The featured artist at this weekend’s Southwest Indian Art Fair is Jody Folwell, who is an internationally recognized artist from Santa Clara Pueblo, New Mexico.
Folwell is known as the matriarch of Native American avant-garde pottery. She hand-crafts and paints all her own work, and her designs often blend traditional symbolism with contemporary elements, including political commentary.
The first thing that becomes apparent when one sees Folwell working with clay is how at ease she is manipulating the medium. She grabs and kneads large chunks of earthen colored clay nonchalantly as she begins the assembly of one of her famous pots, all while chatting comfortably in the back yard of her daughter’s Tucson home.
"I come from a pottery family," she said. "My great grandmother made pottery, my grandmother made pottery, my mother made pottery. "
Folwell said coming from a pottery family mans she was born into the world of art without realizing it. The clay has become part of daily life, and the rituals of making art have become part of who she is.
Folwell is considered a pioneer in avant-garde Native American pottery, and her work often features asymmetrical designs, innovative colors and political commentary. It’s a direction she says she took soon after graduate school.
"When I first started making pottery no one would purchase my work," she said. "I couldn’t even give away my pots. I started to think.. all you need to do is take that tiny little step sideways and there might be success in that."
Andrew Higgins, assistant curator of ethnological collections at the UA's Arizona State Museum, said Santa Clara pottery has certain distinctive characteristics that differentiate it from that of other groups.
The museum’s collection shows how Santa Clara pottery evolved into polychromatic designs that incorporate natural pigments, he added. However, when he looked at a piece by Foldwell, he said, "And of course, when you look at that you don’t think Santa Clara Pueblo. There’s no “can’t” in what she does. She makes you think and it’s amazing that she’s an artist that can do that. An acrylic pot with social commentary or she might be collaborating with her daughter. They’re all different."
Jody Folwell is the featured artist at the Southwest Indian Art Fair, Saturday, Feb. 22 and Sunday, Feb. 23 at the Arizona State Museum.