #24, Inuit, Baker Lake, 9.5” x 12.5" (1984)
Collection of E. J. Guarino
Although he is perhaps best known as the “Audubon of the North,” Kananginak Pootoogook, one of the greatest Inuit artists, also produced a series of drawings documenting often troubling aspects of Inuit life. Less widely known, many of these works are, nonetheless, masterpieces. In Trying to Sell or Trade for Tea and Other Stuff, for example, Kananginak shows an Inuk offering articles of clothing to a priest in exchange for goods. Often Inuit were encouraged to rid themselves of the “old ways” and tea, tobacco and other items were used as a sort of “bribe” to get them to do so. It is an aspect of Inuit history that is relatively unknown. Usually, the view of life in the Arctic presented to the outside world is one that is benign – wildlife, landscapes and scenes of life as it was lived on the land. Controversy, especially with regard to prints, is usually avoided. That, however, is changing and has mostly been fueled by provocative drawings, something that began with Kananginak and his relative Napachie Pootoogook.
Trying to Sell or Trade for Tea and Other Stuff by Kananginak Pootoogook,
pencil crayon and ink, Inuit, Cape Dorset, 19 ¾”h x 26”w (2001).
Artist’s inscription: "Trying to sell or trade for tea and other stuff."
Collection of E. J. Guarino
Earlier in his career, Kananginak subtly showed how Inuit people were objectified by White outsiders in The First Tourist. In this print he depicts a blonde haired man photographing an Inuit who is holding an animal skin and standing in front of an inukshuk, a manmade stone landmark. That the scene is clearly posed is indicated by the “tourist’s” extended arm.
The First Tourist by Kananginak Pootoogook, lithograph, #15, 23/50,
Cape Dorset, 22¼”” x 28” (1992)
Collection of E. J. Guarino
Recently, Kananginak produced two monumental drawings of a size never before attempted by an Inuit artist. In Untitled (Successful Walrus Hunt) the artist has chosen to document an important aspect of traditional Inuit life. The scene is rich in details and, because of its enormity, immediately commands the viewer’s attention. Clearly, Kananginak felt that the activity he recorded was so significant it needed to be shown on a large scale. The drawing is at once powerful and intimate, taking on an almost cinematic quality. It also contains a self-portrait. The figure seen hanging over the side of the boat looking for other sea mammals to hunt is Kananginak.
Untitled drawing by Kananginak Pootoogook, colored pencil & ink, Inuit,
Cape Dorset, 48” x 96” (2009). Inscription: “Successful walrus hunt.”
Collection of E. J. Guarino
Collecting bird’s eggs has been an important food source for the Inuit. Although they were brought in off the land to live in permanent communities in the mid-twentieth century because of famine, the Inuit still rely on traditional foods such as fish, whale, seal and birds eggs. In Climbing to a Nest of Eggs Janet Kigusiuq not only documents this aspect of Inuit life she uses her art to create a semi-abstract work, reflecting the many hues of the Arctic landscape.
Climbing to a Nest of Eggs by Janet Kigusiuq, pencil crayon, Inuit,
Baker Lake, 22” x 30” (2000)
Collection of E. J. Guarino
Born in 1958, Kavavaow Mannomee did not experience a nomadic lifestyle as previous generations of Inuit had. However, although snowmobiles and other aspects of modern technology are evident in the Arctic, some aspects of traditional life remain. In Hunting Seals Going by Boat, Mannomee presents a seal hunt in minute detail. In a review of the artist’s work for Canadian Art magazine, critic Lloyd Dykk said about Mannomee’s work, "There is almost something surreal about Mannomee's attention to detail. . . ."
Hunting Seals Going by Boat (diptych) by Kavavaow Mannomee, Inuit, Cape Dorset, ink,
each panel, 8”h x 26”wide (2007) Collection of E. J. Guarino
Inuit artists have also recorded the changes that have occurred as the outside world made ever more of an impact on Inuit lives. In Four Generations by Pitaloosie Saila, the artist depicts three Inuit women. The figure on the left is wearing traditional clothing. The middle person’s garments are somewhat less so and the woman on the right is wearing a Western-style hat. Adding to the charm of the print is the fact that, although the title indicates four generations, most people find only three. Pitaloosie has slyly hidden the fourth generation in plain sight - a child peeking out from the amautik (parka) of the woman on the right. It is the usual way Inuit mothers carry small children.
Four Generations by Pitaloosie Saila, lithograph, Inuit, Cape Dorset, 26” x 35½,”
Cape Dorset Annual Print Collection, #15, edition of 50, (1998)
Collection of E. J. Guarino
Also, in the print Strange Ladies Pitaloosie reveals an aspect of Inuit life that became quite common in the middle of the 20th century. Inuit were sent south to large Canadian cities to be treated for tuberculosis, a disease feared then as much as AIDS is today. The reference is subtle because it is by implication, recording what to a northern visitor to southern Canada would seem most odd – the clothing of the people. Pitaloosie shows three women that would have been encountered – a women wearing a stylish hat, a nun and a nurse.
Strange Ladies by Pitaloosie Saila, lithograph; Printer: Niviaksie Quvianqtuliaq, 36/50, Inuit,
Cape Dorset, 22.5”w x 15”h, Cape Dorset Annual Print Collection #32 (2006)
Collection of E. J. Guarino
Sometimes Native people record episodes which, though seemingly unimportant to outsiders, have had a major impact on a community. The sinking of the S. S. Nascopie was just such an event. This steamer had been used by the Hudson’s Bay Company as a supply ship since the beginning of the last century, delivering provisions throughout the Far North. In 1947 it hit a reef off Cape Dorset but did not immediately sink. The community spent a great deal of time removing the ship’s contents before it was lost. For people who received goods from the outside world only once a year, the ship’s loss on July 22, 1947 was historic. It was clearly etched into the mind of Napachie Pootoogook who created a print documenting the incident which became so much a part of the history of the community that her niece Suvinai Ashoona referenced it in the print Low Tide (the middle ship bears the name Nascopie) and made it the subject of a drawing, Red Nascopie.
Nascopie Reef by Napachie Pootoogook, Inuit, Low Tide by Suvinai Ashoona, Inuit, Cape Dorset, lithograph, Ed. 3/50, 17”h x 19w, Dorset, etching & aquatint, Ed. 19/50, Cape(1989) Dorset Annual Print Collection #30 (2003)
Collection of E. J. Guarino
Red Nascopie by Shuvinai Ashoona,
ink, pencil crayon, Inuit, Cape Dorset,
13” x 15” (2006/07)
Collection of E. J. Guarino
Following in the tradition of her uncle Kananginak and her mother Napachie, Annie Pootoogook unflinchingly records scenes of contemporary Inuit life on paper. The Homecoming, a 2006 print, captures a moment in time. Family and friends, a range of emotions reflected on their faces, surround a man holding a baby. Near him stand a woman and a toddler. Is this the arrival of a newborn, the return of a sick child or a visit from distant relatives? Part of the work’s pleasure is that it is open to interpretation.
The Homecoming by Annie Pootoogook, etching & aquatint; Printer: Studio PM, 36/50, Inuit, Cape Dorset,
36.5”w x 31.5h”; Plate size: 26.5”w x 20.5”h; Cape Dorset Annual Print Collection #2 (2006)
Collection of E. J. Guarino
Similarly, Tzu’tujil Maya artist Ottoniel Chavajay faithfully commits to canvas many aspects of his culture. In The Coffee Harvest the artist carefully records a culturally and economically important activity, the collecting of coffee beans. However, the painting is more than historical documentation. It pulses with a sense of movement, making the busy energy of the coffee pickers palpable. From whatever perspective the work is viewed it has a mesmerizing quality. Though the painting is clearly representational, standing back from the scene it appears to transform into an abstract work of lines, swirls and colors. Best known for what have been termed his “aerial views,” Ottoniel Chavajay also does highly expressive portraits of people in his community, landscapes and scenes of traditional Tzu’tujil life.
The Coffee Harvest by Ottoniel Chavajay, oil on canvas,
Tzu’tujil Maya, San Pedro La Laguna, Sololá, Guatemala, 16“h x 20 “ (2009)
Collection of E. J. Guarino
There are many aspects to Native art not the least of which is that it often documents the lives of Native peoples. Unfortunately, for much of the last century art produced by Native people was mostly valued for its ethnographic importance rather than its artistic merit. Today such a view is less prominent. However, the work of non-Native artists has always been viewed differently. Toulouse-Lautrec, for example, recorded many aspects of the Parisian demimonde around the turn of the last century but rarely, if ever, is his art studied from an ethnological perspective. Set in a broader context, art that records the world as seen through Native eyes can add a greater depth to one’s understanding and appreciation of Native art and culture but, although such a subject is fascinating, it should be understood that it is only one part of the Native art tradition. While any art can be looked at through an ethnographic lens, the true impact of Native art, like all great art, is visual and emotional.
ON-LINE EXHIBIT OF NATIVE ART AT VASSAR COLLEGE
“’Design in Living Things’: Native Works from the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center”
Students in Art 284, “A Different Way of Seeing: The Art of Native North America,” taught by Professor Karen Lucic have produced an on-line exhibition, drawing almost exclusively upon donations from the Edward J. Guarino Collection to the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center. The exhibit presents fifteen works ranging from a nineteenth-century Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) beaded bag to contemporary Pueblo pottery. Although the makers of these objects intended them for sale, the works remain authentic. Each of the objects selected demonstrates the Native makers’ ability to transcend boundaries and live in multiple worlds simultaneously.
The fifteen students in Art 284 are a diverse group, representing freshman to seniors; numerous majors (Art, Environmental Studies, American Culture, Anthropology, English, Biology, and Psychology); some with Native ancestry, the majority non-Natives drawn to an enriching project of cross-cultural learning and exchange. According to Professor Lucic, “We had the help of numerous experts, including some of the makers themselves, and we puzzled over various challenges. Should we include a ceremonial basket that some members of the Diné (Navajo) nation deem inappropriate for display? Out of respect for community priorities, we decided ‘no.’ Once we discovered that a man’s outfit (reputedly Oneida) was not Indian-made, we pondered if it should remain in the exhibition. Ultimately, we kept it as a cautionary example of the widespread practice of ‘playing Indian’ in American society.” The students and Professor Lucic also realized that some objects under consideration for this exhibit had many sources of information while other forms, such as Algonquin birch bark containers, languish virtually unexamined.
The title of the exhibit is taken from the words of famed Pueblo potter Popovi Da:
“There is a design in living things; their shapes, forms, the ability of live, all have meaning. We must cling to our Indian traditions which exalt beauty.”
Below is a link to the exhibit:
BY E. J. GUARINO
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While visiting the Hopi Mesas a few years ago I went into one of the galleries and was admiring a wonderfully asymmetrical piece of Hopi pottery when a female staff member came up to me and told me that the piece was by White Swan. I mentioned that I had a piece by her in my collection and that I had briefly met her years before at the Heard Indian Market but that I did not remember what she looked like. The woman then put out her hand and said, “Hi, I’m White Swann.” We both laughed and then I asked her to tell me about the unusual piece I had been admiring. In the course of our conversation, the artist confided to me that while she was making it her mother happened to walk by and chided her saying, “Why are you wasting clay?” Although such criticism must have stung, White Swan followed her unique vision and completed the pot.
Native artists are frequently pigeonholed and have to contend with biases and misconceptions about Native art. Many people have strong opinions about what Native art is and what it should or should not do. Often such ideas are based on assumptions of what is or is not “traditional.” However, according to Truman Lowe, (Ho Chunk), who is an author, artist, educator and curator . . . “in order for a tradition and a culture to survive, it has to change.” Objects made by Native Americans have always been a means of individual expression though in the past this was communicated in extremely subtle ways. Long before ceramic pieces were signed, for example, potters had distinctive styles and today scholars can often identify pieces as having been created by the same hand.
Unfortunately, art created by Native people is usually not seen as part of the larger American art cannon. However, Native art had a major influence on important artistic movements of the 20th century such as Surrealism, Art Deco, Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art. According to artist, author and educator Gail Tremblay (Onondaga/Mi’kmaq), “Native artists have actually invented contemporary movements in American Art as well as influencing it but they leave the Native artists out when they talk about the major movements in contemporary art.”
Now, however, more and more Native artists are seeing themselves for what they really are – contemporary American artists who are Native American. They are openly using their art as a means of expressing their individualism, refusing to be confined to a “Native niche”. They are opening new windows and doors by experimenting with “non-traditional” forms and media and expanding the boundaries of their art by incorporating non-Native imagery into their work, re-interpreting the concept of “traditional” and challenging collectors, curators and museum-goers to see the world through Native eyes. By doing so, these men and women risk censure from their own communities (the most powerful pressures to conform often come from one’s own group, especially the family) and rejection from galleries and collectors. In general, collectors are a notoriously conservative lot and artists are well aware of this fact. Whether we are willing to admit it or not, the marketplace is a factor and few artists can afford to produce work that will not appeal to their collector base. In order to negotiate this issue, some artists alternate between creating works they know are saleable with those that are wildly experimental.
Water jar by Lisa Holt & Harlan Reano, Cochiti & Santo Domingo; 8"w x 9.25"h (2009).
Collection of E. J. Guarino
Lisa Holt & Harlan Reano are among the most experimental contemporary Pueblo potters. Although their pots are constructed using traditional techniques, they are decorated with decidedly unusual imagery. Some are variations of classic designs; others are wholly original or inspired by non-Native influences.
I already owned a piece by Holt and Reano when I came across a pot that appeared to me to be a cross between an optical illusion and a unique take on the “eye-dazzler” style of pottery painting, which Dorothy Torivio (Acoma) made famous. The water jar is an ancient Pueblo pottery form which the artists created using native clays and paint made from wild spinach. However, the geometric lightning patterns painted on the neck and near the base as well as the panels of water designs in the center are contemporary (some might say “radical”) interpretations of classic Cochiti and Santo Domingo imagery. One look and I knew this pot would make a perfect addition to my collection. Although some collectors might consider the way in which Holt and Reano decorate their pots to be edgy, they are highly sought after because they are elegantly formed, larger than most contemporary potters are willing to attempt and their precise painting makes them both delicate as well as dramatic.
Canteen by Nathan Begaye, Hopi/Navajo; 4.5”w x 3.75h (2002). Collection of E. J. Guarino
The canteen is another classic pottery form but in the hands of an artist such as Nathan Begaye it is given a modern twist. Here Begaye seems to paying homage to tradition while at the same time thumbing his nose at it. The piece was fired black and then cloud patterns were incised into the front. These same patterns can be seen on the gray handle which was attached to the canteen, marking it as part of the artist’s “reconstructed” series of ceramic vessels.
Contrary to what one might expect, Nathan Begaye’s “reconstructed” pots are highly coveted. Such pieces seem to be re-assembled from what appears to be shards. The impression is that the vessel has been broken and put back together, probably a clever reference to the reconstruction of ancient pottery by archaeologists. What I find intriguing about this series is that through these so-called reconstructed pots the artist is actually deconstructing the pottery form. This would be daring for any ceramic artist to do but it is even more shocking, perhaps even sacrilegious, when done by a Native potter for whom pottery making is a sacred process involving strict rules and prayers to Mother Clay.
Begaye works in a variety of styles and takes inspiration from any and all sources. His pots are most often asymmetrical and may or may not be painted since he is more interested in form than in design. He has created bulbous re-interpretations of the classic water jar, V-shaped bowls, cylindrical ceramic bottles and oddly phallic looking pieces, a shape that is definitely not part of the Pueblo pottery cannon. Collectors find his work exciting because they never know what to expect. He is constantly experimenting and seeking new ideas.
Black sculptural seedpot form by Susy Martinez, Mata Ortiz, Mexico,
black sculptural seedpot form by Susy Martinez, Mata Ortiz, Mexico, 7¾”h x 4½”w (2009/10) Collection of E. J. Guarino
In a recent work, Mata Ortiz potter Susy Martinez also deconstructs the pottery form in her own unique way. She has taken the seed pot, which is also sometimes referred to as a seed jar, to an extreme. In her highly polished version, which looks like a black teardrop, the artist has placed the vent on the bottom, allowing her to close the top and bring it to a sharp, slightly asymmetrical point that gives the work a sculptural quality. To date, no other Mata Ortiz artist has deviated from the “norm” in this way. Usually seed pots, such as the example below, have a small opening on the top which functions as the pot’s air vent or “mouth.”
Miniature seedpot by Angel A. Martinez, Mata Ortiz, Mexico, 1“h x 2“w ( 2006-07). Collection of E. J. Guarino
As one of the most well-know and exciting contemporary Native artists, Virgil Ortiz has not only produced a diverse body of work but one which contains a large share of controversial pieces, not only because of form but also because of subject matter. Drawing on the Cochiti tradition of ceramic figures called monos, which in earlier times caricatured Hispanics, Caucasians, and Navajos as well as Mexican circus performers, Virgil Ortiz has created a series of contemporary works in his own unique style.
Seated figure by Virgil Ortiz, Cochiti, 10”w x 15”h (2009). Collection of E. J. Guarino
Sometimes covered with swirling tattoo-inspired designs, Ortiz’s figures are rock stars, drag queens, clowns, saints, sinners and sometimes gender-bending characters sporting S & M fetish attire. Ortiz’s figures have the power to shock and anger the viewer as well as the ability to provoke laughter. Deeply rooted in Pueblo traditions, they offer pointed social commentary. Ortiz has taken a form once considered tourist art and raised it to fine art through his intelligence, wit, and exceptional craftsmanship.
Arctic Landscape (Sky, Land, Water), abstract by Janet Kigusiuq, paper collage,
Inuit, Baker Lake, 22½” x 30” (1999). Collection of E. J. Guarino
Throughout her career Janet Kigusiuq created visually arresting prints and drawings that focused on traditional life lived on the land, Inuit mythology and the Arctic landscape. She produced representational as well as abstract and semi-abstract graphics and was open to new media. Late in her career she was introduced to collage, which allowed her to work quickly and spontaneously, resulting in some of her most vibrant creations. Kigusiaq became increasingly more daring, experimenting with color and abstraction as well as exploring the transparent and opaque qualities of collage. She continued to strike out in new artistic directions much as Monet did with his water lily paintings, Mattise with his cut outs and Picasso with his bold, almost garish, mosquetero paintings when they were near the end of their lives.
Although in the popular imagination the Arctic is often thought of as monochromatic, the colors in Arctic Landscape (Sky, Land, Water), taken from Nature, splash across the page and seem to glow with an inner light. Kigusiuq’s collage is thoroughly contemporary and clearly the work of a mature artist who is fully in control of her medium. Certainly, the term “primitive” cannot be applied to it. In the course of her career, Kigusiuq’s drawings evolved from narrative works with only touches of color to vividly hued semi-abstract and abstract pieces culminating in her polychromatic abstract collages that seem to pulsate in Technicolor. However, even late in her life Kigusiuq alternated between drawings with figures and abstract works.
Two Seasons by Itee Pootoogook, lithograph on BFK Rives grey, Printer: Niviaksie Quvianaqtuliaq, 36/50, Inuit, Cape Dorset, 11”h x 33”w, Cape Dorset Annual Print Collection # 3 (2008). Collection of E. J. Guarino
Unlike Janet Kigusiuq, Itee Pootoogook reduces the Arctic landscape to sharply angular forms and color. In Two Seasons, for example, the artist conveys a great deal through the use of stark geometric shapes and a limited palette. Pootoogook abstracts the land, sea, and sky into form and hue, deftly capturing the austere nature of the Far North with triangles as well as suggesting the differences between summer and winter through the use of yellow and blue. Furthermore, the size and shape of the work (an eleven inch high by thirty-three inch wide rectangle, unusual for Inuit prints) convey the Arctic’s vastness. Pootoogook seems fascinated with this minimalist reduction of the Arctic landscape to a few geometric shapes and colors. He has produced other prints as well as quite a number of drawings in this style.
Brief Case by Annie Pootoogook, lithograph on BFK Rives cream paper; Printer: Niviaksie Quvianaqtuliaq, 38/50; Inuit, Cape Dorset, 17”h x 17”w, Cape Dorset Annual Print Collection #1 (2005). Collection of E. J. Guarino
Of the younger generation of Inuit artists, Annie Pootoogook is, perhaps, the most modernist in outlook. She has produced prints and drawings chronicling contemporary Inuit life as well as works in which everyday objects such as eyeglasses, scissors, pill bottles, bras, men’s clothing and underwear are presented as still life. Often such works reveal Pootoogook’s playful sense of humor. In Brief Case, for example, not only is the title a witty play on words but the bright pastels, reminiscent of Pop culture and advertising, force the viewer to reconsider stereotypical ideas about the Inuit, as well as Native people in general, from the point of view of an insider. Since many non-Inuit, including collectors, are stuck in a construct of life in the Arctic as it was lived in the past, this work is quite startling.
Seal Gut by Siassie Kenneally, colored pencil and ink, Inuit, Cape Dorset, 20”h x 26”w (2006).
Collection of E. J. Guarino
Siassie Kenneally’s work has only recently appeared in galleries but has already caught the attention of collectors and curators. Although clearly influenced by her cousins Annie Pootoogook and Shuvinai Ashoona as well as by older Cape Dorset graphic artists, Kenneally has her own distinct style. Her landscapes, for example, present aerial views which, though they appear at first glance to be abstracts, are actually detailed drawings focusing on specific areas around Cape Dorset. Also, because of her unique vision, Kenneally is able to transform the gross into the beautiful. For example, in Seal Gut the artist has done more than just give us a radically modern still life from a Native point of view which forces the viewer to contemplate the possibility of beauty where we would normally not even deign to look – an animal’s internal organs. That alone would have been revolutionary but, additionally, Siassie Kenneally slyly uses realism in an abstract way, giving Seal Gut a somewhat surrealistic quality as well.
Daughters of the Corn, yarn painting by Neikame (José) Carrillo Morales, Huichol,
yarn, beads, watercolor, beeswax, plywood, 11¾”h x 11¾”w (2006). Collection of E. J. Guarino
Like the Inuit, the Huichol Indians of Mexico were once isolated from the outside world. However, change for the Huichol has come much more recently. It is only within the last twenty years that they have become engaged with the world beyond their remote villages in the Sierra Madre Mountains. Encouraged by patrons such as Kevin Simpson, owner of the Peyote People Gallery in Puerto Vallarta, many artists have begun to explore new subject matter as well as non-traditional media.
The roots of contemporary Huichol art can be traced to shamanism and the ritual use of peyote. Considered a sacrament, the mushroom-like crown of the plant (referred to as a button) is chewed, brewed into a tea or rolled into a pellet and swallowed. Doing so produces visions which became the source of Huichol visual expression.
Although the source of most art remains Huichol myths and culture, some artists have begun to express these themes in a clearly contemporary visual style. The theme of Daughters of the Corn, a mixed-media yarn painting by Neikame (José) Carrillo Morales, is a traditional Huichol myth. This is made clear by the inscription on reverse side of the piece which states, “The goddess of corn (Niwetsika) gave to man two of her daughters so they could multiply among themselves allowing them to expand their families in multiple colors.” However, the story is presented in a way that, though thoroughly modern, references the hallucinatory nature of the shamanistic experience. The use of bright, neon-like colors, softly rounded shapes and three very different media – yarn, beads, and watercolors, lend the work a psychedelic quality very much in keeping with the origins of Huichol.
Nierika/El Ojo de Dios (The Eye of God), drawing by Neikame (José) Carrillo Morales, Huichol, gouache, 13¾”h x 22”w (2009/10). Collection of E. J. Guarino
Within the past year, Morales produced Nierika/El Ojo de Dios, a highly symbolic work. Although it is based on the Huichol belief system and cosmology, the subject is presented using wholly modern visual elements. The imagery is powerful and the electric colors reference traditional Huichol yarn paintings and beaded gourds. In his inscription on the reverse of the work the artist states, “In the center of the eye, another life is born where humans emerge. The night is divided into the day and the day gives life to the different beings who feed off of the soul of the earth.”
Evening Break by James Fäks, acrylic on canvas, Blackfeet/Oneida, 20” x 16” (2004). Collection of E. J. Guarino
Although James Fäks is perhaps most noted for his very edgy contemporary jewelry, he also creates music, writes, sculpts and paints. A number of Fäks paintings are of Native Americans but Evening Break is something different. The figure’s face is haunting because it is ambiguous and mysterious - qualities which leave the viewer to wonder if it is a portrait of an Asian sage, a Native elder or a Franciscan friar. According to Fäks, the man is an indigenous person from the Far East. The work is a part of his learning to paint elders and his belief that we are all one on one earth. While mainstream artists are free to paint portraits of anyone they choose, the expectation with regard to Native artists is that they are supposed to paint other Native Americans and certainly not Asians. By choosing to do a portrait of a non-Native person the artist has broken the barriers of the “Native niche” in a very subtle yet profound way.
Contemporary Native artists are producing some of the most exciting and thought provoking works being created today and more and more collectors, including those for whom Native art is not their main focus, have come to realize that Native art is American art. Many collectors of mainstream art have become more willing to experiment and no longer confine their collecting to one medium or even to a particular movement or period. Often they relish mixing art made by Native artists with more expected choices. They have embraced an eclectic esthetic and have no problem displaying such works in the same room as Abstract Expressionist paintings, Minimalist sculpture or fiber art. The intent is to shake things up. This outlook on the part of collectors has emboldened Native artists to use new techniques, explore new media and to draw inspiration from any source that inspires them as well as from their own culture. Nothing is off limits.
In a recent e-mail to me, Gail Tremblay expressed concern that “The artificial separation of indigenous artists from the American art scene has robbed Americans of an understanding of both indigenous art and their own.”
However, the work of a number of Native ceramic and glass artists as well as that of painters and sculptors is now exhibited in mainstream commercial galleries and some museums have offered exhibitions in which Native artists are included with other American artists. These are signs (however small) that things are beginning to change.
Recently, the Chelsea Art Museum in Manhattan offered IN/SIGHT 2010, which featured twenty-four emerging and established Native American artists who work in a variety of media – painting, sculpture, ceramics, woodturning, photography, video and a mixed media installation. Mateo Romero, Lisa Holt and Harlan Reano, Preston Singletary, Sarah Sense, Will Wilson, Steven Yazzie, Kade L. Twist, Nora Naranjo Morse and Gail Tremblay were among the artists whose art was presented in this groundbreaking show. Michael Chapman co-founder of UNRESERVED: American Indian Fashion and Art Alliance, one of the producers of the exhibit, stated (as quoted in the wall texts), “With IN/SIGHT 2010, we are trying to make sure that the talented, lively and relevant American Indian voices are part of the contemporary art dynamic here in the nation’s art capital.” This philosophy and the exhibit are certainly a breath of fresh air in the New York art scene and is certainly a first. Furthermore, an exhibit that presents the work of Native artists along side the work of other contemporary artists, rather than in a separate venue, is long overdue in Manhattan.
BY E. J. GUARINO
Pottery is the heart of my collection and has been since its inception. Over the course of almost thirty years, the collection has come to encompass baskets, beadwork, textiles, masks, headdresses, katsinas, jewelry, and works on paper but pottery continues to be one of my strongest collecting areas. For this reason, people often ask me how to go about choosing a piece of pottery.
The first thing I tell people who are considering purchasing any kind of art is caveat emptor: let the buyer beware. One of my first and biggest mistakes came early on but did not surface until many years later. In my passion for my newly acquired interest I was buying indiscriminately, without looking very carefully because no one had taught me how to look or what to look for. In 2005 Bruce Bernstein, the current Executive Director of the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts (SWAIA) – the organization responsible for the Santa Fe Indian Market – came to my home to help select artworks for Forms of Exchange(http://faculty.vassar.edu/lucic/formsofexchange), an exhibit drawn from my collection at Vassar College’s Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center. During the process, Dr. Bernstein pointed out a mold made pot to me, showing me the clearly visible line where the two pieces had been joined together. Mortified, all I could do was mumble something about the piece being among the first that I had ever bought, that I hadn’t known what I was doing and I vowed to throw it out. Always gracious, Dr. Bernstein said that it would make a great teaching tool and I have used it as such to great effect ever since. Fortunately, thanks to my mentors, there are very few “clunkers” in my collection.
Mold made black-on-white pot by Josephine Garcia-Oak (unsigned), Acoma,
4½”h x 5”w (circa early 1980s).
Collection of E. J. Guarino
Pots that have been molded or cast should be avoided. They are not considered art and barely qualify as craft. To produce a molded piece soft clay is pressed into a mold. It is later painted and fired. Casting is a similar process but in this case more water is added to the clay to make it more liquid and it is then poured into the mold.
The second thing I tell people is that it is important to learn what good art is. This can be done by reading books and magazines, visiting museums and galleries or by taking classes. As collectors we are presented with a wide range of pottery from which to choose. The more knowledgeable we become, the easier it is to make an informed choice. Fortunately, there are more opportunities to learn today than there were twenty or thirty years ago. When I began my collection there were no schools in the New York City area offering courses about Native American art but, happily, that is not the case today.
Once a person has an idea of what constitutes the best of a particular art form I tell them that they should buy what they love and buy the very best they can afford. This is not the same as impulse buying, which is almost always a mistake. Each potter has a unique voice. Collectors must discover which ones speak to them. If a pot doesn’t “speak” to you, no matter how famous the artist who made it, pass it up. I also tell people that it is wiser to buy one important pot than a number of minor ones and I caution them never to go into debt to buy art.
Some potters and collectors prefer very traditional pots; others are drawn to innovative, experimental pieces and some move back and forth between the two types. One is not better than the other. It all depends on the quality of the individual work and the collector’s ability to see it.
Being an educated collector is important, especially for collectors of pottery. Besides the aesthetics of a piece, they must also take into account a number of technical considerations. Throughout the Western Hemisphere, Native pottery has always been made by hand, without the use of a potter’s wheel. The clay is formed into pots by coiling, pinching and using a flat wooden paddle. Each pot is unique and the mastery of technical skills is essential; otherwise the piece will be lopsided or have an unpleasing look.
Some artists, even in pre-historic times, also used the technical process of pinching to create decoration instead of painting. Ancestral Puebloans did this and recently some potters in Mata Ortiz, Mexico have moved away from heavily decorated pots to create what are known as corrugated pieces that are produced by pinching the clay.
Efren Betancourt, for example, was among the first in Mata Ortiz, a Mexican village known internationally for its pottery, to use pinched clay as a pot’s sole decoration. This was a radical departure since most Mata Ortiz pieces are multicolored and covered with complex designs. Even black-on-black pots have striking designs.
When I first saw Betancourt’s pot I knew that it would either signal a new direction for Mata Ortiz pottery or it would be rejected by collectors and become a dead end. The piece is unpainted and unglazed. Its visual appeal comes from the hundreds of tiny indentations and raised areas formed by pinching the clay before firing. For purists this is a sacrilege. For those willing to embrace experimentation wherever it may lead it is simply another example of the creative spirit of Mata Ortiz potters.
Corrugated pot by Efren Betancourt, Mata Ortiz, Mexico, 11” h x 8” at widest point (2006).
Collection of E. J. Guarino
The preferences of other collectors have never mattered much to me. Finding a strange beauty in this unusual pot that drew on the forms of utilitarian pots, I immediately bought it, not caring whether this artist or any other Mata Ortiz potter ever again made a corrugated piece. As it turned out, there were other collectors who embraced this artistic departure, allowing Betancourt and others to experiment further with pinching as a decorative device.
Burnishing is another technical aspect of pottery making which can also become decorative. Because of the persistence, inventiveness and skill of Maria and Julian Martinez, burnishing (something that was once probably a minor consideration for collectors) took on major importance.
Black-on-black pot by Maria Martinez and Santana, San Ildefonso, 3½”h x 4¾”w
(Circa 1940s – 1950s).
Collection of E. J. Guarino
After a pot is formed it is set aside to dry. It is then scraped, sanded and repeatedly rubbed with a smooth stone for hours. This creates a shiny, polished effect when the piece is fired. Maria and Julian became so adept at this technique that their pots have an almost mirror-like finish.
Although other pueblos were aware of black ware pottery, Maria and Julian of San Ildefonso perfected it. In 1918, as a result of constant experimentation, Julian was able to produce black-on-black pieces that combined polished (glossy) areas and a matte (dull) finish.
For many years, the work of Maria Martinez held no interest for me. I just did not have the experience or the expertise to appreciate it. However, as my knowledge and awareness increased I came to value the artistic achievements of this artist and her family and I was able to add a small but wonderful black-on-black pot by Maria and her daughter-in-law Santana to my collection.
Pots can also be decorated through cutting into the surface of a piece. This can be done while the clay is still wet or after the pot is fired. Of course, carving designs into a piece before it is fired is more risky because a vessel can break during firing, wasting a great deal of time and effort. Many potters, therefore, cut into the surface of a piece after firing. The decision is solely that of the artist.
Definitions with regard to cutting into pottery to produce decoration tend to be somewhat fluid. In general, the terms used are sgraffito, etched and incised. All of these techniques differ as to the degree the artist cuts into the clay. Sgraffito is derived from the Italian word sgraffire, meaning, “to scratch,” and is often synonymous with the term etched.
Horses by Dusty Naranjo, Santa Clara, 6½” tall (ca. 2002). Collection of E. J. Guarino
When an artist chooses to cut somewhat deeply into a piece the term sgraffito is usually applied. Horses by Dusty Naranjo, for example, is considered one in which the artist has chosen to employ the sgraffito technique by cutting moderately deeper into the vessel to create the decoration. The delicacy with which the artist created the horses that decorate the vase is what attracted me to the piece
A vase I have in my collection from the Mississippian Caddo culture (AD 800 -1700) at first appeared to be decorated using sgraffito. However, the
piece is actually incised since the design is not deeply carved as it appears.
Caddoan vase with sgraffito design, 6” tall (ca. 1300 – 1700 A. D.). Collection of E. J. Guarino
I came upon this piece (one of my favorites) during a trip through the Midwest to visit Mound Builder archaeological sites. Stopping in Bloomington, Indiana to visit some of the local museums, I went into a gun and tackle shop that, oddly, also sold Mata Ortiz pottery. At that point I was just becoming aware of these ceramics but, even then, I could tell that what I was seeing was poor quality. However, among the Mexican pieces there