Donna Carey considers her current success as a jeweler a blessing. She’s excited about her line of shadowbox jewelry and is taking her work to a new level as a fellow in the First People’s Fund emerging artists program.
Despite these successes, Carey initially struggled to find her artistic niche. The daughter of famed mosaic artist Angie Owen, she intended to follow in her mother’s footsteps but eventually realized she might never reach an equal level as a mosaic artist. Still, “it was very hard for me to branch out into silver work,” she says.
Years earlier, jeweler Stella Naranjo taught Carey the basics of silver work. Carey initially hated it. “Everything I put a torch to, I melted. It wasn’t until later, in my early 20s, that I became interested in doing silver work. I’ve had a love for it ever since.”
She learned the craft by working in a Montana silversmith’s design room, going solo in 1997 to create elegant bracelets, necklaces, and belt buckles of silver and vibrant stones. “The art comes together in the spiritual sense,” Carey says. “All of the designs represent something the spirits have given to us, like food, strength, and courage, the basic necessities of life.”
Carey is represented by Naranjo’s Gallery, Albuquerque, NM; Gallery 10, Santa Fe, NM; the Buffalo Bill Museum, Cody, WY; and the Heard Museum, Phoenix, AZ.
What started as a casual art project on a borrowed bowl has blossomed into an innovative way for Ernest Selina to support his young family and honor his Hopi culture. Selina etches kachina images onto bowls, spoons, and other objects instead of carving conventional dolls. He says the innovative carvings still carry spiritual meanings, despite their alternative format. “The kachinas keep our families together,” Selina says. “Kachinas are representations of our gods. We pray to them and believe in them.”
Selina hails from a long line of kachina carvers, but he was the only one of his 11 siblings who didn’t work on the dolls. Growing up, this distinction made him feel separate from his family. Still, Hopi culture remains an integral part of his life. He cherishes memories of reservation life in Second Mesa, AZ: his initiation, the wisdom of tribal elders, bow-and-arrow competitions, and singing songs for rain. As an adult, Selina began helping his brothers by designing or painting kachinas, praying to one of his deceased brothers to show him a way to support his family.
His prayers were answered one day when he began sanding, drawing, and painting one of his sister’s dog bowls. Pleased with the result, Selina made the rounds to numerous Santa Fe galleries. That was three years ago. Today, his pieces continue to wow collectors and, perhaps most importantly, provide a vital link to his heritage. “I feel very fortunate to be able to do this and teach my kids about the kachina and what the designs mean,” says Selina. He is represented by Kiva Fine Art, Santa Fe, NM.
Acoma potter Rachel Concho could be a wealthy woman. Collectors are known to purchase her pottery even before it hits gallery display cases. “I could be driving a Mercedes if I sold my pots for a high price,” Concho says with a laugh. “But it’s not about the money. It’s about the fact that I want people to buy the pottery and enjoy it.”
Concho feels grateful to be able to do something that connects her with others, particularly loved ones. “I’ve had a lot of heartache, a lot of deaths in my family,” she says. “When I do my pottery, I don’t think about it. To me, pottery-making is like therapy. Making pottery comes from my heart.”
Concho learned from her mother, who employed a laborious pottery-making process. Concho replicates this technique, gathering clay from a sacred spot on a mountain and hand-coiling the pots using gourds. She polishes with a stone passed down from her grandmother.The results are pots with intricate motifs—some geometric, some depicting animals or humans. All possess a contemporary feel yet venerate Concho’s roots.
Concho has no regrets about honoring her ancestors’ path. “When I first started, everybody said I was crazy,” she recalls. “I said I’d be more crazy if I didn’t do what I really wanted to do.” She is represented by Kiva Fine Art, Santa Fe, NM, and the Wheelwright Museum Trading Post, Santa Fe, NM.
Featured in “Artists to Watch” August 2001