Ortiz has shared with us his interpretation of a traditional storyteller, a figurative vehicle that came about as the railroads brought “civilized culture” to the American West. Storytellers were reflections of opera singers, circus performers, railroad workers, or clergy, and they were very popular until the objects of inspiration realized the storytellers were interpretations of them. Displeased with the reflection, the storyteller figures lost favor, lost momentum, and were almost lost. Even now many texts suggest that pueblo storytellers originated in the 1960s. Not so! Now Ortiz pushes the storyteller figure through a much-loved sci-fi lens. If you feel the power of scale and implied movement in the surface decoration, you are seeing the history of sacred geometry, the history of a clan once removed in order to simultaneously protect, preserve, and celebrate a people, and a craft, which has been repeatedly threatened with extinction. There is something intangible yet visceral about the weight of this kind of history. We are witnessing an interpretation, but we are also witnessing an ordained lineage that is altogether separate from the pluralism underscoring many of the other works in the exhibition.
The youngest of six children, Ortiz grew up in a creative environment in which storytelling, collecting clay, gathering wild plants, and producing figurative pottery was part of everyday life. His grandmother, Laurencita Herrera, and his mother, Seferina Ortiz, were both renowned Pueblo potters and part of an ongoing matrilineal heritage. “I didn’t even know it was art that was being produced while I was growing up,” he remembers.
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