Photo courtesy Roxanne Swentzell
The koshare, or Pueblo clowns, are a favorite subject of Roxanne Swentzell's.

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

Dominique Godreche
11/25/13

Roxanne Swentzell’s feminine koshare sculptures are well known in Santa Fe, where she exhibits at Tom Ross gallery, and her own Tower Gallery, in Pojoaque. A mother, grandmother, artist, gardener, and builder, Roxanne has pottery in her blood, and she took a few moments at the Santa Fe Indian Market to discuss her art with ICTMN. 

How did you start your career as a sculptor?

I come from a long lineage of Santa Clara Pueblo potters -- my mother was a potter, her mother was a potter, and so on. But for me, art was my first language: As a child, I had a speech impediment, and this language problem led me to create clay figurines, to express myself.  That is how I started my art career: Trying to communicate. Today, these figures still tell my story -- even though I have learned to speak since then!

'Duo' by Roxanne Swentzell, photo courtesy Roxanne Swentzell.

Why did you choose to represent the figure of the koshare?

As a Pueblo woman, born in Taos, and raised in New Mexico, I have been part of that culture all my life, and my art reflects those influences. The koshares, the Pueblo clowns, serve to balance things in the pueblo. They relay messages to the community that other people cannot say, but the koshare can, better than anyone. The clowns reflect something people need to see about themselves. Like when someone is greedy:  instead of shouting, the clown will sit in front of his house, and act like a greedy individual, collecting rocks -- and will transmit his message to that person by doing so. That is what I try to do in my work.

Koshare on a jug by Roxanne Swentzell, photo courtesy Roxanne Swentzell.

Your work is tightly related to clay and mud -- can you talk about your materials?

I work with the clay, which I fire. But now, as a farmer, a builder, I am getting more raw with it -- my house is in adobe. Mud, adobe, are everywhere in my life: my hands are in mud all the time! So I want to merge them more. Building with adobe mud is exciting. But I can also sculpt with it -- there is something special about a well-crafted sculpture, made of dried mud, because it crosses boundaries. Usually, fine arts are removed from the ordinary, but making fine art with materials you can relate to is exciting. Starting from your backyard. That is why I chose to sculpt mud.

'Community' by Roxanne Swentzell, photo courtesy Roxanne Swentzell.

How do you see your evolution, as an artist?

It is important to tell our own stories. We all have a story -- a profound, amazing journey in life. So, whenever I have caught the moment well enough, and have been present in that story, and in that moment -- that, to me, is a successful evolution. 

'Kossa Light' by Roxanne Swentzell, photo courtesy Roxanne Swentzell.
'My Crucifix' by Roxanne Swentzell, photo courtesy Roxanne Swentzell.
'Bridge' by Roxanne Swentzell, photo courtesy Roxanne Swentzell.
Sculpture by Roxanne Swentzell, photo courtesy Roxanne Swentzell.
'Rope Clown' by Roxanne Swentzell, photo courtesy Roxanne Swentzell.
Sculpture by Roxanne Swentzell, photo courtesy Roxanne Swentzell.
A bronzesculpture by Roxanne Swentzell keeps watch outside the Tower in Pojoaque. Photo courtesy Roxanne Swentzell.
Roxanne Swentzell. Photo by Dominique Godreche.

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Comments

jane osti's picture
jane osti
Submitted by jane osti on
Love your work, have loved and admired it for years. Jane osti, Cherokee potter/sculptor.

Vswan06@yahoo's picture
Vswan06@yahoo
Submitted by Vswan06@yahoo on
Beautiful!

Jean Nordlund's picture
Jean Nordlund
Submitted by Jean Nordlund on
Very evocative sculpture. I am glad to know about the Koshare and what these clowns meant in the Pablo culture.

Robert Vogstad Lupdaagaa's picture
Robert Vogstad ...
Submitted by Robert Vogstad ... on
Your art is inspiring and earthy, sensitive and beautiful! Haaw'a
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