Clay Speaks

Arizona State Museum’s 20th annual Southwest Indian Art Fair brings accomplished and well known Native artists from all over the Southwest, but one family in particular stands out for their knack in making waves in the art world internationally.

The Folwell/Naranjo family originates from Santa Clara Pueblo in New Mexico, and their art is constantly pushing the boundaries of what defines Native American pottery. The family has deep historical roots in creating works in clay, but the story here begins in the 1980’s.

Like Tucson’s annual Indian art fair on steroids, Santa Fe has held an internationally known Indian art fairOpens in a new window for over 90 years. In 1985 Jody Naranjo Folwell submitted a clay jar that would forever change the understanding of what Native American art is and should be. The pot immediately became a problem for judges. It was considered non-traditional, primarily because of the use of a green slip and its designs, and also because sculptor Bob Haozous (Chiracahua Apache) assisted in its design and incising. The pot’s appeal lay in its social commentary; the imagery depicted cowboys falling upside down off their horses and Indians riding victoriously around them. The judging became intense as some praised the originality of the Folwell/Haozous piece while others had no desire to see an untraditional style of Indian pottery. “Cowboys and Indians” did however end up winning best of show, thus influencing what would be accepted at subsequent Indian markets. Jody made the Indian market committee and the judges realize that they needed to create a whole new category in pottery classification. She had stepped out of the traditional bubble of what has always defined Native American pottery

2011-193-1-jfToday, Jody’s pottery is in museums across the world and she is often a focus in Native American books about contemporary pottery. She continues creating impressive ceramics that can range from a beautifully unpainted highly polished sculptural jar to an exquisitely painted piece with images and political commentary. She is one of the best known avant-garde potters, and it is an honor to have her come to the museum’s fair.

Jody has two daughters, and not surprisingly they too are exciting artists. Susan Follwell is on fire in the art world. She follows in her mother’s footsteps by continually creating innovative pottery and has received countless awards. Her artistic imagination continues to wow critics and collectors. Every piece of her artwork is so unique, it is impossible to anticipate what she will produce next or with whom she might collaborate. “I may experiment with new materials, shapes and concepts, but I’ve never forgotten where both the clay and I come from and how far we’ve come together. I’m hopeful of the journey we’ll continue to take together,” Susan Folwell recently said.

2008-344-1-sfSusan’s pottery often tells us a story, with each clay form being the canvas for her designs and stories. Susan recently won the prestigious Tammy Garcia award for excellence at the Santa Fe Indian market with a work titled, “The Attack of the 50 foot Collector.” The jar was impressive in size and form, with an image of a red-headed pottery collector, reminiscent of the 1958 film Attack of the 50-Foot Woman, standing over the Santa Fe Plaza. Museums and galleries continue to acquire recent works, recognizing that her pottery continues to impress the art world. As Susan once said, “Clay will humble you”, and even with all her fame she unquestionably remains humble. We look forward to seeing Susan’s latest creations at the fair this year.

Jody’s other daughter Polly Rose Folwell, who was a judge at ASM’s fair in 2011, is another award winning artist and has been called a master in the art of hand polishing ceramics. This is a technique that has been lost by many or simply not practiced because of its great difficulty. Like her sister and the relatives in her larger extended family, Polly grew up seeing her mother, grandmother, aunts and cousins making clay in a variety of forms. According to Polly Rose, “We begin and end with pottery. Some are polished, some are unfired, some are cracked or broken, some are painted and/or carved, but they are always made with the connection of the past, the touch of the present and a story to tell the future.” Polly Rose developed one of the signature Folwell family designs that the three women call the “melted rim.” The experience in clay results in an uneven and darkened surface that gives the rim the look of what a traditional water jar might acquire after years of use and wear. Polly has taken a break from making pottery for a few years, so it will be exciting to see what the future holds for her.2011-529-prf

The family has one more emerging artist who will join them at the fair, Polly Rose’s daughter Kaa (Jody Sue) Folwell. Kaa is just at the beginning of her career in clay. Fortunately for her, pottery is in her DNA and she has three gifted teachers to encourage and guide her. It’s likely as her talent is nourished it will grow to be as impressive as her aunt’s, mother’s and grandmother’s.

This blog was written by Andrew Higgins, museum specialist in ASM’s Collection Division. Arizona State Museum’s 20th annual Southwest Indian Art Fair will be on February 23rd and 24th, 2013.