Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Scaling the 'Wall' to Artistic Perfection at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center

One of the most exciting things about Albuquerque is that there is always something going on, whether it's waking up to a crew filming the cable TV series "Crash" on your street, hearing the B-52s at the casino, taking in mariachis in the Plaza at Old Town, attending an ArtsCrawl, or stumbling upon fantastic art exhibits that you didn't even know were going on!

For locals and tourists alike, if you haven't been to the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, there's no excuse for not taking the time to check it out. I've been meaning to go for a while now, but by chance I found myself in "el barrio" and thought I'd pop in to have a look--SO glad I did.

Since I'm now a New Mexican, I actually got in for four bucks instead of the normal six. This was pretty exciting, and my dinero was way better spent there than at Starbucks. The lobby currently features a marvelous display of art created by children from the Indian school on the Jemez reservation. A number of these kids are the offspring of some of the most famous and esteemed potters from the Jemez tribe. Avid Native American pottery collectors will recognize the names Wall, Gachupin, Yepa, among others. From paintings on canvas to handmade aprons to friendship bowls, the works elicit awe in light of the fact they were made by children. Nonetheless, they all bring a smile to your face. And the best part is, most of the pieces are available for purchase! How special for these children that, while most public schools in this country are cutting art programs, they are learning the ropes from master artisans and carrying on the tradition of generations.

Part of the overall experience of the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center is getting to browse through the books and manhandle contemporary pottery in the gift shop. You can also take in a wonderfully informative and up-close and personal video of the late Maria Martinez and her son making their distinct San Ildefonso pottery, view examples of Native pottery through the centuries, or watch Native performers bring their tribe's dances to life in the courtyard. At present,however, the main event is taking place in the South Gallery with the exhibition of Celebrating Native Legacies:Works in Clay by Kathleen Wall of Jemez Pueblo.

I was completely unprepared for this exhibit, mostly due to the scope, and the overwhelming detail that Ms. Wall, one of the most skilled Native potters working today, brings to these characters that include some depictions of herself and fellow tribespeople. Immediately upon entering the gallery, which allows the spectator to go right up to the pieces and touch them, I was moved to tears. Wall's ability to fully capture the spirit, energy and warmth of the Jemez people in the eyes and physicality of her figures is remarkable. From room's corner to corner, the gallery was filled with distinct personalities, who seem to whisper, in an amalgamation of voices, "Come to me. Welcome. This is who we are. Let us show you." While Wall's works depict tradition--honoring family, elders and making pottery--it is quite exciting to see how contemporary her style is. Like all art forms, they are constantly evolving, and the old ways give way to new traditions and forms. Perhaps the only thing traditional about her creations is that they are made from clay.

The highlight of Kathleen Wall's exhibit is her rendering of six female elders of the Walatowa tribe singing and dancing. The child-sized figurines are aptly placed before a wide screen upon which plays a looping video of the same women in flesh and blood mirroring their clay counterparts.

There are few words to describe walking among the "spirits" in this artistic celebration of life, the living and traditions. It can only be experienced first-hand. Celebrating Native Legacies opened back in February, but it will continue through October 11, 2009. The majority of Wall's works are available for purchase. For more information visit

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