Tessie Naranjo comes from a large family of artists at Santa Clara Pueblo, near Española. She lives in the center of the pueblo and teaches Tewa language classes in her home in an effort to preserve and hand down the indigenous tongue. “The older persons here at Santa Clara are strong speakers, but as you get down to the children and teenagers, they are less likely to be speaking the language. This is my contribution,” she said. She referred to teaching as work that embodies the quality of industriousness, an integral Santa Clara cultural and family value. “To be industrious is a big deal for us. It’s something that pushes us forward to make us do what we have to do — if it’s in art, if it’s in cooking, if it’s in cleaning. In any kind of everyday living that we do.”
Among Naranjo’s talented sisters is sculptor and poet Nora Naranjo Morse, whose large-scale work, Always Becoming, is installed at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. Naranjo Morse has had two fellowships at the School for Advanced Research (SAR), the 1988-1989 Katrin A.Lamon Fellowship for a Native scholar working in the humanities or social sciences, and the 2000 Ronald and Susan Dubin Native Artist Fellowship from the Indian Arts Research Center (IARC) at SAR. The 2018 Speakers Series at IARC honors Naranjo Morse’s achievements with a series of four presentations dedicated to her under the umbrella program title, “Trailblazers and Boundary Breakers: Honoring Native Women in Art.” The series kicks off at 6 p.m. Wednesday, March 28, with a presentation by Tessie Naranjo, “Native Women in the Arts: History, Family, Community, and the World.”
“Nora wanted her sister to speak about how the Naranjo family has developed this pretty amazing family structure, rooted in their culture, but also rooted in the idea that a Pueblo or Native woman can be successful outside of the pueblo,” said Brian Vallo (Acoma), director of IARC. “I’ve been working on what I will say and I will continue to change it,” Naranjo said, explaining that at the moment her own working title for the presentation was “To Do and Be Doing.” She added, “This is Tewa talk. In our everyday life, it is about doing. That is how you make things happen.”
The second event in the series, on Wednesday, April 4, is “Recovering Women’s Art History: Edmonia Lewis, Angel De Cora, and Tonita Peña,” a panel discussion with Kirsten Pai Buck, professor of art history at the University of New Mexico; Sascha Scott, associate professor of art history at Syracuse University; and scholar Yvonne N. Tiger, moderated by America Meredith, artist and founder of First American Art Magazine.
Edmonia Lewis (circa 1844-1907), also called Wildfire, is known as the first professional African-American sculptor. Her father was a free black man and her mother was Chippewa; Lewis was orphaned in early childhood and raised by her mother’s family until she was twelve. She attended Oberlin College, but her academic path was cut short when she was repeatedly accused (and acquitted) of criminal behavior. She traveled in Europe before settling into an artistic practice in Rome, working in the neoclassical style. Angel De Cora (1871-1919), also known as Hinook-Mahiwi-Kalinaka, was a Winnebago painter, illustrator, activist, and teacher. She was taken from her family in Nebraska during childhood and put into boarding school in Virginia. She later studied art at Smith College and went on to teach at the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania. Tonita Peña (1893-1949), a painter whose Indian name was Quah Ah, was from San Ildefonso Pueblo in New Mexico and lived at Cochití Pueblo with her aunt and uncle after age twelve. Peña was the lone female member of what is known as the San Ildefonso Self-Taught Group, which included such artists as Julian Martínez and Alfonso Roybal. Peña worked in watercolor with pen and ink, painting scenes of everyday life.
In the third lecture, “Fierce Hearts: The Fight forRecognition,” on Wednesday, April 11, artists LillianPitt (Wasco, Yakama, Warm Springs), Connie TsosieGaussoin (Picuris Pueblo/Navajo), and Linda Lomahaftewa (Hopi) join moderator Deana Dartt, a current SAR fellow, for a discussion about creating art during the massive social changes of the 20th century — in the context of feminism, the Red Power movement, and the debate between art and craft.
The final lecture, on Wednesday, April 18, looks to the future with “Of Hopes and Dreams: New Paths, New Generations.” The moderator of that panel, Jaclyn Roessel, worked on the education staff at the Heard Museum in Phoenix before leaving in 2017 to focus full-time on grownupnavajo.com, a blog and company she started as part of the grieving process when she lost her grandmother six years ago. “I was reflecting on how I will carry on as a Navajo woman, moving forward, not having that teacher that I had grown up with,” she said. “Since then, my writing has transitioned into creating and working as a consultant to bridge indigenous thoughts around what we know in English terminology as inclusion, equity, and cultural competency — and relating that to a lot of our inherent ideologies as indigenous people, as Navajo people. Asking what kind of world we want to create is an incredibly radical thought for people of color and Indian people. We come from this long period of time where there was this active oppression and suppression of our people that was literally trying to terminate our existence, so just to be in the place to think about what you want to leave behind is incredibly empowering.”
The “Of Hopes and Dreams” panel features interdisciplinary artist Eliza Naranjo Morse — Nora’s daughter and the 2007 Rollin and Mary Ella King Fellow at SAR — and Jessica Metcalfe (Turtle Mountain Chippewa), an academic and founder of shop.beyondbuckskin.com, a Native fashion boutique and blog about topical issues facing Native women artists and designers. The fourth panelist, painter and printmaker Jordan Craig (Northern Cheyenne), is the current Eric and Barbara Dobkin Fellow at SAR. Much of her work is process-oriented and rooted in her experiences. Two series of monoprints, Keep Me Awake (2017) and Keep Me Awake a Little (2017), consist of hundreds of prints of the same repeating shape — a sort of asymmetrical rectangle with a triangle cut out of one side — that she sees when she can’t sleep.
“I like to make work about my everyday, about my sisters and how I can’t sleep. I cut out each of those shapes by hand and each one is different,” she said. “It’s a little obsessive and it might drive some people mad, but that’s my language. That’s how I like to work.” At SAR, Craig is utilizing the collection to study Pueblo pottery and develop new patterns for her paintings.
Roessel said the new generation of indigenous women artists has had their voices, as well as their drive to make and sell their work, amplified by social media. And while they are very much immersed in the pop culture and technology of modern America, she said, “There are these blurred lines between past, present, and future that we’re able to exist and create in, at this confluence of art and business, which is a little bit different of a lens than the previous generation of women artists.”
Roessel plans to ask the group what questions they are tired of answering — about their culture, art, or gender. “That’s kind of a cheeky question, but it’s kind of indicative of the spirit of these women. They are able to create their own boundaries in a way that wasn’t always an opportunity for the women that came before them. There are questions we are over talking about. We would rather move on to other things. They’ll tell us what those things are, and then we’ll take questions from the public.” ◀