A tradition of artistic creativity

— RoseMary Diaz, Guest Editor



Santa Fe New Mexican


Oga Po'o Kweeng is my daughter's Tewa name. It translates to “shell-filled lake,” which is what those who first knew this land called Santa Fe and much of the surrounding area. It is a literal reference to the terrain's evolution over eons, from prehistoric body of water to the mountainous high desert we inhabit today. Given by her great-grandmother and great-aunt (sisters Mary Cain and Teresita Naranjo) on the fourth day of Oga Po'o Kweeng's life, the name connects her to Tewa place and identity — something that still matters, perhaps more than ever, in this technology-driven, disconnected 21st century. My own Tewa identity also began with the bestowing and receiving of a name and later was forged through my family's physical and spiritual bonds to our maternal ancestral homelands and Pueblo lifeways. Spending much of my childhood at Santa Clara, I grew up hearing about our millenniums-old ties to the land and how the ancients lived not in ownership of its mountains, rivers, canyons, streams and prairies but as trustees of them — and as relations to the many creatures who also call this place home. The art forms born of that long-ago past, evolving over centuries from practical, everyday objects to the fine art collectibles of today, continue to sustain generations of Indigenous creativity. While innovations have brought new forms and techniques to the contemporary Native artist's playbook, the song has mostly remained the same for those who work within the more tradition-bound pages of the art story. Whether adding new chapters of creative expression or staying the closer-to-convention course, Native artists are no longer indentured to externally applied non-Native narratives. Our art stories are finally ours to create and tell. Growing up, I was witness to the potter's life up close and personal. Accompanying my grandmother and her mother as they gathered raw clay from the hillsides that surround the pueblo, I learned how to look for clues in the landscape that revealed deposits of the rich, mineral-dense earth from which they sculpted their livelihoods: a section of hill that had pulled away from its hold; thick bands of red- and copper-colored soil stretching across slopes and slants; fine grains of glistening sand above, below and between each colorful band. I learned to listen for Clay Lady's voice emanating from the land itself: “Here I am, my children. I offer you this sacred earth. Accept my gift and use it to make a good life.” Saya and Gia Kwijo accepted Clay Lady's gift and went on to achieve great acclaim for their work, including top awards and lifetime achievement recognition at Santa Fe Indian Market. As the market celebrates its centennial this month, I reflect on the countless hours I spent in the booths of these Pueblo matriarchs over the years, first on the north end of Old Santa Fe Trail, then on Lincoln Avenue and finally in the center of the Plaza — greeting visitors, listening to them talk pottery and interacting with people from all backgrounds and walks of life. Like so many Native artists, they found a devoted audience for their work at Indian Market, which led to greater exposure and a level of financial independence that allowed them to honor Clay Lady's wish. My mother, aunts, uncles and cousins also stepped into the story of the clay. Watching them successfully follow their art-making callings inspired me to pursue a career in the creative arts — and gave me the confidence and fortitude to do it. That journey commenced at the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) in the early 1980s, when I was on the threshold of my young adult life. Poetry was my first endeavor in the literary arts, and the institute provided a safe and nurturing place to determine the fit of that hat. The school, celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, has seen many changes through the decades, but its commitment to both preserve ancient Indigenous art forms and support innovations in artistic expressions of Native identity has remained constant. Though certainly not all-inclusive — the metaverse of Native art vastly exceeds what any publication can encapsulate in one fell swoop — the stories, articles and event guides that comprise Legacy 2022 reflect the abundance and diversity of creative traditions in Tewa Country. From our coverage of Indigenous filmmakers, gallery and museum exhibitions and the various Native art markets taking place in Santa Fe in August to our profiles of tradition keepers and innovators such as the Chongo Brothers and the Tsosie-Gaussoin family, these pages tell the artists' tales as they've shared them — from the heart. Also included is a story about a former fashion designer — whose work reflects Wabanaki traditions — now bringing original musical compositions and performing arts to the stage. Another contribution envisions the next 100 years in Pueblo pottery. Also in this issue are two remembrances: one that pays homage to IAIA co-founder Lloyd Kiva New, whose vision of the future of Native arts included complete and unapologetic autonomy in Indigenous expression, and one that honors Allan Houser, who singlehandedly created an unmatched art legacy that propelled Native art to higher, more visible ground. Whether you live here, are visiting Santa Fe for the first time or counting this visit among many, a trove of treasures awaits the senses. Whichever the case, you're certain to feel the tug of longing for this place — this place called Oga Po'o Kweeng — which is evoked in the Tewa song above. As we zoom full speed ahead into the next century, we Native people will continue to express our identity through the tradition of creativity — which is where this all began. That means that now is a good time to remember the artist's life is not weighed down by tradition but strengthened and empowered by it. Likewise, we do not walk in the shadows of those who came before us but adjacent to them.