Re­mem­bered in cal­ico

Col­lage artist Alex Ja­cobs

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO -

For the last 25 years, Ak­we­sasne Mo­hawk artist Alex Ja­cobs has been com­ing to Santa Fe, liv­ing here off and on as a poet, writer, and vis­ual artist. Al­though his work in the vis­ual arts has slowed down, hav­ing taken a back seat to a busy free­lance writ­ing life, he comes to We Are the Seeds, show­cas­ing some of his own work at the indige­nous art fair and shar­ing space with his niece Mar­garet Ja­cobs.

He has par­tic­i­pated in read­ings and po­etry slams across the coun­try and cur­rently writes for In­dian Coun­try To­day Me­dia Net­work. De­scended from a fam­ily of quil­ters, his own art prac­tice hon­ors that legacy while adding a Pop Art di­men­sion. Ja­cobs works in fab­ric col­lage us­ing found ma­te­ri­als and cal­ico tex­tiles. His in­ter­est in col­lage came slowly, af­ter his stu­dent days at the In­sti­tute of Amer­i­can In­dian Arts and then at the Kansas City Art In­sti­tute in the 1970s. “When I got to IAIA, Al­lan Houser had just left and Carl Ponca took over the paint­ing and sculp­ture depart­ment,” Ja­cobs said. “Peo­ple like T.C. Can­non, Earl Biss, and Kevin Red Star were still around cam­pus, and I met all of them and hung out with them. T.C. was very big at that time. They were paint­ing mu­rals, and I had a mu­ral up, but I think it’s gone now. The paint­ing class was just too full and the same thing with sculp­ture. It was full of Nava­jos and Apaches carv­ing stone. There was no more room at the ta­bles and no more tools. So Carl Ponca said to go check out the back pad where there were all these aban­doned pieces. That’s how my mixed-me­dia started.”

At IAIA, Ja­cobs stud­ied clay, print­mak­ing, and ex­per­i­men­tal paint­ing, the last prac­tice in­flu­enc­ing the di­rec­tion of his later work, which in­cludes vivid por­traits and land­scapes made us­ing a com­bi­na­tion of found tex­tiles, com­mer­cial ad­ver­tis­ing, and acrylic paints. In the 1990s, Ja­cobs re­turned to Santa Fe to work at his alma mater, which was then un­der the di­rec­tor­ship of Rick Hill. “I was a starv­ing artist in Santa Fe,” he said. “When my con­tract was up, I stayed out here.” At IAIA he came across a pile of old ad­ver­tise­ments and pack­ag­ing show­ing Na­tive peo­ple in stereo­typ­i­cal guises, such as the maiden on Land O’ Lakes but­ter and the feather-head­dress por­trait of a Plains chief on the pack­ag­ing for Nat­u­ral Amer­i­can Spirit cig­a­rettes. Fa­mil­iar with Na­tive

ledger drawings, typ­i­cally made on ledger pa­per, he took the ads and, in Pop Art style, in­cor­po­rated them into his work. “I started by do­ing a back­ground of Amer­i­can Spirit, Land O’ Lakes But­ter, and some­thing called Big Chief pret­zels,” he said. “Com­mer­cial back­grounds are ro­man­tic or fan­ta­sized. Then I would make what I called the real In­di­ans out of real ma­te­rial, what they ac­tu­ally wore.”

When he started out, he was in­flu­enced by the work of Na­tive artist Stan Natchez, who used real cur­rency as a back­ground in some of his works, and a younger artist named Mar­cus Cad­man who does ledger-themed works us­ing bingo cards in­stead of ledger pa­pers. “What I do is a con­tin­u­a­tion of these col­lage artists,” Ja­cobs said.

Ja­cobs hails from up­state New York, close to the Cana­dian border, tra­di­tion­ally the ter­ri­tory of the Ak­we­sasne Mo­hawk. “My mother and grand­mother were well-known quil­ters,” he said. “I took my mom’s scraps, which was ex­actly what I needed for my work. It was my mother’s calicos that re­ally made it for me, be­cause it was some­thing tra­di­tional, some­thing from home. All of this was a free re­source, the com­mer­cial pack­ag­ing and the calicos, and I com­bined it with what I learned at IAIA in ex­per­i­men­tal paint­ing. Over the years, I ac­tu­ally got to work with my mother side by side. I would do col­lage in the kitchen, and she’d be quilting in the den. When my mom passed away, I in­her­ited my grand­mother’s calicos and my mother’s ma­te­ri­als. Us­ing them be­came al­most a ther­apy.” — Michael Abatemarco

Fa­ther River, 2011, mixed me­dia


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