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Joe Cajero

Joe Cajero works on one of his koshare pieces—a jester figure used in the sacred dances.

Koshare by Joe Cajero

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 Market.

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" by Arturo Chavez

Bryce Wonderland, oil painting, by Arturo Chavez

“Western Vistas by Arturo Chavez” opens in Santa Fe

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 September 6.

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


Rag rug textiles

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 poster.

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 for more festival information.


Placitas Artists Series—not just concerts and visual art exhibits


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 at for more information.



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