Glass isn’t typically the first material that folks associate with Indigenous artwork. And yet, the medium lends itself well to unique cultural interpretations, combining fundamental elements of earth, air, and fire with generational artistry. Native artists have been drawn to glassblowing since the 1970s, utilizing it to reinterpret traditional forms and tell thoroughly modern stories. Host Charlotte Jusinski explores the hypnotic beauty on display at Clearly Indigenous: Native Visions Reimagined in Glass at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture (MIAC), the first exhibition of its kind on view until June 2022.

Joining Charlotte are her co-host for this episode Dr. Matthew Martinez, interim director of the museum, and Robert “Spooner” Marcus, one of the glassblowers featured in the exhibit. The two men share a bond that stretches back to their childhood on the reservation in Ohkay Owingeh, NM, an experience that informs their perspectives on art and colors this conversation.  

This is perhaps one of the most aesthetically beautiful exhibitions ever to grace Santa Fe’s cultural landscape. That’s saying something given the city’s renowned collection of museums. Visitors to Clearly Indigenous descend from MIAC’s bright galleries into a dimly lit space, a journey that feels almost subterranean, forcing the senses to adjust to a new environment. This darkness emphasizes the molten glow emanating from within some of these intensely fragile pieces and recalls their beginnings in a blazing furnace. The effect casts a regal air over the entire exhibit.

Juxtapose the majestic characteristics of glass with the personable, often irreverent nature of its artists. Spooner is warm and easygoing despite working with this daunting, often dangerous material. “Glass is a very fickle thing,” he says. “If you don’t respond to what it’s doing, then it’s not going to cooperate.” That Zen-like approach to his craft was born when he answered a newspaper ad for a production line glassblower––no experience necessary. Spooner’s earliest pieces were juice cups, fashioned assembly line style over and over again. But the utilitarian end product didn’t diminish the allure of working with glass. “I walked into the shop, there’s this big furnace that’s blazing. and I basically did not turn back. I really knew from that moment that it was going to be in my life for a relatively long time.” 

Twenty years later, Spooner’s technique-driven work is on display at MIAC alongside 32 fellow Indigenous glass artists in an exhibition that includes pieces by Dale Chihuly, the artist credited with bringing the medium to Indian Country. Clearly Indigenous highlights an immense range of forms and the ways in which glass can reference the past while remaining wholly modern. Spooner agrees. He hopes the show inspires others to become better acquainted with the methods and magic of glass art. “It’s that spark, that interest in creating that hopefully an exhibit like this [creates]. Somebody will see it and say, ‘Hey, you know, I want to try doing this!’ or maybe buy a piece of glass or go take a lesson.”
Clearly Indigenous: Native Visions Reimagined in Glass is at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture through June 16, 2022. To learn more about Robert “Spooner” Marcus, visit his website and follow him on Instagram. Connect with Dr. Matthew Martinez via LinkedIn. Explore glass blowing classes and experiences in Santa Fe at Prairie Dog Glass.

Encounter Culture, a production of the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs, is produced and edited by Andrea Klunder at The Creative Impostor Studios.
Hosted by Charlotte Jusinski
Technical Director: Edwin R. Ruiz at Mondo Machine
Recording Engineer: Kabby at Kabby Sound Studios in Santa Fe
Executive Producer:  Daniel Zillmann
Theme Music: D’Santi Nava

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