Light hearted: Exhibit will look at Native imagery reimagined through glass - Albuquerque Journal

Light hearted: Exhibit will look at Native imagery reimagined through glass

No medium captures the dance of color and light more fully than the luminosity of glass.

bright spotArchaeological evidence suggests glass-making dates at least back to 3,600 B.C. in Mesopotamia, Egypt or Syria. Stone Age societies used naturally occurring obsidian glass for cutting tools and weapons.

“Raven Steals the Sun,” Preston Singletary (Tlingit), 2017. (Courtesy of the Museum of New Mexico Press))

Venetian glass artists have produced glass from the island of Murano for more than 1,500 years.

Glass gestated in Indian Country in the 1970s. And the legendary glass artist Dale Chihuly played midwife.

When Santa Fe’s Institute of American Indian Arts rose from high school to a two-year college, its co-founder Lloyd Kiva New turned to the Rhode Island School of Design to help develop an art center. RISD sent Chihuly, who had created the glass program there, to New Mexico to set up a glass-making hot shop and to teach for one semester. Faculty member Carl Ponca (Osage) taught the course for several semesters. Tony Jojola (Isleta Pueblo) enrolled in 1975 and was immediately drawn to the sparkle and fire of glass.

“Spirit Figure,” Ramson Lomatewama (Hopi), 2019. (Courtesy of the Museum of New Mexico Press)

“Chihuly’s influence was very instrumental from the beginning,” said Letitia Chambers, author of “Clearly Indigenous: Native Visions Reimagined in Glass” (2021, Museum of New Mexico Press). “His influence was important in encouraging Native artists to work in glass. But the styles have been their own.”

Chihuly’s impact on Native American glass-making extended well beyond his time at IAIA. The Pilchuck Glass School in Washington state, which he co-founded in 1971, drew American Indian glass artists hungry for his workshops. Jojola worked as a Chihuly apprentice. When Chihuly opened Hilltop Artists in Tacoma, Washington, Jojola taught there. In the 1990s, Jojola began Taos Glass Arts and Education with artist Kathy Kaperick.

“Wedding Vase,” Ira Lujan (Taos/Ohkay Owingeh Pueblos), 2018. (Courtesy of Museum of New Mexico Press)

“Most American Indian artists who work in glass learned from one of these areas,” Chamber said.

The Seattle-based glass artist Preston Singletary (Tlingit) is an internationally recognized member of the second generation of native glassblowers.

His career began almost by accident. He applied for and got a job as a night watchman for Seattle’s Glass Eye Studio. He was blowing glass within a few months and began taking classes at Pilchuck. Singletary has blown glass around the world from Sweden to Italy and Finland. Since the late 1980s he has incorporated traditional Tlingit designs into his work. Singletary also is known for his collaborations with Indigenous artists such as the potter/sculptor Tammy Garcia, potter Jody Naranjo and bead artist Marcus Amerman.

“Aunt Fran’s Star Basket,” Dan Friday (Lummi), 2017. (Museum of New Mexico Press)

His “Raven Steals the Sun” references a Tlingit creation story.

“Raven brought light to the people by stealing this light from a box and sending it to the sky,” Chambers said.

Dan Friday (Lummi) visited Seattle’s Glass Eye Studio, became an apprentice and went on to study at Pilchuck. Friday created the intricate “Aunt Fran’s Star Basket,” with its golden hues and lavender stars, in 2017. Aunt Fran was a neighbor and native Salish speaker as well as a master cedar basket weaver. Friday grouped glass rods of varying colors, then pulled them into a bundle fused with a torch.

“He named his basket after her because he wanted to honor her traditional basket making skills,” Chambers said.

“Chaco Sunset,” Adrian Wall (Jemez Pueblo), 2017. (Courtesy of the Museum of New Mexico Press)

Jemez Pueblo’s Adrian Wall was already a well-known sculptor when he began working in glass. His “Chaco Sunset” combines glass, limestone and steel.

“The ancestral pueblo people were pretty advanced in astronomy for their time,” Chambers said. “They knew the equinox and the solstices. He did that piece as a remembrance or in honor of that ancestral knowledge.”

While Wall has experimented with blowing glass, he prefers to work with cast glass, combining it with mixed media.

“Untitled,” Tony Jojola (Isleta Pueblo), 1994. ( Courtesy of The Museum Of New Mexico Press)

Ramson Lomatewama’s (Hopi) “Spirit Figure” combines ancient petroglyph and pictograph designs with glass.

“His figures are very recognizably Hopi,” Chambers said. “He saw a book on figures on cave walls. He started making spirit figures.”

“Talking God,” Carol Lujan (Diné), 2014. (Courtesy of The Museum Of New Mexico Press)

Born in molten heat that spread across cultures, Native American glass art has emigrated to artists from the South Pacific through the work of Australian Aboriginal and Maori artists in an act of Indigenous exchange. These glass blowers also use designs from their own traditions to create unique works of art.

“Clearly Indigenous: Native Visions Reimagined in Glass” will be a major exhibition at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture opening in early May.

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