Joe Cajero works on one of his koshare pieces—a
jester figure used in the sacred dances.
A koshare piece, by Joe Cajero
Cajero draws line between freedom and tradition
Barely out of his teens, Joe Cajero had a bright career ahead of
him as a Pueblo potter, crafting delicate clay figures and racking
up prizes every year at Indian Market. The demand for his striped
koshare (jester) figures was so strong, he bought a home in Placitas
at the age of twenty-seven. He was in tune with Spirit, he felt,
and had an unquestioned “ability to make things work.”
Then around five years ago, things turned on the sculptor. His
marriage collapsed, the rising tide of success became a tsunami
of grief, and now it was Cajero who was a lump of clay being pounded
by bills on an artist’s pay.
Until then, he had been something of a golden boy, raised at Jemez
Pueblo by a painter father and potter mother who held prominent
positions in the Indian community; his own ease with drawing had
landed him at the Institute for American Indian Arts and top prizes
at Indian Market from the age of sixteen.
Standing for the first time at a fork in the road to success, Cajero
had to dig deep. Setting aside his lifelong habit of artistic realism,
he said a prayer. “To those that guide my creativity, in whatever
form, may it serve me, in the sense of understanding who I am,”
he recalled wishing. “And at the same time, may it serve another.”
The result of his search, an abstracted figure he called “Embodiment
of Prayer,” launched a new direction for Cajero that straddles
the divide between freedom from tradition and freedom to express
it. Abstraction, he found, let him move easily between the conscious
and subconscious, from the sacred ceremonies he learned about on
the Towa-speaking pueblo, to his attempts to apply those disappearing
resources to his modern struggles.
A second breakthrough came when a friend told him he must show
“Embodiment of Prayer,” a piece he had made only for
himself. “It was the first time anyone used this word for
my work, ‘important,’” Cajero said. His friend
said he should cast the figure in bronze so that it might help others.
“That’s when I knew what she meant by ‘important.’”
Changing media opened a door for Cajero. Bronze, unlike Jemez clay,
is not bound by Pueblo tradition. A clay sculpture must have integrity,
he explained—it should be completely finished when it goes
into the fire, so that even if it is destroyed, it returns to the
earth whole. Bronze sculpture is cast from Plasticine, a non-drying
clay that is cut up and reused once the mold has been made, so there
is no attachment to the form. “That is where my diversity
comes through,” he admits. “It gives me the ability
to do just about anything.”
Bronze also opened up a palette more brilliant than the earth pigments
used in Pueblo pottery. Cajero quickly moved to the next level,
sculpting a series of four abstract pieces that have been cast as
large as seven feet and shipped to destinations around the country.
This year he got his first commission: two running figures, several
times life-size, for the Jicarilla Apache Tribal Council building,
to be unveiled in October. He laughs at the memory of standing helplessly
before the monumental figures with his small clay tools, until someone
handed him a saw.
Now he looks back on his period of loss and realizes it awakened
in him the will to survive, “the embodiment of my prayer for
growth.” And he has seen new interest in his work since he
turned to abstract, spiritual subjects. “There’s a yearning
today for Spirit,” Cajero thinks, “and letting go of
the identification with self. That’s how I began to find my
own definition of prosperity and success.”
Three years ago, he also found love where he did not expect it—with
an old friend who had commiserated with him through his divorce.
Althea Cajero, of Acoma and Santo Domingo pueblos, took up jewelry-making
after they married and shares a booth with her husband at Indian
In their world, art-making is not an activity easily segregated
from the rest of life—family, tradition, culture, spirituality,
and modern standards of survival and success. Cajero draws heavily
on his memories of the last generation to experience the sacred
ceremonies firsthand—his great-grandfathers’. And the
greatest gift given to him as an artist, he says, is still his father’s
withholding of approval. As skillfully as the young boy painted,
his father never said to him, “Great job.” Instead,
he would show him what was off, and how to fix it.
“That gave me drive—that’s what drives me today—because
there’s nothing wrong with the image in my eyes,” laughs
Cajero, a figure so lively and at ease that it’s clear he
spends a lot of time both outdoors and among friends.
He can’t really explain how he ended up in Placitas, except
that it was a longing he felt from the age of five. In the family
car on the way home to Jemez from Albuquerque, he would look up
the road and say to himself, ‘someday I will turn right instead
of left, and be home.’
“Maybe it was an inner sense of knowing this would be best
for me and my work, on a soul level,” he muses. “It
makes sense that Pueblo people resided here long ago. That energy—it’s
probably something I sense.”
Bryce Wonderland, oil painting, by Arturo Chavez
“Western Vistas by Arturo Chavez” opens in Santa
The Gerald Peters Gallery, located at 1011 Paseo de Peralta in
Santa Fe, announces the opening of the exhibition “Western
Vistas by Arturo Chavez.” The exhibition begins August 1 with
an artist’s reception from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. and runs through
The son of a Los Alamos scientist, and current Placitas resident,
Chavez spent his childhood exploring the expansive terrain of northern
New Mexico, his family’s home for nine generations. He brings
a meticulous attention to color in his large-scale paintings, creating
each piece by doing at least one plein air color-study on location
before moving back into his studio. “The human eye is far
more sensitive to subtle variations in color than can be revealed
in photographs,” says the artist.
Dr. Helen Lucero, former Smithsonian Institution curator and former
Director of Visual Arts for the National Hispanic Cultural Center
has said, “As a multi-generational resident of the dynamic
geography of New Mexico, Chavez has reclaimed the landscape for
the Hispanic population.”
Corrales “Art in the Park”
CORRALES—Art in the Park, a series of fine arts and crafts
shows sponsored by the Corrales Society of Artists and the Village
of Corrales, will be held on the third Sunday of every month. Dates
set for the remainder of the year include August 17, September 21,
and October 19.
This is the fourth season of the shows, and they are bigger and
better than ever, featuring local and visiting painters, sculptors,
photographers, potters, and metalworkers, as well as some of New
Mexico’s finest crafts artisans. The Kiwanis Club of Corrales
will once again sponsor a youth tent each week, where selected artists
will work with children at no charge and teach them the basics of
various artistic media. Hours will be 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. at
La Entrada Park, located on the northwest corner of Corrales and
La Entrada Roads. Parking and admission to the show are free.
The Corrales Society of Artists is a coalition of local artists
dedicated to furthering and exhibiting the talented and skilled
artists living in the Corrales area, as well as raising awareness
of the arts and arts education. They boast over seventy members
working in various media ranging from painting to colored pencil,
photography to fabric art, sculpture to ceramics. For more information,
visit their website at www.corralesartists.org.
Rag rug pillow and other handmade textiles
Rag Rug Festival features rugs, baskets, furnishings and more
Barbara Robidoux is from the Eastern band of Cherokee and makes
baskets out of ash and sweet grass the traditional Cherokee way.
She also makes pine needle and sometimes willow and pine baskets.
Both the willow and pine needles come from Santa Fe, and she gathers
them herself. She says, “The main thing is that my baskets
are to be used. They are made to be taken into the garden—to
carry things. I’m a utilitarian. These baskets are not meant
to sit on the shelf. They get lonely. They need to be touched and
made use of. Basket-making was given to me by an elder, and it has
been in my life to help me. I was told, ‘Now you’ll
never be hungry and you’ll always be able to get what you
need.’” She learned how to make baskets on the Passamaquoddy
reservation in Maine. Her designs are traditional and some meld
Cherokee and Passamaquoddy designs.
Her work, along with handmade products of nearly one hundred women
artisans in thirty-five booths, will be on view and for sale at
the Rag Rug Festival and Design Collective held at the Stewart Udall
Center for Museum Resources, 725 Camino Lejo on Museum Hill in Santa
Fe. In addition to rag rugs and other home furnishings, the Festival
will feature fashions and adornments, fun and fine art and gifts
of every description. In addition, THREADS will have a boutique
to benefit Women’s Cottage Industries. A preview reception
and sale will be held August 15 from 4:00 to 7:00 p.m. Tickets are
$50. For reservations, call the New Mexico Women’s Foundation
at 983-6155 in Santa Fe. On August 16 and 17, the festival is open
from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. with free admission and parking.
Rodriguez wins New Mexico Wine Festival poster contest
Mayor Patricia A. Chávez and the Town of Bernalillo MainStreet
program announce “Harvest” by Laguna Pueblo artist Andrew
Rodriguez as the commemorative poster art for the 2008 New Mexico
Wine Festival event in Bernalillo. “Harvest” was one
of more than thirty submissions in this year’s poster competition.
“The New Mexico Wine Festival is a signature event for Bernalillo,”
notes Mayor Chávez. “This piece adds nicely to the
unique qualities of the event and the commemorative poster expanding
and complimenting the Town’s impressive original artwork and
poster collection,” she said.
The image, a terracotta bas-relief, depicts the image of a Madonna
emerging from the clay with an abundant offering of the grape harvest.
“With the thought of grapes in my imagination, I was immediately
struck with a sense of the piece coming together,” said the
artist. “This work is dramatically different from my usual
style and an exciting venture for me as an artist.” The three-dimensional
image in clay will be reproduced in photographic format for the
Andrew Rodriguez is a highly-acclaimed artist whose work has nationwide
gallery representation and is collected throughout the United States
and Europe. Rodriguez attended the Institute of American Indian
Arts (IAIA) in Santa Fe, where he studied sculpture under the renowned
Native American painter and Modernist sculptor Allen Houser (1914-1994).
Rodriguez’s numerous citations and awards include first place
in the 2005 Southwest Association for Indian Arts and a fellowship
award from the same institution in 2001. He was the featured New
Mexico artist in the 2000-2001 television series “Home and
Garden,” and he has been published in Southwest Art Magazine,
New Mexico Magazine, and the Santa Fe Indian Market book.
“The popularity of this image was impressive, considering
that it is the first we’ve ever received of a medium that
is not traditionally considered poster art,” commented Maria
Rinaldi, Director of Community Development for the Town of Bernalillo.
“I’m certain the positive reaction ‘Harvest’
received in the poster competition will carry over well into the
publicity campaign of the festival.”
“Harvest” is the twenty-first image to grace the New
Mexico Wine Festival poster commemorative collection that boasts
such names as RC Gorman, Betty Sabo, Paul Sanchez, David Chavez,
Marcellus Medina, and Rudi Klimpert. The poster will go on sale
in mid-July for $10. A limited edition of two hundred posters with
the artist’s signature will be sold for $20 at the festival
and at poster-signing events to be announced prior to the festival.
The Town of Bernalillo, through its MainStreet program, sponsors
the New Mexico Wine Festival as an economic and tourism development
project. The American Bus Association has named the event a “Top
100 Event in North America.” The 2008 New Mexico Wine Festival
at Bernalillo will be held on Labor Day weekend, August 30 through
September 1 at Loretto Park. Visit www.townofbernalillo.org
for more festival information.
Placitas Artists Series—not just concerts and visual art
—GARY LIBMAN, PLACITAS ARTISTS SERIES
This is the time each year when the Placitas Artists Series (PAS)
solicits contributions and season ticket subscriptions for our upcoming
monthly concerts and visual art exhibits held in the wonderful venue
of the Las Placitas Presbyterian Church. Look for our information
in your mail soon. Also, see the PAS ad on page two of this issue
of the Sandoval Signpost. We want to tell you about an additional
performing arts service offered to our youth in southern Sandoval
County—that of educational community outreach.
The outreach program has one primary goal: to reach as many students
as possible in southern Sandoval County, giving them positive experiences
in many styles of music, theatre, and dance. Concerts are brought
not only to the Placitas Elementary School, Bernalillo Elementary
schools, Mid-school, and High School, but also to six area Pueblo
elementary and mid-schools. Our goal is to reach young minds and
to expand their perceptions of the performing arts. This is particularly
significant as funding for the arts continues to decline.
The PAS Educational Outreach Program in the 2007-2008 season, under
the leadership of the PAS board member Vangie Dunmire, orchestrated
nine performances in the public and Pueblo schools, with offerings
of classical music, jazz, theatre, and dance. The feedback has been
excellent, and the students are always very enthusiastic about the
performers and performances. Who knows if this type of early exposure
to the classics and jazz may lead to future budding musicians, actors,
and artists, but it has been shown to have a positive impact on
their learning and appreciation of the arts.
We continue to plan exciting programs for the 2008-2009 season.
You can help our efforts by your continued or new support of PAS
and all the activities associated with the Placitas Artists Series.
Your contribution will make a huge difference in the success of
the PAS three-pronged mission of promoting educational community
outreach, visual arts, and performing arts.
There are many people who have recently come to our beautiful area.
Please let us know who you are so we can speak with you and give
you more details about our various programs. You will be delighted
by what your community offers you. Contact Shelley Koffler, new
PAS Educational Outreach Coordinator, at 867-8080 or visit our website
for more information.