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Santa Fe Botanical Garden exhibition features works by Native Americans and other artists

Down the path, a woman in a purple dress gazes into the distance, shielded from the sun by a yellow umbrella.

Around a curve up the hill, a writhing wreath of frozen metal frames a pure white bird in mid-flight.

And perched above mounded rocks that channel surging water after a rainfall, a rounded woman looks admiringly into a decorated bowl.

That’s just a sampling of the sights when you venture into the Santa Fe Botanical Garden’s latest sculpture exhibition, “The Power of Place,” which features 16 works by artists, 10 of them Native American, who live, or had lived, in and around Santa Fe.

“They are not only Santa Fe’s leading artists, but also are well-known around the world,” said co-curator Letitia Chambers. A member of the botanical garden’s board, Chambers is a former executive director of The Heard Museum in Phoenix.

The sculpture of the woman under the umbrella, “Looking for El Niño,” is by Bill Prokopiof (Aleut) and is located near one of the garden’s water features to underline the notion of seeking rain in the desert. This piece won the top prize for sculpture in the 1998 Santa Fe Indian Market.

“I was at that Indian Market and saw it. I fell in love with it,” Chambers said.

The sculpture that frames the bird from one viewpoint, “Touch,” is by Bill Barrett and the bird is by Kevin Box, who previously had a one-man show of his works in the garden. Barrett, in turn, will have his sculptures featured when this show ends in May 2016, said Clayton Bass, co-curator of the exhibition and CEO of the Santa Fe Botanical Garden.

Barrett also has a major piece at the 9/11 Memorial in New York City, Chambers added.

And the woman gazing into pottery, “Admiration,” is a sculpture by Roxanne Swentzell (Santa Clara Pueblo). On a recent day when the Journal visited, the pot contained water from an overnight storm, multiplying reasons for admiration amid thriving garden growth, which then featured soft blues from creeping veronica.

That is one of the few pieces that won’t have a “Do Not Touch” sign posted near it, Chambers said, explaining that Swentzell appreciates having people touch her works. “The piece hadn’t been there more than five minutes before a kid came up and hugged it,” she added.

Clayton Bass, chief executive officer for the Santa Fe Botanical Garden and co-curator of its current sculpture exhibition, uses his phone to read a QR code next to Bill Prokopiof’s piece, “Looking for El Niño.” (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Clayton Bass, chief executive officer for the Santa Fe Botanical Garden and co-curator of its current sculpture exhibition, uses his phone to read a QR code next to Bill Prokopiof’s piece, “Looking for El Niño.” (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

These works will have additional company beginning Saturday when the garden installs its contribution to the local museums’ “Summer of Color” theme: “Monarch – Orange Takes Flight.” Container gardens featuring the color orange – many of them intended to attract monarch butterflies – made by staff, and participating individuals and businesses will be set up, mainly around the entrance and the orchard areas, filling spaces that are not dedicated to the sculptures, the co-curators said.

Asked how garden planners settled on the color orange, Bass said, “We wanted something really bold.” As they batted around ideas, the monarch butterfly was mentioned and, when it was embraced as part of the theme, orange became the obvious color. Look for some milkweed plants, some of which bloom orange and serve as the monarch’s food, as part of the orange garden scheme.

The sculpture exhibition was by invitation, with the co-curators choosing the pieces they wanted. Deciding how to position them was half the fun, they said.

“One of the most interesting, creative and delightful things is figuring out where it goes,” Bass said. He noted that sight lines, the background, a sculpture’s size in relation to its surroundings all played a role in determining locations.

A basic botanical garden concept is “conceal-reveal,” he said, with some details not noticed until you get close, while others can be previewed from a distance. So it is with the sculptures, with some quite visible from afar, while others seemingly pop out from behind trees or bushes as you proceed down the Art Trail.

Dan Namingha’s (Hopi Tewa) “Kachina Symbolism IV” opens to views of the mountains through its center, while Gilberto Romero’s “In Bloom,” whose tips curve into tendrils, is tucked next to a group of junipers. Reddish leaves from nearby bushes complement the hues of the bronze “Dance” by Arlo Namingha (Hopi Tewa).

Kevin Box created this sculpture, “Flying Peace,” which is on display at the Santa Fe Botanical Garden at Museum Hill. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Kevin Box created this sculpture, “Flying Peace,” which is on display at the Santa Fe Botanical Garden at Museum Hill. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Frank Morbillo’s “The Conference Table,” a fractured steel and bronze piece, adds horizontal movement to an exhibition that tends toward the vertical. “When we saw it, we both immediately thought of the rift valley of the Rio Grande,” Chambers said.

From the beginning, the sculptures roughly progress from figurative to abstract, seguing back to the figurative at the loop’s end.

“I’m a firm believer in the power of seeing fine art outdoors,” Bass said, noting that plants moving in the breeze and clouds passing across the sky make the sculptures feel more alive than if you simply viewed them in a gallery.

“Sculpture is at its best in a garden,” Chambers concluded.

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