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Loloma: Expressions in Metal, Ink and Clay

February 26 - October 4, 2015


Loloma: Expressions in Metal, Ink and Clay, on exhibit from February 26 through October 4, 2015 at the Heard Museum, reveals Charles Loloma's (Hopi) creative process through this exhibit of his early pottery, groundbreaking jewelry, paintings and drawings. His abstract drawings, many shown for the first time, provide insight into his approach to design. (right: Charles Loloma (Hopi, 1921-1991), Bracelet, 1966, fossilized ivory, wood, turquoise, silver. Gift of Hal and Margaret Gates, 4782-1)

Charles Loloma (Hopi), who is best known for his innovative jewelry designs that incorporate unusual stones, began his career as a painter. In 1939, at the age of 17, he was selected to paint murals at the Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco. This was the first of many journeys he would make from his home in the small village of Hotevilla among the Hopi mesas in northern Arizona. While Loloma, Hopi artist Fred Kabotie and two other painters created murals at the exposition, more than 1.5 million people passed through the gates to see the exposition.

Although he would paint only occasionally after his 1943 return from serving in the U.S. Army during World War II, Loloma made drawings continually throughout his lifetime. For him, drawing was a form of relaxation. His drawings reflected the landscape around his home, his vision for his home and studio, and his life and experiences as a Hopi man.


Teaching through drawing

For Loloma, drawing was also a teaching tool. When Loloma's niece Verma Nequatewa (Sonwai) began working in her uncle's studio in the late 1960s, Loloma instructed her to draw as one method toward honing her design skills. With a swish of his hand, Loloma would draw extemporaneous circular and linear forms and have Nequatewa fill in the open spaces with intricate designs. Years later, when he taught Georgia Loloma, a former art teacher, the same technique, she found his approach to drawing a fun and intriguing new way of expressing an idea.

The majority of the drawings in this exhibit were made in the early 1980s. Many of them reference corn, while others reflect traditional sashes woven by Hopi men. Several others are architectural drawings for building exteriors or room interiors. Many are abstract representations of northern Arizona's landscape, with lines that follow mesa outlines and variegated land patterns. The complex rock strata of the mesas, with their striations and variations in pattern, are strongly reflected in Loloma's jewelry designs with their multifaceted inlay of varying stones.


Designing Metal jewelry

Through Loloma's drawings, it is possible to see the ways in which the complexity of his fine-line drawings translate to intricate inlays. Some of the drawings show a relationship to the height bracelets and multi-stone inlay bracelets he designed. The drawings provide insight into the ways in which an artist reflects his world and translates that reflection into varying artforms.

Loloma also made quick sketches as simple references for his jewelry designs. These were hurriedly drawn and often contained notations as to which stones to incorporate and the positions of the stones. The jewelry drawings shown in this exhibit are at times associated with the exact items of jewelry made from them, while at other times similar examples of jewelry have been paired with the drawings. (left: Charles Loloma (Hopi, 1921-1991), Letter opener, 1959, turquoise, coral, wood, silver. Bequest of Edward Jacobson, 4411-2)

Through his use of unusual materials -- pearls, malachite, charoite, sugilite, gold -- and atypical jewelry techniques, as well as innovative designs, Loloma became a leader in contemporary American Indian jewelry. In addition to changing the overall look of the jewelry, he changed the way collectors viewed Indian jewelry. His designs, particularly lining the reverse of an item such as a buckle or the interior of a bracelet or ring, had a tremendous impact on generations of artists that followed him.


Forming vessels with clay

At times, designs are translated through different media. Drawings or paintings may contain designs also apparent in pottery and jewelry. After his honorable discharge from the U.S. Army, Loloma and his wife Otellie received scholarships to study pottery making at the School of American Craftsmen at Alfred University from 1947 to 1949. Traditional Hopi pottery techniques utilize a centuries-old process of gathering the clay from nearby clay pits, cleaning and preparing the clay, constructing forms from coils of clay, polishing with a smooth stone, painting, and then firing out of doors. At the time Charles Loloma undertook pottery making, it was traditionally -- though not exclusively -- a skill of women. Generations of women taught girls, usually family members, with daughters learning from mothers, grandmothers or aunts. Charles and Otellie Loloma learned a completely different technique for making pottery at the School of American Craftsmen. They used commercially processed clay and a potter's wheel to make a pottery shape. They incorporated natural clay slips and paints used at Hopi when possible. Finished forms were fired in a gas or electric kiln.

Following their studies at Alfred, Charles and Otellie returned home to northern Arizona for a short time, but then they moved to Scottsdale, where they sold pottery at Lloyd Kiva New's Kiva Craft Center-a series of small shops operated by individual artists who were mostly Anglo. Like the Lolomas and New, the artists at the Kiva Craft Center made a range of handmade goods, from clothing to jewelry to stained-glass items.

The Lolomas applied muted glazes, generally in brown or yellow tones, to their pottery. Otellie favored anthropomorphic shapes, and at times Charles painted animal designs. Often he focused upon texture and incised designs. Some of the designs on his pottery are Hopi basket makers or Corn Maidens. Both of these images are themes he depicted in drawings or paintings, pottery and jewelry. Loloma rather quickly replaced his work in clay with work in metals.


(above: Charles Loloma (Hopi, 1921-1991), Untitled, 1961, Oil on board. Charles Loloma depicted basket weavers in this painting. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Leslie T. Jones, IAC474)


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