BACK TO THE FUTURE
Pueblo tradition keepers stay true to form
STORY BY STACY PRATT (MVSKOKE) PHOTOS BY KITTY LEAKEN
Santa Fe New Mexican
ON THE COVER
Troy Sice Keeping a centuries-old art-making tradition alive is hard work. Finding one's own creative footing within the continuum poses perhaps an even greater challenge: How does one reach back into the past to draw from the great reservoir of ancestral knowledge while simultaneously staying the path of individual self-expression? The three creators profiled here, whether working with stone, with shell and antler or with hand-gathered, hand-processed native clay, are doing just that. Their work offers a glimpse into how it's done. TROY SICE (ZUNI PUEBLO) The most common reaction to a Troy Sice carving is a smile. His family is known for practicing the ancient art of Zuni stone and antler carving and taking it in new directions. He is a grandson of George H. CheeChee, a nephew of Ramie and Miguel Haloo and a half-brother of Colvin Peina, all well-known carvers. His grandfather is known for bird and bird-in-flight carvings, and his uncles began the tradition of standing bears carved of deer antler in the 1970s. Peina introduced an original style of corn maidens, and Sice has done the same, with award-winning results. Ancient people carved the things they saw and experienced in their lives, and so does Sice. “Like my grandfather and uncles before me, I create carvings so our people and many others will not forget who we are as A:shiwi,” said Sice. “These carvings have a big influence from the modern world, from what I see around me.” For example, after attending a recital of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite in Santa Fe, Sice carved a series of bears dancing ballet — complete with tutus and pointe shoes. As he often does, he gave the pieces witty names, such as Bearllarina. “With my work, I use the same materials as my uncles before me, but I incorporate new ideas and materials to make it my own,” he said. “The dancing bear design was part of my studying the nature of elk antler, figuring out how I could create a different posing bear.” Sice's primary medium is antler, but he also uses fossilized ivory, marble and jet. He uses stone for inlays as well. “I make sure my inlaid stones are rounded and polished properly,” he said. “I do not use any synthetic, man-made materials.” Sice incorporates ancient motifs into his carvings, such as the decoration on the shawl of Sacred White Corn Maiden, which won second place at the 2017 Indian Market. Sice was the first Zuni carver to create nativity scenes. His include human and bear figures representing the family at the center of Christianity. Their clothing is also adorned with ancient motifs. “My grandmother on my father's side was a devout Catholic,” he said. “To honor her, I make the nativity scenes.” Sice generally does not use the word “fetish” to describe his work. The word was coined by an American anthropologist to describe sacred talismans used in ceremonies. Some carvers, galleries and collectors do use the word, but Sice wants to make it clear that his carvings are just that — carvings for collectors, for the market, for the many people who find them enchanting, inspiring and beautiful. They are not ceremonial pieces, which would have to be blessed or otherwise made sacred. They are art, and they are a joy to encounter. Sice occasionally makes jewelry and is interested in combining his carvings with silver jewelry as well as exploring other mediums. “There are great Zuni carvers who made fetish jewelry in the early 1900s,” he said. “I would like to create my own style of Zuni fetish jewelry. I have also been sitting on doing bronze sculptures for a long time now. I think that it is time to start branching out.” His observant eye, quick wit and legacy of quality work ensure that his next creations will be exciting and innovative. That's his heritage after all. Sice reminds collectors to always ask questions about the carver when purchasing Zuni carvings. An authentic Zuni carving usually has the name or initials of the carver, the word “Zuni” and the year on the bottom. If the seller has no information on a carving, it is most likely not a Zuni carving. Sice and his carvings can be found on his website: dragonflystrail.com.