7 Native American Pueblo Artists You Should Know
When it comes to authentic Native American art, New Mexico’s Pueblo communities are a culturally rich environment, and at times it can be difficult to distinguish among such an elite group of Native American potters and artists. Though there is great diversity across a vast swath of mediums and styles, including jewelry, art and pottery, we wanted to highlight a number of Native American artists whose work, for various reasons, sets them apart from the crowd. Several reflect a lineage passed down through generations while others are paving their own unique path. We put together the following list as an introduction to some of these renowned artists, along with a brief summary of their work.
1-3. Three Generations of Santa Clara Pueblo Painters
Famed painter Pabilta Velarde (1918-2006) is the matriarch of her prolific family of female painters. In addition to her well-known earth paintings, in 1959 she became the first published Pueblo woman, with her book “Old Father Story Teller.”
Pablita’s daughter, artist Helen Hardin (1943 – 1984) was considered “contemporary” in her time and her dynamic style was seen as the first to move from representational to modern/abstract art. Explore Helen's artwork.
Helen’s daughter and Pablita’s granddaughter Margarete Bagshaw’s (1964-2015) artistry presents color and expression in a whole new light. Her pieces gift the viewer with the ability to visualize hues and shades with new perspective. See Margarete's artwork.
Their modern-day impact is vast. From large-scale murals at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center to influencing other artists such as Michelle Tsosie-Sisneros (Santa Clara Pueblo), these women have solidified their place in American Art History.
A contemporary jewelry artist, Ken is known for his semiprecious gemstone artistry and cutting-edge designs. For 38 years, he has pushed the boundaries in his jewelry designs which are elegantly set into gold and silver for rings, necklaces and other pieces. His signature style is a unique form of channel inlay he calls “Pueblo Design Inlay,” for which he inlays dozens of finely cut gemstones, such as turquoise, coral and lapis, in multi-dimensional and unique settings to evoke a Pueblo-inspired look and feel. The powerful works of wearable art that he creates in this style are remarkably innovative while still honoring his rich cultural heritage. Known for his superb craftsmanship, Ken was once commissioned to create a stunning bracelet incorporating more than 500 stones. Having received numerous honors, including awards at the Santa Fe Indian Market, Heard Museum Indian Fair & Market, Eiteljorg Museum Indian Market, and SWAIA-Albuquerque Indian Market, he is an artist to know and watch! Explore Ken's Jewelry.
Well-known for his authentic museum-quality pots, Clarence creates thinly walled vessels entirely by hand with natural clay and outdoor firing methods, the result of which are uniquely individual pieces of pottery. He utilizes various processes such as open firing, for which the flames make contact with the pots, enclosed firing for which the flames do not touch the pots, and a reduction firing where the pots are turned black. His impact is rooted in his teaching and sharing the lessons he’s learned with students in a traditional classroom and within Native Communities.
Learn more about Clarence Cruz.
6. Lucy M. Lewis, Acoma Pueblo
Considered one of the matriarchs of Pueblo pottery, Lucy M. Lewis (1900-1992) is among the most famous potters of the 20th century, along with such well known artists as Maria Martinez. She is known around the world for reviving 11th-century Mimbres style pottery, characterized by fine black lines painted on white slip. Lucy also crafted polychrome pottery of orange, black, yellow or brown designs on white slip, often with parrots, flowers, rainbows, stars or lightning patterns. Through her revolutionary advances in clay-making, design and craftsmanship, she revitalized handmade Pueblo pottery and brought worldwide attention to an ancient and revered art. Through their own works, Lucy’s daughters Carmel Lewis and Dolores Lewis Garcia, and son Drew Lewis continue her legacy today.
7. Helen Cordero, Cochiti Pueblo
Credited with creating the first Storyteller, Helen Cordero (1915-1994) had a special connection to the clay, and her style became an inspiration to others as a unique way to convey traditional story telling within Pueblo communities. While potters before her created animals and other figurines, Helen was the first in 1964 to create a figure in the image of her grandfather. The piece portrays him as the central figure with open mouth and closed eyes as if telling the story with such detail that he is lost in thought. Today storyteller art can be found at all 19 Pueblos with artists incorporating their own design elements to make them unique.
It is clear where Helen Cordero found her inspiration, as reflected in the following quote:
"To make good potteries, you have to do it the right way, the old way," she said, "and you have to have a special happy feeling inside. All my potteries come out of my heart. I talk to them. They're my little people, not just pretty things that I make for money."
New Mexico's Pueblo communities are filled with generations of artists. At the Indian Pueblo Store we work to be your trusted connection to authentic art and artists. We hope you'll take the opportunity to learn about these and other Native American artists featured here and subscribe to our newsletter where we continually share and celebrate Native American art.
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