Indigenous to the Earth: The Sculpture of Rose Simpson [10 Pictures]

Indigenous to the Earth: The Sculpture of Rose Simpson [10 Pictures]

Dominique Godreche

Multimedia artist Rose Simpson grew up on Santa Clara Pueblo. When she was five, her mother, sculptor Roxanne Swentzell, and stepfather, Joe Glanzberg, started the Flowering Tree Permaculture Institute of Santa Clara Pueblo at the family's residence, and today Simpson serves as the Institute's treasurer. Simpson holds an MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design (where she studied ceramics) and a BFA from the Institute of American Indian Art of Santa Fe; she also studied creative writing and dance at the University of New Mexico. She's currently enrolled in the auto body repair department of the Northern New Mexico college. It's a resume that seems to go in a half-dozen different directions at once, but at heart Simpson is a sculptor, and, like her mother, she most often works in clay. Simpson's work is represented by the Chiaroscuro Gallery of Santa Fe and the Berlin Gallery in Phoenix, and was lately seen at the Denver Art Museum. To learn more about the artist, visit

RELATED: Speaking With Clay, Mud and Clowns: Pueblo Potter Roxanne Swentzell

How did you get involved in sculpting clay -- because of your mother, Roxanne Swentzell, and her influence, or did you have a longer family tradition of women potters?

I come from a large family of creative women, where the ceramic techniques was passed down by the women over centuries, through our Pueblo ancestry. And branched today into contemporary art, like my aunt Nora Naranjo Morse, and my mother Roxanne. So I always felt that art was the expectation, the thing that everyone had to do: like a family who runs a restaurant, you are expected to run the restaurant! (Laugh)

But I found my own way of expressing my self through that medium. And in graduate school, I used to ask myself: "why would you use clay ?" Well, the reason for that is the essence of the material, its energy; it is rooted in a place, the Southwest, the environment I come from. Clay means a relationship to the land we walk on, that nurtures us, to the houses we build, the vessels we create. It is part of our environment and livelihood

So it is strongly related to your geographical roots?

Yes, but I am also trying to figure how to relate to it not only as a Native, but as a way of offering others how to understand our connection to the Earth, no matter where we are. Because we all have a relationship to the Earth. And working in clay is a natural, ancient process, practiced for a long time. Clay, to me, is a symbol of our relationship with the Earth.

It seems you're working in a medium that is inherently very local, and identifying as a Native -- yet really thinking globally about everyone's relationship to the Earth.

I aim to deconstruct our judgments; but being a Native American has pushed me to question our everyday stereotypes, beyond art. I wish everybody could suspend their beliefs, and challenge their comfort zones.  Growing up in Santa Clara, participating to the activities, I asked myself questions about what culture means, what defines us as Natives, and what it means to be a human today. I feel it is vital to rediscover our relationship to that planet, and understand our responsibility, to survive as humans, and not just as Natives. Though Natives have important tools to understand this process. But everybody is indigenous to our planet: what makes people indigenous to their context has to do with the manner they relate to their space. 

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Michael Madrid's picture
Michael Madrid
What a wonderful article about a talented, young artist. I can't help but wonder if she's learning auto-body repair out of necessity? I'm an artist myself, but as a surrealist, I can appreciate the difficulty of making a sale. The biggest obstacle (in my humble opinion) to modern Native artists is that the terms "Native artist" and "Native art" spurs on certain expectations. People expect paintings of Indians from the 1800s astride horseback in dramatic poses against a sunset, or Pueblo women cooking, or pottery, or traditional sand paintings. They don't want to see surrealism based on political thought or addressing socio-political concerns. The sad fact is that people who love surrealism don't have the money to buy it, and people with money just want art that matches their sofa.
Victoria Judd Elabd
Victoria Judd Elabd
Beautiful, powerful works. Thank you for sharing this talented young artist's creations with us.


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