Sandoval Signpost
An independent monthly newspaper serving the community since 1988
  Featured Artist

Signpost Featured Artist

Artist Felice Lucero
Photo credit: —Oli Robbins

Dream II—16-1/2" X 19-1/2", Mixed Media, Collage using handmade paper, pastel, oil

Dream I—16-1/2" X 19-1/2", Mixed Media, Collage using handmade paper, pastel, oil pastels, watercolor, acrylic paint, charcoal pastel, watercolor, acrylic paint, charcoal

Daffodil Study I—11-1/2" X 11", Mixed Media, Collage using handmade paper, pastel, oil pastel, watercolor, acrylic paint, prismacolor pencils

The Pictorial Languages of Felice Lucero

~Oli Robbins

Felice Lucero is a storyteller. The multi-media artist, currently living just outside the Placitas village, has been visually narrating for over fifty years. A San Felipe Pueblo native, Lucero’s work draws upon the Pueblo’s deep-rooted traditions and cultural values as well as the artist's long-standing identity as a citizen of two worlds. Says Lucero, “The idea that I am a woman descendant from a living ancient culture whose people continue to reside on our ancient homelands is an insightful prospect for my work.” That work is stylistically hybrid—incorporating Pueblo customs and motifs while recalling the work of 20th-century minimalist masters. In 1991, Lucero enjoyed a retrospective exhibition at Arizona State University. The accompanying catalogue, penned by Barbara Loeb, describes her well: “… she is a nonconformist and a public recorder of San Felipe life. She remains, however, respectfully aware of the boundaries and values established by her people. Her subjects range broadly over many Pueblo issues but they never deal directly with Keresan religion.” Her motifs are at once specific and universal—speaking to basic human experiences in the realms of family, religion, place and culture.

Lucero, born in San Felipe Pueblo in 1946, remembers art as a natural part of her childhood—quite literally. “I lived art,” says Lucero, who now realizes that she and all of her contemporaries were creating Earthworks and Land Art before the movements were named. “We lived along the Rio Grande, and you would get the little islands in the middle of the river that would create really fine sand. We’d put the sand into cans with the water and did dripping. We dripped sand and would build walls and castles.” It was all part of her play time, replete with mud baths. “Our game was to try to get up after you dry without cracking the mud.” Her parents, ardent believers in the power of education, sent Lucero and her five brothers to Santa Fe’s St. Catherine’s. Says Lucero, “my parents were very creative people. They were weavers, they were farmers, they were educated in their traditional way.” At St. Catherine’s, Lucero was required to learn English quickly, having grown up speaking the language native to San Felipe. Says Lucero, “we were always encouraged to learn to speak English because we live in two worlds. The elders would say that we need to know both worlds.” Lucero’s bifurcated identity — a theme that features prominently in her art—was made even more rich by her marriage outside the Pueblo to a Polish-Italian architect. While her San Felipe heritage doesn’t define her completely, it is indeed the place to which she always returns, both physically and artistically.

While at St. Catherine’s, Lucero completed her first formal art class. The class was taught by a thoughtful professor who helped Lucero locate her style and natural abilities. Says Lucero, “I couldn’t paint. My hands wouldn’t function in those ways. So he would watch me and was really aware and sympathize with your inner soul—with how you’re expressing yourself.” He presented her with a set of pastels, and she began to soar. Though she respected the work of her peers, many were painting in a Euro-traditional style that Lucero found restrictive. The pastels offered her freedom, and soon enough she began creating the works that she’s known for—visual narratives (as well as poems and prose) based largely on Pueblo experiences and memories that are both particular to Pueblo life and simply human.

Many of her compositions contain poetry, stamped letters or words, cut-up postcards and even found objects. Her work is often in four parts, signifying the sacred number four and the four directions; the letters “N,” “S,” “E” and “W” often appear. Dashed lines refer to her own walks of life, and raindrops, rainbows and clouds (all water and life-giving forms) are common imagery. As Loeb explains in the ASU catalogue, … “she begins at San Felipe, or Katistya as it is called in the Keresan language. She calls this her point of reference… On occasion, the town itself becomes the main subjects, and all the essential features are included… If the artist addresses a subject outside the Pueblo, she almost always includes some reminder, usually a similar, codified image of the plaza and kivas. This may take the form of the rectangle and circles…” 

Nowadays in San Felipe, as in Lucero’s childhood, the desire remains to uphold the native language (a dialect of Keresan). But, the language’s fate is uncertain due to tribal intermarriages that result in English-speaking households. In an attempt to ensure that the language will be preserved by future generations, Lucero is presently designing an early childhood education language class in the Pueblo. Says Lucero, “the concern is that the native language is dwindling away, and that’s not good for our culture—it’s totally based on language… If you speak the language, that’s how you’re going to associate yourself with the environment, with the people. That connectedness—you can’t do it with the English language.”

Lucero’s work appears in several publications and has been the subject of numerous exhibitions. She’s also exhibited in dozens of group shows, including one at Washington, D.C.’s world-renowned National Museum of Women in the Arts. Her art resides in many permanent public collections, and can be found nearby at the Albuquerque Museum, the School of American Research in Santa Fe, and the City of Albuquerque Public Arts Collection.

Poem for Landscape East of San Felipe, 1989

Dreams of ancient landscapes
soft as the underbelly of a silk purse.

Raise your skin to the touch of foot prints.

Bristle with pain your stubble of catch needles

Dreams of ancient landscapes
screaming with delicious yellows, succulent reds.

Raise your breath of dust devils to exhale the heat
burnt crazy into a spiraling dance.

Dream for strength—Dream—Dream

                Dream for the night—lover who brings dew drops
to soothe you into sleep.

—Felice Lucero


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