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New book features Native glass artists

Fascinating glass art history outlined in book released this month, "Clearly Indigenous: Native Visions Reimagined In Glass" by Letitia Chambers

The art of glass took the Native art world by storm in the 1960s. At the forefront was Lloyd Kiva New, who could be considered the grandfather of Native glass artists. The Cherokee artist led the contemporary Native arts movement. At the same time Dale Chihuly started the studio glass art movement. The two movements merged, Chihuly influenced Native glass artists and was influenced by Native art.

Fascinating glass art history is outlined in a book that was released this month, "Clearly Indigenous: Native Visions Reimagined In Glass" by Letitia Chambers. Chambers discusses the book on the newscast, here are a few of her comments:

“Glass was primarily for years a functional process and was not considered art. It was only in the 20th century that glass was an art form, with individual artists working in teams to create glass art, it really became a part of the art world.”

“Chihuly influenced most of the Native artists who are currently working in glass but one of the interesting aspects of this story is that Chihuly himself was also influenced by Native art. Maybe a serendipitous result of his stay in Santa Fe and teaching IAIA. His first major glass series was actually a series of cylinders that was inspired by Navajo textiles, Navajo rugs and blankets, then his next major series were baskets that were influenced by northwest coast basketry.” 

“Almost all of the pieces in the book are in an exhibit that will open in early May at the Museum of Indian Art and Culture in Santa Fe. And the Museum of New Mexico Press, that published the book, did it as a - it’s not really a catalog but it's a companion piece to the exhibit. I’m hoping that a lot of people will be able to see the exhibit because these pieces of glass are stunning.”

“It takes several people working together ... You put glass on a pipe and blow air through the pipe which then creates, the glass expands and it takes several people to hold and blow them and then reheat them. It’s quite a process.”

“One artist described it as choreography, others described it like a band playing together and each having their own role in the blown glass piece.”

“Weaving is very central to glass blowing in a way because taking the different strands of glass has the same effect in some way as weaving. The artists who have been sculptors tend to carve the glass, whereas some of the artists like Chihuly himself who were weavers will take the strands of glass and add different strands as they blow which creates that effect of looking like a piece that’s been woven.”

“Tony Jojola pointed this out, he feels like the collaboration in making glass art reminds him of the sense of community of people working together in collaboration in his Native Pueblo. Many things are done in a community effort. He thinks that’s one reason that glass art has become popular among American Indian artists.”

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Mark Trahant, Shoshone-Bannock, is editor of Indian Country Today. On Twitter: @TrahantReports Trahant is based in Phoenix.

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