By Dottie Indyke
Duane Maktima was studying education at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff when a dean suggested that he switch his major to art. For Maktima, the notion was slightly absurd. “I thought art was a hobby,” the 47-year-old remembers.
His reaction was understandable. Growing up in the tiny Arizona towns of Homer and Winslow under the tutelage of his Hopi and Laguna Pueblo relatives, Maktima learned a native language that contained no word for art. His grandfather and father taught him to paint and carve, but these “artworks” were referred to simply as “blessings.”
The dean, however, had seen Maktima’s artwork and was insistent. Maktima dutifully, if skeptically, switched majors. In the college’s art building, the first room he stumbled upon was the jewelry lab. Once he laid eyes on the cases lined with jewelry and the bent heads of working students, he was hooked. “It was like my whole future flashed before my eyes,” he recalls.
Maktima was disappointed to learn that a year of prerequisites was required before he could work with the metal and stones. Ultimately, however, the courses in design, drawing, and art history laid a foundation that has enriched the artist’s life in infinite ways. “At first I thought the art program was too structured,” Maktima recalls with a chuckle. “I thought to myself, ‘We Indians do it differently, but I’ll follow along with the white man’s way.’ But the art history made me realize how much heritage I had. All that formal background paid off.”
Still, it took a decade for Maktima to complete his degree. He left college to work as a resident artist at the nearby Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff. At only 19 years old he was given a studio and a stipend to make jewelry that was snapped up by museum visitors from around the world. Eventually overwhelmed by the pressure, he embarked on a personal journey, spending more than three years at Laguna Pueblo immersing himself in his mother’s community and ancestry. Strapped for cash, he was offered a lucrative job working in the pueblo’s uranium mine but backed out at the last moment. “I didn’t feel right about it,” Maktima says. “The lack of integrity made me question who I was.”
His father, an employee of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Arizona, got Maktima a job as a surveyor’s helper. Every day Maktima walked the country, from Second Mesa to Black Mesa and nearly all the way to Tuba City. During those long and beautiful hours, he came to deeply appreciate his heritage and also to acknowledge his longing to complete his education.
When Maktima returned to college in Flagstaff, it was an exciting time to be a Native American artist. The fresh, contemporary influences of giants such as Allan Houser and R.C. Gorman inspired Maktima to craft large metal sculptures. His research into the history of African and Indian art led him to create spiritually based jewelry, which he made with beads and shell-work mosaics, motifs from Hopi pottery, hollow silver tubes, gold, lapis, turquoise, and red coral. In 1982, Maktima applied for and received the second-ever fellowship from the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts. He moved to Santa Fe a year later.
The past 17 years have been good to Maktima. His brooches, buckles, and other exquisite jewelry have been featured in some of the best Native American galleries in the Southwest. For a time he ran his own gallery. An active community leader, he has influenced innumerable young people to pursue a career in art through his role as a mentor and teacher at Taos Pueblo and the Institute of American Indian Arts. One of his lifelong goals is to elevate Native American jewelry to the level of fine craft.
Northern Arizona University honored the artist with its 1990 Jubilee Centennial Alumni Award, a 2000 Distinguished Achievement Award, and membership in its President’s Circle. Maktima credits his achievements to his education and his family. “To me, I have accomplished something my ancestors would be proud of,” Maktima says. “I can hear my Grandpa saying, ‘You’ve really learned something. You’ve really excelled with what God gave you.’”
Maktima’s work may be seen at the Heard Museum gift shop in Phoenix, AZ; Faust Gallery, Scottsdale, AZ; and at www.duane maktima.com.
Featured in “Native Arts” October 2000