IACA Journal, Fall 2014 - page 17

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Patchwork – An Expression of Creativity
Susan Howard Sapronetti (Lower Muskogee Creek)
40 Years of American Indian Art:
FROM FRINGE AND FEATHERS TO MODERNISM
For thousands of years, Native American peoples have been em-
bracing art in all its various forms—carving petroglyphs, dec-
orating with shells, carving bone and horn, creating containers
and figurines from clay, and painting animal skins with natural
pigments. The last forty years is a mere ripple in time when
viewing the history of Native arts, but this ripple has turned into
a tsunami of innovative and creative artwork.
Many fine artists have grown and devel-
oped during this time, and we are very
glad to see that there is a strong contin-
gent of extremely talented young artists
ready to continue forward. A visit to any
show or market featuring Native Amer-
ican work will highlight the remarkable
changes that are taking place - high
fashion clothing and accessories, jewelry,
paintings, glass, metal, photography,
giclée prints, and much more.
Some artists, who have been producing
work for many years, still like to try out
new styles or techniques. Cliff Fragua
(Jemez Pueblo), well-known for his
large masterpieces in stone, has also
experimented with glass and making
smaller items such as pendants. Navajo
elder and artist, Joe Yazzie, enhances
his drawings with computer programs
to create work that results in stunning,
contemporary images. Yazzie believes he
can carry on traditions learned from old
masters like Allan Houser (Apache) and
Quincy Tahoma (Navajo) using today’s
modern tools.
Hopi artist and teacher, Ramson Loma-
tawama, participated in traditional Hopi
life as he was growing up. For many
years he has carved “old style” katsina
dolls using traditional materials and
techniques, even spinning his own twine
to attach feathers to the dolls. But in the
1990s, Lomatawama discovered the art of
glass-blowing. In the conservative Hopi
culture in which he was raised, men were
not allowed to work with clay, so work-
ing with glass let him create traditional
pottery shapes using a new medium that
would not violate his cultural beliefs.
Debbie Lujan (Taos Pueblo) works in
a medium that barely existed in Native
American art forty years ago—pho-
tography. While many photographs of
Native Americans have been taken for
well over a hundred years, it is not until
fairly recently that they have got behind
the camera lens themselves. Although
many people have taken photographs
of Taos Pueblo’s distinctive architecture,
Lujan has a unique advantage because
she can go to places such as rooftops and
restricted areas, which are off-limits to
the average visitor. Lujan is preserving
her culture in a digital format.
Beaded pumps and tennis shoes? Bright
green ball gowns with beaded decora-
tion? This is the work of JT Willie (Na-
vajo), an extraordinary new talent, and
the recipient of the 2013 IACA Artist of
the Year. He gives a whole new twist to
the art of decorative beadwork. Willie
calls on his Navajo heritage for inspira-
tion, but expresses his ideas and values in
a totally new way.
There are also young, talented artists
who use their skills to produce artwork
which maintains the traditional styles
and techniques of their cultural heritage,
such as Randy Brokeshoulder (Hopi/
If we can remind ourselves
that cycles exist in all things
and occur in all places, and
that there will be cracks along
the way, we can learn. After
all, that’s how the light gets in.
—Ramson Lomatawama, Indian
Country Today
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