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Native Americans in Paris

By Douglas Fairfield I The New Mexican

'In the 1980s, Europeans were absolutely fascinated with anything Indian, and for Indian artists it was a crazy time. We could have signed dirt, and they would have bought it," said artist Armond Lara, who is of Navajo and Mexican descent, in an interview at Shiprock Santa Fe. In 1984, Lara, Charles Loloma (1921-1992), and Fritz Scholder (1937-2005) showed together at tire annual Grand Palais exhibition in Paris - they were the only American artists invited to participate that year. It was as a time that Lara remembers as, indeed, grand. "I loved Paris immediately and returned to it for about 18 years after that. it was kind of a home away front home for me."

Unfortunately, moments in history cannot be relived. But if a moment holds special significance, even after 25 years, it should be celebrated. And that was the motivation for Grand Palais Revisited, an exhibition currently on view at Shiprock Santa Fe that reunites the three artists through their artwork. "While recently driving on Old Santa Fe Trail, Armond's small studio sign caught my eye, and from there the showjust took on t life of its own," said Jed Foutz, owner of Shiprock, who, after meeting with Lara, organized the exhibit. While he was reviewing Lara's portfolio, a photograph of the artist with Scholder and Loloma in Paris fell out of a file. "In true Armond fashion, he humbly downplayed the significance of the photo incl of the Paris exhibition. But the photo was the inspiration For the of the show,' Foutz said. 'When the three of us ai-rived in Part first thing Fritz wanted to do was as find a Mexican restaurant, and by God, we found one. And there we are in the photo "

The Shiprock show, consists of approximately 70 pieces and comprises signature paintings and prints by Scholder, a cross section of custom jewelry by Loloma, and mixed-media work by Lai a, including a group of marionettes depicting the Koshare clown — the mimic in Navajo culture in various guises. "I hope more people will [come to know] Armond Lara - the quiet one - and recognize his significance and place among those considered masters in their fields," said Foutz.

The names of Scholder and Loloma were well established more than three decades ago, admits Lara. "Back then, Fritz and Charles were like rock stars and living the life of one. They were both phenomenal artists. Charles set the pace for Indian jewelry, and I remember him telling me that on one occasion Tiffany wanted to see some of his designs. And Fritz, well, everybody knows about Fritz."

Blue rondo a là turquoise

Loloma, born near the village of Hotevilla, Arizona, on Third Mesa of the Hopi Reservation, began his career as a painter and muralist under the tutelage of Hopi artist Fred Kabotie. While still a student at Phoenix Indian School in Arizona, Kabotie invited Loloma to assist him in reproducing murals from the Awatovi site on the Hopi reservation for New York's Museum of Modern Art. Subsequently Loloma worked with Kabotie and René d'Harnoncourt (a champion of Indian and Mexican art, who later became director of MOMA) fit producing murals in the Federal Building for the Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco in 1939. Having served in the Army during World War II, the GI Bill allowed Loloma to study ceramics at the School for American Craftsmen at Alfred University in New York, during which time lie was awarded a Whitney Foundation Fellowship for ceramic research on the Hopi reservation. In 1954, Loloma and his wife, Otellie Pasivaya, opened a shop in Scottsdale, Arizona, where they sold his clay work, called Lolomaware.

The following year, Loloma turned to jewelry - for which he is best know - and his work was met with controversy. He was openly criticized by the Hopi community for using nontraditional material, such as lapis, ivory and gold - he was inspired by Egyptian jewelry as well as sugilite, pearls, diamonds, and wood combined with more accepted components of turquoise, coral, and silver. In fact, hi, early work was rejected from the Gallup Intertribal Art Show for three years running. But then he took first prize in jewelry at the Scottsdale National Indian Arts Exhibition seven years in a row. Other honor, included a residency in Japan in 1974 and a commissioned piece for the queen of Denmark; he was also the subject of a PBS film narrated by poet Rod McKuen. In short, Loloma was verily a star.

As Indian as I wanna be

Born in Breckenridge, Minnesota, Scholder spent his formative years in various locates in the Midwest. Once his artistic career took hold, his stardom as an Indian artist seemed to be immediate despite his love-hate relationship with his mixed heritage: German, French, Irish, English, and Luiseno. Indeed, he often disclaimed himself as an Indian artist and saw his work more in the mainstream of Anglo American and European contemporary art. In fact, while a student at Sacramento City College in California, his mentor was Wayne Thiebaud. a pre-Pop artist known for his thickly painted deadpan images of consumer goods such as gum-ball machines, cakes. and pastries. But it is Scholder's Indian imagery conceived from an insider's vantage point with an outsider's perspective - that brought him fame and fortune.

Combining techniques of Abstract Expressionism with Pop Art imagery as well as Bay Area figuration, Scholder's work struck a nerve within Native circles. Portraying drunken, distressed, and dying Indians seemed to violate an unwritten code among Indian artists; many believed that Scholder was blatantly disrespectful of Native culture. But a younger generation of indigenous painters championed Scholder for revealing certain truths about contemporary life on and off the reservation and for addressing the darker moments in Indian history.

Like Loloma, Scholder did not confine himself to a particular genre within Indian art. " [Scholders] new Indian art was different, speaking to Indian people about themselves, and speaking for Indian people to the non-Indian world," states Kevin Gover, director of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of the American Indian in Washington D C., in his foreword to Fritz Scholder INdian/Not Indian. Today, Scholder’s notoriety is acknowledged, and his art is highly sought after. Fritz Scholder was perhaps the most important maker of this new kind of Indian art, which grew from an intense time of war, national upheaval, and Indian activism. This art was not romantic. it was aggressive and challenging, both visually and conceptually, and it produced iconic images,” writes Gover. The year of the Grand Palais show, Scholder was elected as a member of the Salon d'Automne in Paris and was awarded an honorary doctorate in the visual arts from Wisconsin's Ripon College.

The world on a string

Born in 1939, Lara had at one time been employed in engineering and in the aerospace industry and did welding and mold-making. Subsequently, he studied art at the Colorado Institute of Art and the University of Washington in Seattle and worked with artists Helen Frankenthaler and Richard Diebenkorn. His eclectic background has produced a portfolio that stands apart from those of Loloma and Scholder for its handcrafted techniques and use of wood, handmade paper, found objects, and mixed media. His paintings and drawings not only display his adept draftsmanship in rendering the figure but also his willingness to incorporate threedimensional objects onto the surface of the canvas, particularly the use of beadwork. 'I remember asking my mother, a master header, to do some beadwork for me. But when I showed her how I used the beadwork in my collages and how I painted over her beadwork, she got very upset with me,” said Lara. "I thought she would bum my birth certificate! But she got over it once she knew I wasn't going to change my way of making art."

The subjects of Lara's marionettes are recognizable - Georgia O'Keeffe, Frida Kahle, Man Ray, Marcel Marceau, Andy Warhol, Salvador Dali, Mama Cass, and Billy the Kid among them. "One day about 10 years ago, I woke up and wanted to be a kid again," he said. "I remembered being fascinated by a Charlie McCarthy dummy that a friend got, and he wouldn't let me touch it. But it got me thinking how artists from different cultures made puppets and marionettes, so I started doing sketches of Pinocchio. And that got me started. I bought a set of carving tools at Sears and went for it. Ever since, my marionettes are truly an extension of me, more than my paintings or collages. They allow me to be that 10-year-old kid again."

Combining traditional Indian iconography with elements of pop culture, Lara uses the Koshare figure as a vehicle to bring notable individuals to life, some of whom Lara had the pleasure of meeting. "It was through Charles [Loloma] that I met Marcel Marceau in Paris, and we ended up trading drawings. In New York, I got on an elevator and there was Dali with his wife, so I introduced myself. And during Indian Market many years ago, O'Keeffe stopped by my booth with a friend, and she bought a couple of collage pieces." he said.

It was after Lara's first Indian Market in 1978 that he decided to relocate from Seattle, where he was a city planner, to Santa Fe, where he would become a full-time artist. "I was visiting my mother in Colorado, where I was born, and just happened on an application for Indian Market and I thought, why not? And when Indian Market came to a close, I knew this was the place for me. I called my two sons in Seattle, told them 'I'm staying,’ and sent them my house keys."

Whether in Paris or Santa Fe, Lara's work, along with that of Loloma and Scholder, has its place in the development of contemporary Indian art, "Each of us had maybe only six to eight pieces in that show at the Grand Palais, but it was fantastic," recalled Lara. "And the show at Shiprock is a real honor for me; it's like having a retrospective with friends.”

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