Santa Fe New Mexican
Rina Naranjo Swentzell of Santa Clara Pueblo was a local hero, yet humble when you mentioned her accomplishments, which were many…

Santa Clara Pueblo Artist, Author and Scholar Rina Swentzell Walks On (1939-2015)

Alex Jacobs

Rina Naranjo Swentzell of Santa Clara Pueblo was a local hero, yet humble when you mentioned her accomplishments, which were many. Rina was an architect, a potter, a teacher, an author, a historian and a lecturer.

“She also was an activist for justice who wasn’t afraid to stand up to her own tribal council to argue for the rights of all people,” said her youngest daughter, Poem Swentzell.

Rina walked on Friday, October 30. She is mother to famed clay artist Roxanne Swentzell and grandmother to mixed media artist Rose Bean Simpson; Rina is survived by 4 children, 12 grandchildren and 6 great-grandchildren. She was born in Santa Clara Pueblo to Rose and Michael Naranjo; Rose Naranjo, who passed away in 2004, was a traditional Santa Clara potter and was named a Santa Fe Living Treasure.

Rina Swentzell earned her B.A. in Education and her M.A. in Architecture from New Mexico Highlands University in 1976. She earned her Ph.D. in American Studies in 1982 from the University of New Mexico, where she was also honored with an International Woman Award from UNM’s Women’s Studies Program in 1989. She became known as a writer and lecturer about Pueblo culture, lifeways and values, architecture and art. She was the subject of a feature on the KNME-TV art program “Colores” in 1990, entitled “Rina Swentzell: An Understated Sacredness” , in which she speaks about growing up in Santa Clara in the 1940s.

She authored the book, “Children of Clay: A Family of Pueblo Potters (We Are Still Here)” in 1993 and co-authored “To Touch the Past: The Painted Pottery of the Mimbres People” with J.J. Brody in 1996. She was a consultant to several museums, including the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe and the National Museum of the American Indian/The Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.; and she was a visiting lecturer at both Yale and Oxford in the 1990s.

Rina Swentzell became involved in Santa Clara politics, helping to organize a group called People for Membership, which fought for more inclusive membership rules for the pueblo. “She worked for the rights of everyone,” Poem Swentzell said.

Rina Swentzell is survived by daughter Poem who lives in Chupadero, daughter Roxanne, who lives in Santa Clara Pueblo, son Cleo Naranjo of Santa Clara Pueblo, daughter Athena Steen, who lives in southern Arizona.  Rina married Ralph Swentzell, who was a tutor at St. John’s College for 40 years, he passed away in 2005. The family said that a memorial will be held in the future.

Athena Steen is involved in The Canelo Project (a southwest architectural project) and featured her mother in “The Rina Swentzell House” . Rina moved back to Santa Clara Pueblo after living in Santa Fe for many years to be closer to her family. She and her family built a 700 square foot adobe home featured here at The Canelo Project. It is a loving warm tribute to Rina Swentzell and her family, a place to live and learn and love.

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bullbear's picture
Submitted by bullbear on
Deepest sympathies go out to the Rina Swentzell family and friends. The Indian art world has lost a truly remarkable individual who inspired countless individuals and placed pottery making on a incredibly high plane. Ms. Swentzell never swayed too far from her rich culture and yet always thirsted for education and those alone made proficient tools for a fulfilling life. With your spirit, New Mexico is truly etched as the land of enchantment .