Prehistoric art

Pueblo Pottery

Have you ever wondered what the designs on ancient Pueblo Pottery mean, or what rock art images were meant to convey? Join us for our April 2015 Santa Fe region tour, where we will be delving into the why’s and what’s, seeing the pueblos, and meeting contemporary artists…There is a rich story to be told. On my most recent stay in Santa Fe, I researched the Pueblo Pottery traditions, past and present. There is such a wealth of beautiful work being made today, and what is interesting is that many of the designs that were used originally and prehistorically, have been carried down through the generations and appear on contemporary work.

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These pieces are on display at Andrea Fisher Fine Pottery in Santa Fe- a true “educational” retail experience! The helpful and knowledgeable staff explain in detail much of the mystery about ancient designs and motifs. The piece above on the left is very old, the one on the right, contemporary. (Please see the website for details on the artists)

It is fascinating to look at the pottery and see motifs that suggest clouds, rain, mythological beings, animals and natural elements, such as maize. The pottery tells a story through its design, and the mastery of geometric shapes and placement is amazing.

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We will be visiting the gallery on the tours and delving deeper into these works of art…admiring both the past and the present excellence in artistry. Can you detect flowers, kiva steps, turtles, feathers, waves, animals features…? Most of these designs are made with a small thin brush made from yucca plant fibers, and minerals found in the hills, ground and made into colorants. Amazing!

While I was still working as curator at the Tweed Museum , University of Minnesota-Duluth, I had the opportunity to suggest that we purchase several  pieces to enhance the items that were in the collection. Just above, the bowl on the left by John Montoya (Sandia Pueblo), was one item we purchased, and on the right, Marie Chino’s wedding vase (Acoma Pueblo), was another. We also purchased a beautiful Maria Martinez vase now on display in the ceramics exhibition that I curated. If you happen to be in Duluth, do stop in to see all of these pieces displayed in the museum!

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Santa Fe and Taos Art Adventures

Santa fe 2013 172 In the summer of 2013, I was fortunate to travel to Santa Fe for a week long workshop with the Crizmac group, which focused upon Pueblo Pottery and Culture. We spent every day learning about various forms of art made in the pueblos, from weaving to pottery. Each day also help opportunities to create art. The group was made up of people in education, and we had a wealth of speakers and artists with which to work. The pottery above is an example of Pueblo Pottery and on our tour we will be delving deeper into the designs, motifs and symbolism of the rich pottery tradition.

Cultural awareness was an important part of the workshop, as was talking with Native American people who live and work in the area. One such person is Dawning Pollen, an artist and teacher from Taos Pueblo. She demonstrated how to work with micaceous clay, common to the area, and had several examples of pieces made form the golden sparkly clay. We all tried our hand at creating with it as well, and set aside our pieces to dry as we listened to Pollen tell stories of her childhood and life. Later in the week, after Pollen had dried our work, we visited her family home in Taos and participated in an outdoor traditional wood firing. Her family was there to help, and we met her mother Bernadette, a former dancer and model for RC Gorman. Her father Robert Shorty is a wonderful artist, and he was gracious enough to show us his sculptures, and works in progress.Santa fe 2013 140 We also visited the Taos Pueblo, and were able to talk with many of the artists creating in their studios. On my trips, featuring this kind of personal connection to artists is very important.

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We also visited the Tower Gallery, home of the sculpture of Roxanne Swentzell. Roxanne creates the most amazing figures, both sensitive and narrative. Her depiction of the creation story with figures is on view at the Poeh Center, next to the gallery, and is a must-see when in the area.

These are but a few of the artists we will encounter on the southwestern trips…and I hope I can introduce you to their beautiful art.





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Rock art and Adventures Around the World

My interest in art and archaeology has been worldwide, and rock art- the images created by the first people in cultures everywhere- was one area of graduate study that deeply intrigued me. I had always been interested in this area of study, but became more intensely focused upon drawing connections and studying the images.

JOM 1st scan 051 JOM 1st scan 054  After seeing the carved stellae depicting such unusual and sophisticated images in Monte Alban, Oaxaca, I began to study rock art images in the United States. Pictographs and petroglyphs abound, particularly in the west and southwest, though they do occur all over the continent. I began by studying the rock art images around the Great Lakes, where I live. I have visited sites, and read many books describing the images and possible meanings. OF course, one thing leads to another, and the prehistoric rock art images from thousands of cultures and time periods began to occupy my research. Lucy Lippard’s book OVERLAY brought a fascinating discourse about art, prehistory and contemporary artists into play, and not only brought fresh ideas to my studies, but also affected my own artwork and exploration of concepts in my work. these are the libraries of prehistoric people, from whom we have all descended. I wanted to know all I could about what they were communicating, and of course, we can never really ascertain that we know the truth for certain.

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My travels took me to Orkney, Scotland, to several World Heritage sites, including Skara Brae, where an entire prehistoric village had been covered for thousands of years and revealed when the sand was blown off in a storm. IT was fascinating to see the way people had lived-not so unlike us today! They even had toilets built into their homes, 5,000 BC. I continued to travel around Ireland, recording the stone carvings and imagery created there during the same era. Certainly sun, moon, and stars were depicted, but the carvings go beyond that realm. Soon I’ll write about the experiences in the cairns, seeing the images as possible trance inducing languages.


I also studied in and traveled to France, and visited the caves (called grottes in French) where people even longer ago, 30,000 BC, left their hand prints,stories and images on the walls. All of these experiences led to developing tours, acting on my desire to share all I had learned with people. Which leads me to Santa Fe…where the same practice can be seen in many places. On my tour there we will visit Bandelier Monument, where amazing images have been carved, pecked or drawn on stone, and try to understand just what the ancestors were communicating.

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