Navajo, Pueblo artists arrive in Park City
April 9, 2010
This winter, Parkite Rob Brooke volunteered to help with the Navajo Roadshow, a traveling exhibition that provides an opportunity for Navajo artists and vendors to showcase their wares in different parts of the country.
"I found that to be a very rewarding experience," he says. "I wish we had the wherewithal to do an event of that magnitude to assist all of the artists that we know."
Rob and his wife, Jeri, operate an online gallery that represents a number of Native American artists including painters, jewelers, sculptors and potters. He ran a gallery near Chicago for many years, but the economic downturn forced him to turn to online sales.
"I was able to close my gallery and rely on my wife, a computer consultant, and get a job myself, but [the artists] don’t have that luxury of simply saying, ‘Well, I think I’ll try something different.’ They have to stick with what they know," he explains.
This weekend, Rob and Jeri are hosting a trio of Native American artists at their home in Jeremy Ranch. The public is invited to a trunk show today, April 10, from noon to 6 p.m., with presentations scheduled at 1:30 and 3:30 p.m. The artists will talk briefly about their personal artistic endeavors and the cultural influences that guide them.
The Brookes chose to underwrite the cost of travel for Allison Snowhawk Lee and Joe and Althea Cajero in order to introduce them to Park City’s arts community. "These artists make a living by selling their work and we’re bringing them in to hopefully give them some exposure in this market," says Rob. "With any luck, they’ll go home with a little less jewelry and a few dollars in their pockets."
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The Brookes’ home is located at 9036 Sackett Drive in Jeremy Ranch. For directions or more information, contact Rob at (224) 639-3293 or firstname.lastname@example.org .
Allison Snowhawk Lee
Allison Snowhawk Lee grew up in on the Navajo reservation in northwestern New Mexico. His mother’s maiden name, Estitty, means "silversmith" in the Navajo language, so it was no surprise that his early artistic inclinations leaned toward the family practice.
He says he learned to make jewelry by watching his mother and uncle as a young teenager. In high school, he took a couple of silversmithing classes and earned a reputation as quite the artist. His biology teacher, who cut stones as a hobby, asked Lee if he was interested in making jewelry for him. "He gave me stones and silver sheets and wire and told me to build whatever I wanted to," he says.
During the summers, Lee worked at silversmithing shops, where he learned from masters of the art. It wasn’t long before he realized that he could make a living creating jewelry. He graduated high school in 1977 with the distinction of being "Most Artistic" in his class.
In 1983, Lee moved to El Paso, Texas, where he found a job working for a watch company and learned the ins and outs of attending trade shows. Not long after that, he opened his own business in Albuquerque.
He continued to travel around the country attending shows and markets, which is how he met Rob at his gallery during the early 1990s.
Lee uses traditional Navajo silversmithing techniques and high-quality stones to create handmade pieces of jewelry. He sells them in galleries, at shows and on websites like the one the Brookes manage, http://www.tribalexpressions.com.
Although times have been tough, Lee says he has been able to maintain his business during the recession. When the economy faltered, he turned to a fellow silversmither who has been in the business for more than 60 years for advice. "He said, ‘Just keep making the best jewelry that you can make using top-quality stones, and you’re going to be OK.’"
Lee plans to bring his latest designs to Park City, including bracelets, earrings, pendants and traditional squash blossom-style necklaces. He’ll also talk about the history of Navajo silversmithing and its importance in the Navajo culture.
"I try to educate people when I’m out there doing shows," he says. "A lot of people don’t really know the process that we go through to make a piece of jewelry."
To view images of work by Allison Snowhawk Lee, visit http://www.tribalexpressions.com/jewelry/lee.htm .
Joe and Althea Cajero
Joe Cajero grew up in the Pueblo of Jemez in New Mexico. His father was a wildlife painter and his mother a potter. He practiced two-dimensional art throughout grade school and at around age 18, he picked up his first ball of clay.
His mother, who had turned to clay-making as a therapeutic process, owned a small shop in Albuquerque where Joe learned about the business side of the trade and dabbled in sculpture. He frequently accompanied his mother to Indian art shows throughout the Southwest.
At 19, he moved off the pueblo to attend the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, where he studied everything from drawing to advanced oils. "I noticed that there was immense competition in two-dimensional work and not as much in three-dimensional work," he says.
When he graduated in the early 90s, he decided to focus solely on clay work. "Working in clay, I began to find my own talents and my love for that medium," he says.
About 10 years ago, he began to work with bronze and set his sights on monumental-scale work. Since then, "It has been constant refinement and exploring the obvious observations of what’s going on in the world as well as observations from within my heart and soul that’s where I am right now with my work," he explains.
Joe creates small- to large-size sculptures of realistic figures and forms and also abstract and suggestive forms. He also makes what he calls bronze wall plaques and wildlife sculptures that tell the story of the animals’ spiritual connection to the Jemez Pueblo. His monumental-scale projects include four bronze sculptures commissioned by different clients.
Joe met Althea around 1995 and they became fast friends. Best friends, actually. Then, "Very cautiously and mindfully, we decided to try our hand at romance," says Joe. The pair married in 2005.
Althea was raised in New Mexico’s Santo Domingo Pueblo (now known as the Kewa Pueblo). Both of her parents were artists and encouraged her to develop an artistic skill that she could utilize if she ever found herself without a job.
However, "I didn’t realize I had that within myself until I met Joe," she says. While she was working for the Indian Health Service, Joe encouraged her to take a jewelry class. "I knew from the first piece I made that I wanted to be a jeweler."
Althea makes earrings, bracelets, rings and pendants using gold, silver, turquoise and coral. Some of her creations abstractly reflect Pueblo spiritual ideas and traditions. "Now I understand what my parents meant," she says.
Joe and Althea live near Albuquerque and make their existence selling their art in galleries, at art shows and markets, and online. The couple met Rob many years ago at the Heard Museum Indian Fair and Market in Phoenix, where he asked to represent their work in his galley.
Joe says the economy has had an impact on the couple’s markets, but they have made a conscious choice not to participate in the recession. "You have to be sensible and you have to diversify the price points you have. Quality and integrity is everything," he says. "We’ve been very blessed to have steady work and we’re moving right through it."
The Cajeros have not visited Park City before and plan to bring along a diverse body of work, including many of Joe’s small- to medium-size sculptures, wildlife renderings and bronze reliefs, as well as a wide selection of Althea’s jewelry pieces and a sampling of jewelry made by Joe.
For more information about the Cajeros’ work, visit http://www.cajerosculpture.com .