May 06, 2018

Raven Makes Welcomes Cliff Fragua, Sculptor, and Leah Mata, Jewelry and Textile Artist

By Raven Makes
Cliff Fragua, Jemez Pueblo Sculptor Returns to Central Oregon with
Leah Mata, traditional and contemporary California Indian Jewelry and Textile artist.

Master sculptor Cliff Fragua taps the rocks that he might acquire, then listens for
ones that will resonate, sing back to him. This method of selection tells Cliff which
pieces are most likely to allow the forming and shaping to occur without fracturing.
The prized minerals of the earth, after millions of years of lying in quiet solitude,
sometimes find their way into the hands of humans. In a sense, once gathered, these rocks experience a kind of awakening. They are either left raw, destined for
individuals who seek the more organic appearance, or, they’re directed towards
sculptors who must now select a proper one for working. Rocks selected by Cliff will be once again placed in quiet solitude, this time in the remote juniper-forest foothills of Central New Mexico at Singing Stone Studio on the Jemez Pueblo.  When they emerge, transformed through tool and talent, they display an additional brilliance that gently intones treasure.

Cliff’s first visit, accompanied by Navajo musician and wood artist JJ Otero, to Central Oregon last spring provided a two-way flow of solid positive energy. The mountains, big trees, snow, and blue skies, and this was just the view--along with a sincerely curious and courteous public reception, struck such a strong chord within him that he offered to make a return visit. His sculptures—sometimes refined and elegant, sometimes bold and noble, other times abstract and graceful, and Cliff’s buoyant nature left people asking if he’d be coming back soon. Given this appreciation on both sides, Cliff will return for a show on Memorial Day weekend. To use Native American phraseology, a good hoop was made and now that circle must be honored and walked.

One of Cliff’s recent works, Gift from the Sea, received a Best of Show for Sculpture at the 2018 Heard Museum Show in Phoenix, Arizona. This prestigious event, one of the two most honored and acclaimed annual shows for Native American artists, is juried. Every artist has to apply and be accepted; there are no exceptions for former entrants or award winners. Of the thousands of artist applying each year, only 500 are chosen. Cliff has been chosen for over 30 consecutive years. In the sculpture division for 2018, he was one of seventy-five artists who competed.

Joining Cliff this year will be Leah Mata, his wife, who is a diverse mediums artist of
the Northern Chumash People of Central California. Leah works as a traditional
artist while creating contemporary living forms of regalia and jewelry, allowing
collectors the opportunity to experience the California Indian arts. In addition to a
B.A. in Anthropology and a Masters in Cultural Sustainability, she is an instructor at
the Institute of American Indian Art (IAIA), the four year art college for Native American students. Two years ago, at the other most prestigious annual Native American art show, The Santa Fe Indian Market held in mid-August, Leah and Cliff were married upon the main stage in a Sunday morning ceremony. 

Centuries ago, the People of what is today Central New Mexico and the People of Central California, never meet up in person. Yet, items developed by these region’s respective cultures would sometimes show up in the other’s far off villages. This occurred because of the extensive trade network throughout North America and, in particular, the Southwest and Pacific Coast. Coastal shell material from over a thousand years ago can be found today in ancient Puebloan sites of the Southwest. Conversely, turquoise, famously mined in the area of Chaco Canyon and Central New Mexico, made its way to the Western shores, in exchange for those shells or, possibly, other materials along the way that served as intermediary trade items.

Cliff and Leah have begun a collaborative study and artistic realization honoring this ancestral, extended trading relationship. Their first prototype works in this series will be on display at their show in Central Oregon, while select pieces will be formally entered into and offered at the Santa Fe Indian Market in August.

“We looked at some of our oldest material cultural items from both communities, and decided to take those items and move them forward into a contemporary design," Leah states.   "While doing this, we’ll be adhering to the foundation our relatives perfected generations ago.”  Cliff describes some of these actual works as “...antler tips embedded with shell and turquoise, then scrimshawed along the antler, creating pieces that can be used as hair pins.”

Cliff is also a leading force for art education within the American Indian
cultures. From President of the iconic and standard bearing Indian Arts and Crafts
Association (IACA) to being a sculpting instructor at IAWA and other venues, much
of his life has been dedicated to preparing the next generation to carry forward the
traditions of The Peoples through their respective artwork. 

Cliff and Leah will be holding their show at Raven Makes Gallery in Sisters, Oregon during the Memorial Day weekend. Their works will go on display at the Friday Artist Reception from 4 – 7 pm.