The Highlight of the Month program at The Indian Craft Shop focuses on a particular craft area, region or artist family/group. Our aim is to illustrate the diversity of tribal groups and the wide variety of artistic expressions and traditions in the country today.
Although Native artists have carved fetishes and figures for centuries, sculpture is still a relatively new art form for them -- and Jemez sculptor Cliff Fragua is one of the leading forces in this movement. His sculptures in stone and bronze are graceful and timeless. The flowing lines of his figures are reminiscent of the landscape of the Southwest -- rolling hills, stepped mesas and towering cliffs. Even the patinas on the bronzes reflect the pastel colors of the desert.
When asked how long he has been an artist, Cliff says, "all my life." He comes from generations of potters. His mother Juanita and sisters Glendora and Betty Jean are well known and respected potters. Its no wonder that several of his sculptures are of potters. "Pottery traditions are handed down from generation to generation . . . these sculptures honor that tradition," says Cliff.
This honoring of tradition and love for his culture is seen in all of Cliff's works. In an article in Southwest Art magazine, Cliff noted that "Because of my cultural background, I have to approach stone as an element of this universe. It has its own spirit, and I have to honor that spirit." Stone is his favorite medium of expression. "The honesty and purity of stone permits me to express myself from the heart," says Cliff.
As a child, Cliff learned to make pottery, but painting was what first captured his imagination. He studied painting at the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) in Santa Fe, and for a short time, at the San Francisco Arts Institute. "While at IAIA, I took a class on three-dimensional art to help with painting forms," says Cliff. "Sculpting stone felt so natural, I switched from painting to sculpture." At the Institute, Cliff studied under famed Apache sculptor Allen Houser
Since 1974, when he created his first stone sculpture, Fragua has created a significant body of work in stone and bronze that keeps evolving. Cliff was honored by the State of New Mexico which selected him to install a sculpture of Popé in Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. Established by Congress in 1864 to honor great Americans, each state was invited to install two sculptures in Statuary Hall. Popé was a Pueblo spiritual leader and strategist who unified the Pueblos in 1680 to revolt against Spanish domination, helping ensure the survival of the Pueblo culture. The sculpture will stand seven feet tall and be made of Tennessee marble.
Cliff uses marble, alabaster and steatite for his stone sculptures. He is best known for his sculptures of women, but also sculpts animals and abstracts. "I draw upon what I know culturally for my figures, although some of my work is strictly designed," says Cliff. "I like to play with design."
His work ranges from small tabletop sculptures to larger than life works. He has produced over 18 limited edition bronzes in the last three and a half years. Nine editions have sold out. Although the number varies, there are usually 30 bronzes in each edition. His sculptures are also featured in such public locations as the Albuquerque International Airport and in permanent collections throughout the country.
Cliff has one son, two daughters and four grandchildren. All are creative and talented says Cliff. His son is a graphic designer and youngest daughter creates pottery. He is active within his community and the community of Native sculptors. A former President of the Indian Arts and Crafts Association (IACA), he promotes Native-made arts wherever he goes. He is a co-founder of a new group, Indigenous Sculptors, who provide mutual support and help further the art form.
©The Indian Craft Shop 2002