Breaking boundaries

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May 30—Glass-making incubated in Indian Country in the 1970s with the legendary glass artist Dale Chihuly playing midwife.

"Clearly Indigenous: Native Visions Reimagined in Glass" showcases the art form that broke the boundaries of what is considered traditional Native art at Santa Fe's Museum of Indian Arts & Culture.

Glass works by 29 artists from New Mexico, the Pacific Northwest, New Zealand and Australia reveal how Native sculptors have melded ancestral ways with new methods.

The show features such global stars as Chihuly, Preston Singletary (Tlingit) and Rory Wakemup (Minnesota Chippewa), paired with Southwest artists Virgil Ortiz (Cochiti Pueblo), Adrian Wall (Jemez Pueblo), Jody Naranjo (Santa Clara Pueblo) and Tammy Garcia (Santa Clara Pueblo.)

It all started after the formation of the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe in 1962. Co-founder Lloyd Kiva New called for help in launching an arts department. The Rhode Island School of Design responded by sending then-faculty member Chihuly to Santa Fe, and cross-cultural pollination bloomed.

"He came to Santa Fe in 1974 and spent a semester," said Letitia Chambers, exhibition co-curator with Cathleen Short and author of the book "Clearly Indigenous."

Chihuly founded the school's hot glass shop and program before giving birth to the Pilchuck Glass School near Seattle two years later.

Founded in 1971, Pilchuck lured American Indian glass artists hungry for his workshops. Tony Jojola (Isleta Pueblo) worked as a Chihuly apprentice. When Chihuly opened Hilltop Artists in Tacoma, Washington, Jojola taught there. In the 1990s, Jojola began Taos Glass Arts and Education with artist Kathy Kaperick.

Chihuly's acolytes boomeranged between Santa Fe and Washington, taking workshops and classes, cross-fertilizing additional expressions in Native art.

Ed Archie NoiseCat (Salish/Shuswap) was known for his wood carvings before he ventured into glass. Born in British Columbia, he worked as a fine art lithographer in New York before he created a glass collaboration with Singletary.

"Ed Archie carved a wooden mold; from that, they made a brass mold, and used it to create cast glass," Chambers said. "His pieces are primarily cast glass or fused glass. He jet cuts the glass with water."

In 1998, he created a six-by-six-foot carved cedar screen with a sun carved on one side and the moon on the other. It won best of show at the Indian Art Northwest in Portland, Oregon. At the time, he thought about adding a glass moon and sun to the piece.

He met Singletary that year.

The two began making glass masks. Because NoiseCat carves his original molds from wood, close observers can see the cedar grain in the glass. The pair collaborated again in Santa Fe in 2005, making blown glass heads based on ancient stone carvings.

In 2003, NoiseCat was the first artist commissioned to make a piece for the Smithsonian's Museum of the American Indian.

More recently, NoiseCat created "Thunderbirds" (2019) in a spindle whorl of water jet-cut and fused glass.

"That series comes out of my printmaking background," he said. "They're all pieced and fused together like a puzzle."

Ira Lujan (Taos/Ohkay Owingeth pueblos) was taking a break from classes at the Albuquerque Art Center when he moved to Oregon for six months. He attended the opening of the Eugene Glass School, where he watched glass blowing for the first time.

"I really love the fluidity" of glass, he said. "It can be anything. It has properties like watercolor. It's everything that sculptors want; that real sexy curve."

Lujan created "Quail Canopic Jar" in 2017 after reading about the Egyptian practice of burying pharaoh's vital organs in vase-like jars. The artist created a series featuring parrots, deer and buffalo perching on the top.

"It's also really therapeutic," Lujan said of his glass practice. "You have to be disciplined enough to stay with the piece. You have to be really focused. You can't set it aside, like clay. I can sometimes spend from 8 to 10 hours on one piece."