Pueblo kiva steps scatter across Jody Naranjo’s pottery like butterflies. But this time, they glitter with light.
The Santa Clara potter is collaborating with the legendary Tlingit glass artist Preston Singletary to create glass pottery with Naranjo’s distinctive pueblo designs. Their pairing resulted in 15 pieces displayed at Santa Fe’s Blue Rain Gallery through April 17.
The show marks the third time the two artists have worked together. Singletary first approached Naranjo about the idea 12 years ago.
“It was a natural because she is such a sweetheart,” Singletary said in a telephone interview from Seattle. “I had also collaborated with (potter/sculptor) Tammy Garcia and (bead artist) Marcus Amerman.
“My own work has become much more sculptural,” he continued. “So the return to these classical vase forms is relaxing. I have a great appreciation for all the subtleties of the pueblo form.”
Singletary grew up in the Seattle-area listening to stories told by his great-grandparents, who were both full Tlingit. In high school, he met and became friends with future glass artist Dante Marioni.
Singletary says he learned how to work with glass nearly by accident when Marioni asked him to work at what was then the Glass Eye, a glass-blowing studio. He eventually became a glass blowing assistant and took a workshop at the famous Pilchuck Glass School. Singletary has blown glass around the world from Sweden to Italy to Finland. He has incorporated traditional Tlingit designs into his work since the 1980s.
Accustomed to working with the earthy tones of clay, the Albuquerque-based Naranjo immediately thought of creating the pieces in brown and black. But Singletary urged her to expand her color palette.
“By the end of the day, I was like purple! Turquoise!” she said. “It’s wonderful because you’re working in light and color.”
Naranjo carved into the blown glass using an X-Acto knife, the same tool she uses to carve her pottery designs.
“I sat and carve them for at least three or four months,” she said. “It’s very different. I spend a lot of time at the window looking at the inside of the design.
“At first it was real challenging,” she continued. “You have to carve it in a different way; it’s harder.”
Singletary worked from a series of Naranjo’s drawings.
“She’ll draw on the piece and cut the stencil,” he said. He fixes lines, smoothing irregularities. Then he sand-blasts the work to cut into the thickness of the glass.
“The stencil holds the pattern,” he explained. “When I’m doing the blowing, I’ll create a two-color object – an interior color and an exterior color. That (interior) color is exposed.”
Naranjo’s Santa Clara gene pool helped. The artist comes from at least eight generations of pueblo potters.
“My grandfather actually used a nail” to carve, she said.
Naranjo grew up watching her mother and her aunt shape clay into pottery. She remembers sitting under the Palace of the Governors’ portal at age 5 with her mother as she sold her work.
“I’d make little animals and little pots and sell them on the Plaza for a dollar,” she said.
When she began working, she thought she might not be as good at polishing or building as some of her family members. But she knew could carve.
“I couldn’t do realism, but I could do these little pueblo cartoon characters,” she added.
She often finds local inspiration, whether it be the Sandia Mountains or the fish swimming in the Albuquerque BioPark Aquarium. Her “Balance” piece pairs rams with fish.
“The Mimbres potters did a lot of designs of deer holding fish,” she said. “I like to bring in those old Mimbres designs.”
“Kiva Steps” pairs Taos Pueblo, the mountains and Naranjo’s signature step design.
“People call it my pueblo lace,” she said.