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Cutting-edge color in pottery design on view in Santa Fe

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SANTA FE, N.M. – “Color,” the second installation of “Elements of Earth and Fire: New Directions in Native American Ceramic Art,” opened at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture on Feb. 26. “Color” will be open through June 18.

“Elements” consists of three four-month installations, each focusing on one element of pottery making: form, color or texture. The series highlights the work of more than 20 unconventional potters and explores how they use pottery making to communicate individual artistic expressions and communal identity.

While the first installation in the series explored innovation in form, the second highlights new uses of color in Pueblo pottery. Included in “Color” are the works of Diego Romero, Cochiti; Les Namingha, Hopi/Navajo; and Daryl Candelaria, San Felipe Pueblo.

Born into a family of traditional Cochiti painters but raised in Berkeley, Calif., Romero’s work is truly cross-cultural. The artist draws on both his Native heritage and urban upbringing to make innovative pottery that is at once traditional and contemporary. He combines ancient pottery forms with modern imagery and uses traditional materials as well as commercial potter’s supplies to make political statements about contemporary Native life. His imagery has a distinct narrative and voice, leading critics to dub him a “master satirist in fired clay.”

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Namingha, another artist represented in “Color,” is a member of the illustrious Nampeyo pottery family of Hopi. Dextra Quotskuyva, his aunt and a renowned potter, taught him his craft. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in design from Brigham Young University, Namingha incorporated his contemporary training with his traditional roots to create a unique style of indigenous pottery. His vessels are built in the traditional way, but his designs are a combination of traditional motifs and bold, abstract expressionist figures. He considers the surface of the pot his canvas on which he experiments with different techniques and types of slips. His occasional use of acrylic paints pushes the envelope in Pueblo pottery making.

“Polychrome has been a part of the Pueblo pottery tradition for centuries,” curator Tony Chavarria explained, “but today, artists are maximizing color and using non-traditional materials. Color is abundant in the natural landscapes of the Southwest and continues to influence creativity. Today’s potters, like their forbearers, use color as an essential element in their work in clay.”

The third and final installation will address similar themes of innovation and tradition, and will highlight experimentation in texture. Among those whose work will be featured are three highly regarded artists from Santa Clara Pueblo: Jennifer Tafoya Moquino, Grace Medicine Flower and Kevin Naranjo. “Texture” will open July 2 and will run through October.

The MIAC shares Milner Plaza with the Museum of International Folk Art. “Here, Now and Always,” a major permanent exhibition at the MIAC, combines the voices of living American Indians with ancient and contemporary artifacts and interactive multimedia to tell the complex stories of the Southwest. The Buchsbaum Gallery displays works from the region’s pueblos. Five changing galleries present exhibits on subjects ranging from archaeological excavations to contemporary art. In addition, an outdoor sculpture garden offers rotating exhibits of works by Native sculptors.