He raised the genetic bar

Turtle made for the 1974 Santa Fe Indian Market. Around the sides are sgraffito deer and lizards alternating with nine inset Indian Mountain turquoise. The three bands of shell hei-shi and single strand of turquoise define the edge of lid. The lid is one piece with a sculpted lizard rising off the surface and two pieces of turquoise inset on its back. Signature: DA, Lid: DA Santa Fe Indian Market 1974. 10”w x 8”w x 8”h. Collection of Roz and Gene Meieran.

     (PNAN-NM) – On view through December 31 at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture in Santa Fe, “Creative Spark: The Life and Art of Tony Da” is the artist’s first comprehensive museum retrospective of works that consists of the largest group of Da’s paintings and pottery ever gathered in one place. Spanning the 1950s to the 1980s, the show includes rarely seen paintings and pottery, from public and private collections, ranging from red, black and polychromatic jars and plates to bears and turtles.

     “We are honored to present this groundbreaking exhibition…Tony Da’s bold innovations have inspired so many young artists today. Tony took Native American art to new heights and his legacy lives on,” said Museum Director Shelby Tisdale.

Photo for the 1967 Three Generations exhibition in Washington, D.C. Maria Martinez and her son Popovi Da are shown with their pottery while Tony is standing by his painting.

     Growing up with a celebrated father, Popovi Da and grandparents, Julian and Maria Martinez, the exhibition reveals a seamless genetic thread that began with Tony Da’s (pronounced day) grandparents on San Ildefonso Pueblo north of Santa Fe. Edgar Lee Hewett, founding director of the Museum of New Mexico, and an archaeologist by training, asked potter Maria Martinez to use sherds he had excavated in 1909 as patterns for full-scale examples of polychrome pottery. In their experiments, Maria and her husband Julian discovered a way to create a black-on-black matte finish. With Maria shaping the pieces and Julian painting them, Native American art took a direction leading it into the world of fine art.

     In the 1940s and ‘50s, Popovi Da innovated by adding bits of heishi and turquoise to the pots; perfecting a gunmetal finish; reviving polychrome pottery; and scratching designs into the surface after firing called: sgraffito. He also built a shop on the Pueblo and displayed the family’s works not on Indian rugs as most traders did, but on glass shelves befitting their growing status as fine art.

THE ANTELOPE 1977. As a colorist Tony Da increased the detail, spacing and complexity of his designs to contrast against the subtle colors of his background geometrics. Collection Joe and Cindy Tanner

     In his fifteen years as an artist, Tony Da raised Pueblo pottery to new contemporary art     heights, surpassing his father by adding turquoise, mother-of-pearl, even silver. He brought his painter’s hand to the intricacy of sgraffito. He dabbled with the firing process, even introducing the blow torch as a potter’s tool.

     “Everyone picked up on what he was doing,” said Richard Spivey, co-author with Charles King of a book being published in conjunction with the exhibition. “He was always doing something different. He was the first one to really break from tradition. It was a lot for people to accept at first, but very quickly it became sensational.”

     Da isolated himself in his studio for long periods of time and while the output may have been astounding, the amount of work he sold was scant, however collected and on view are 22 paintings and 45 pots that speaks to the limitations of perfection in his short career because in 1982, Tony sustained severe head injuries in a motorcycle accident. Although he was no longer able to make pottery, he continued to paint while living in a care facility until his passing on February 12, 2008. 

"Deer Worshipper"

     For more information, see www.museumofnewmexico.org. Their collections consists of unparalleled holdings of approximately ten million archaeological, ethnographic and fine art pieces, spanning from 9,500 B.C. to the present, and representing Pueblo, Navajo, Apache and other Southwest indigenous cultures.




Published by on February 2011. Filed under Archives, Art-to-Art Marketplace Guide, At the Museums dept, PaletteBoards Section. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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