Shortly after high school, Tony discovered his passion for glassworks, a fiery art that is a radical departure from the traditions of his people but also a return to his past. As you’ll see in his August 14th show, the works themselves reflect this duality by telling old stories in brilliant new ways.
Tony spent his childhood living mostly with his grandparents in Isleta Pueblo, NM. He would hunt and fish on the 155-acre reservation and help his grandfather work in his studio.
Tony’s grandpa was something of a Pueblo Indian Renaissance man. In the early 1920′s when electricity was scarce, he insisted on having power for his silversmith shop. He was also a woodcarver, a beekeeper and, by the time Tony knew him, a bit of a grouch.
“He was a very stern, very strict man,” says Tony. He would sit in his grandfather’s studio turning the blower on the forge while the man hammered away.
After high school, Tony had to choose his own artistic path. He was headed to the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA), and had already ruled out being a potter or a jeweler.When Tony finally landed on glassworks, it seemed a little peculiar at first. Clay is the medium of the Pueblo Indians, and molten glass can’t even be molded by human hands. Perhaps he’d caught the glass bug in the heat of his grandpa’s forge.
With this out-of-the-box new medium came an equally eye-opening education.
“It was all about the arts from a Native perspective,” he says. “Even art history was history from a Native’s point of view. We learned a lot of things that you don’t learn in public schools.”
After finishing at IAIA, Tony got a scholarship to attend the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts in Deer Isle, Maine and then studied and taught at the Pilchuck Glass School in Seattle, Washington. In Seattle he worked with and befriended renowned glass master Dale Chihuly, but he never let the history he learned at IAIA or the stories he was told by his family stray too far from his mind.
Tony returned to New Mexico in 1981. He’s been telling the stories of his people through glass ever since.
“What I’m doing I give up for those who went before me,” he says. “If it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t be here.”He sees his art as a cultural bridge from his ancestors to future generations. All of his pieces use traditional forms or motifs: vessels shaped like ollas and seed jars, sculptures of animals like thunderbirds, dragonflies and water serpents.
“It’s giving the stories a longer life,” says Tony Jojola. “Glass breakdown is like 10,000 years.”
Perhaps most telling is what’s on the surface of the glass. Tony honors his grandfather by using his father’s silver jewelry stamps on some of his glass vessels. He might be a high school dropout, but Tony is definitely a family man—and a glass master.
Tony Jojola’s glassworks exhibition runs from August 14th to August 27th. Join us on Friday, August 17th for a reception from 5pm- 7pm.
If purchasing a piece off the blog, mention that you found the piece on the blog and get a special discount!