- United States
Height: 15.5 in. Width: 13 in. Depth: 15 in.
Funds from Polly and Mark Addison, 1994.540
Photograph © Denver Art Museum 2009. All Rights Reserved.
About the Artist
Roxanne Swentzell was born in Taos, New Mexico in 1962. Her mother was a potter, writer, and scholar from Santa Clara Pueblo, and her father was a New Jersey native of German descent who was a philosophy professor in Santa Fe. Growing up in Santa Fe, in a household that was filled with clay and artwork, Roxanne took to art-making at an early age. As a child, she struggled to express herself verbally. In order to let others know how she was feeling, she would sculpt small figures that represented her emotions.
Roxanne attributes much of her success to guidance from her family, particularly her mother, Rina, and her uncle, Michael Naranjo, a blind sculptor. From 1978-1980, before graduating high school, she attended the Institute of American Indian Arts.
Today, she spends much of her time at Tower Studio, twelve miles north of Santa Fe. Continuing her interests in nature and preserving the earth, Swentzell founded the Flowering Tree Permaculture Institute, “a research and education organization that relates to permaculture…a way of looking at the world based on the laws of nature.”
Swentzell believes that it is extremely important for her work to have a direct connection with reality. Her art must be a full expression of herself and her experiences and observations of life. She says, “I learned to listen to myself and not be so influenced by what other people wanted me to make. I am going to present the world through my eyes—and not as somebody told me I was supposed to.” She also aims to communicate with all people through her artwork—both Native and non-Native—about the things we share as humans. “With my sculptures I try to reach people’s emotions so they can remember themselves,” says Swentzell.
What Inspired It
This sculpture is a representation of a clown, called a kosha in Tewa [TAY-wah], the language of Santa Clara Pueblo. In the Pueblo creation story, the kosha were the first to emerge onto the surface of the earth, climbing up from the underworld and out of the womb of Mother Earth. As they surfaced, each was facing one of the four cardinal directions. The people of the earth followed, dispersing to all parts of the world and becoming the different races. Kosha continue to play a part in Santa Clara ceremonies and stories. One of their main roles is to teach lessons about life. Kosha teach by imitating human behaviors; it is then up to us to recognize when those behaviors are flawed.
This kosha sits deep in concentration, mending his broken ear. With this sculpture, Swentzell references the idea that humans are in a constant state of development. An individual makes choices as he/she creates him/herself. Swentzell is also asking us to consider the importance of a seemingly mundane act. “I like to make the mundane significant, because that’s the way we go throughout days. This piece is about all the little things we do to make things possible. It’s an appreciation of something that’s not always acknowledged,” says Swentzell.
The black and white stripes on the body of the kosha represent balance, one of the important life lessons that are taught by kosha.
The kosha is deep in concentration. Notice how he carefully threads the needle with an extra-thick piece of yarn. His eyes are focused, his lips are pursed, and even his toes are curled tightly together.
Swentzell makes her sculptures out of clay, using the techniques of a potter. Unlike other potters in her family, she uses purchased clay, in part due to the large amounts that she uses. She uses coils to create the body and makes cuts where she will add limbs, which are made with coils as well. The body and limbs are hollow, while the toes and fingers are solid. She sculpts the face. The figure must dry for about two weeks before it is ready to be fired in a kiln.
Quick Classroom Ideas
- Have the children get into pairs and describe in great detail exactly how they got dressed this morning. Make sure they really break the things they do to “maintain” themselves down into steps.
- Have the students write a short story about how they take care of themselves when they are sad or upset. What steps do they take to make themselves happier?