Deborah Jojola is the artist behind “Center of Creation,” the 2018 addition to the Pendleton Legendary series of blankets. An Isleta Pueblo and Jemez Pueblo Native American, Ms. Jojola is an expert in a variety of media, including painting, frescos, printmaking, ceramics, and bookmaking.
Her work is influenced by Surrealism, popular culture, Native culture, and her own personal experiences. She has received many prestigious awards, and is self-taught in her ongoing study of fresco, as part of her mission to bring back the lost art of Isleta Pueblo frescoes.
Said Jojola of Islaeta traditions, “There was a pottery tradition, but it died out. There are contemporary artists that do the contemporary pottery, but it is only taught to family members. I see none in the collections of the many museums I visit. Basket weavers made willow baskets, but that medium is lost, too, no one weaves.” When Ms. Jojola was commissioned to produce a floor mural, she took it upon herself to research traditional designs on pots, kiva walls, and baskets. Her research led her to identify five key Isleta elements:
- Seed pod
- Wind and clouds
- Lightning/spirit arrow
- Seeds flying in the air/circle and dots, also used in body painting by dancers.
These five elements were associated with the nearly vanished pottery tradition. Ms. Jojola used them on the mural, then turned to the art of the fresco, revitalizing the process with these ancient Isleta designs.
To make a fresco, the artist starts with earthen plaster that she screens and cleans. She gets her earth from a nicely cultivated field in Pueblo Jemez. This has been an agricultural area for many thousands of years, and it’s been carefully tended and enriched to stay fertile, so the earth is super fine.
She mixes the earth with a secret ingredient recommended by her mother, a binder that combines the earthen plaster and binds it to the surface that she’s going to plaster. She always uses distilled water to keep her colors clear of chemical contamination.
A framed panel is covered with burlap, which she then covers with the earthen plaster. There also a fiber involved in the fresco; the panel’s wood has been milled, but the burlap has a “tooth” that the plaster adheres to.
She also incorporates mixed media into some of her work; for instance, “Center of Creation” used a lithographed paper border along the bottom. She works with diptychs (two-panels) for ease of transport.
“Center of Creation” is adapted from the first fresco to be entered in the Santa Fe Indian Market.
Here is the artist’s full explanation of the story told by this very special piece.
It takes two to marry and create life—the diptych is symbolic of that, because it’s two pieces. The cloud is picking up the seed and carrying it around, shown in the movement of the arrows from the earth. This is part of the growth of life, the flower-like passive movement of growing and moving.
The bottom border in the original piece that’s black on white, is actually a lithograph print done on Japanese paper, a contemporary piece. It’s placed directly above an earthen brown border. Old homes on the Pueblo have an earthen border, but it means more than that. We are Earth people. We are born from our Mother. The darkness is Mother Earth.
The two panels of the diptych do not quite touch. This is the center, the lifeline. For potters, the space where things don’t touch is the lifeline. This is the space for the breath that we all need to live. We were always here, and Creator gave us the original instructions on how to care for the earth and all its beings. The arrows symbolize sovereignty, instructions, and purpose to carry on the traditions of spiritual balance.
At the top of the design is the symbolic presence of wind, supported by the curvilinear spiral of life. Life is a spiral, and we have purpose in this life, and beyond this life.
Ms. Jojola is a fascinating person whose years as an artist and educator have involved her in so many artistic and curatorial projects. If you can hear her speak, make the time to listen. She has over 30 years of experience teaching, with time as an instructor at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, the Institute of American Indian Art, the Very Special Art of New Mexico, and OFF Center Community Arts, the East West Center in Honolulu, Hawaii, USA, and the Tamarind Institute. Ms. Jojola coordinated a Printmaking Exchange with Institute of American Indian Arts, Crow’s Shadows Institute in Pendleton, Oregon, USA and University of Sidney, Australia.
More information on her career and work can be found here:
See the blanket here: Center of Creation
And it’s also a beautiful mug! Center of Creation mug