The Call, clay, 5 1/2 diameter
As a boy, young Wallace was expected to rise before dawn and help with ranch chores. He came to know the calm beauty of the farm’s livestock and of the wildlife that would slink, stalk, or flutter through his grandfather’s land. “It was a great place to be a kid,” Nez says today. “I was always around horses, cows, chickens, you name it. Growing up on the ranch taught me a lot about doing your work, showing up no matter how you feel that day, and just getting on with things.”
Ranch life also gave him glimmerings of the allure of creativity. His grandmother, “probably the biggest influence on my life,” Nez says, was an artist, although not in any pretentious or self-indulgent way. “She was really practical,” he says. A rug weaver and basket maker, she confined her artistic efforts to those hours when ranch chores had been finished, which often meant late at night. “I remember staying up all night after she’d dyed new yarn,” Nez says. “We’d roll it into balls. It took hours.” Weaving gave his grandmother so much satisfaction, though, that Nez couldn’t begrudge her the work involved.
Center Path of Beauty, clay, 6 1/4 diameter
She taught him by quiet example that the most mundane of activities—the choosing of colors for yarn, the shaping of a basket—could become a form of grace. Beauty could be created by using simple materials. “She was a real artist,” Nez says. “She made something out of nothing. Doing that is a kind of miracle.”
To see a Wallace Nez pot is to want, almost irresistibly, to hold it. His pots are so tiny, so beguiling, so rounded, so elaborately decorated and pulsing with inner life that you can’t help longing to perch one lightly in your palm, as you might a newborn chick, and stare at it in wonder. His pots are astounding examples of both miniaturization and mature artistry.
Nez didn’t start out making tiny, fine-art vessels, though…
Featured in August 2007
Find the rest of this exciting article and moreby subscribing to Southwest Art magazine.