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Mud Woman Rolls On

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Emilene Ostlind | Jan 24, 2011 05:00 AM

Coming January 30, the Denver Art Museum will open the doors to its freshly renovated American Indian galleries, featuring the well-known Santa Clara Pueblo sculptor Roxanne Swentzell among other fine artists.  "People think there are no artists on our floor," curator of native arts Nancy Blomberg says, referring to the stereotype of American Indian artists as primarily craftsmen.  She describes the new renovation as both a physical and The Things I Have to Do to Maintain Myself sculpture by Roxanne Swentzell, courtesy of Denver Art Museumintellectual transformation of the galleries, to show visitors that "every artwork in our collection was created by an individual artist, with his or her own opinions, influences and inspirations."

Through August, visitors entering the galleries will encounter Swentzell working on a 10-foot-tall sculpture of a Pueblo mother with four children called Mud Woman Rolls On. The sculpture will be made of mud mixed with sand, chopped straw and other fibers.  Swentzell's sister and brother-in-law, experts in strawbale and natural building construction, will assist with the technical aspects of creating a large adobe structure.

Swentzell grew up in Taos in a family of artists. Her mother and aunts were potters and her uncle a sculptor. As a little girl, Swentzell sculpted characters from her mother's clay: her dog Flower, a child with her mother, a little girl crying at her school desk. She went on to attend high school at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe and later studied at the Portland Museum Art School. Today, she works from studios in Santa Clara Pueblo and Santa Fe and has been called one of the most highly regarded ceramic artists of our time.

"Rox's work emotes," painter Mateo Romero has written of his friend. Her "figures of clowns, old men and women and children twist, turn, undulate, laugh, cry, repair themselves, interact with each other and love each other."

Swentzell looks forward to working on Mud Woman, a figurative Pueblo storyteller who engages an audience of children, in a public space.  "People can see the process. Once people see the finished piece they understand how it happened. It helps them connect to the artwork."

That engagement is what the projects -- both Swentzell's and Blomberg's -- are all about. Mud Woman is the Two Girls #2 (Bonnie and Clyde Series), painting by Mateo Romero, courtesy of Denver Art Museumearth, Swentzell says, describing a character who can reach beyond the American Indian galleries to tell a story for anyone who cares to listen. "The special thing about this sculpture is it is going to be made of unfired mud. She will have her babies who are all of us. We are of the earth."

The Denver Art Museum will hold a special preview of the newly renovated American Indian galleries for members only on Saturday, January 29. Doors will open to the public on Sunday, January 30.

Emilene Ostlind holds an HCN editorial fellowship.

The Things I Have to do to Maintain Myself, sculpture by Roxanne Swentzell, courtesy of Denver Art Museum.

Two Girls #2 (Bonnie and Clyde Series), painting by Mateo Romero, courtesy of Denver Art Museum.

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