Focus / Santa Fe June / July 2004

“Abstract Kachina Image I,” bronze, edition of 12, 18 X 18 1/2 X 3 1/4


Arlo Namingha takes his artistic birthright to a new level.



Few artists in the world have a family history to equal that of Arlo Namingha. Fewer still are capable of building on such a heritage and establishing their own vision. Namingha has accomplished this, not by breaking with his family traditions, but by carrying them forward in a style that is uniquely his.

All of Namingha’s sculptures seem monumental, even though individual works may be modest in size. They gently but authoritatively command the space around them. Each composition makes a clear statement. Each element seems inevitable. Every curve, every angle, every plane is brought to its most intense, lucid expression.

Behind each piece is the weight of the entire Tewa-Hopi civilization, honed down to its abstract essence. Landscape, architecture, and ceremony have been the constants of daily life for untold centuries. The distinctive forms of the mesa, the pueblo, and the human figure have become one entity, a visual reality elevated to a sacred level.

Namingha grew up in that integral environment. He was raised at San Juan pueblo, his mother’s home village north of Santa Fe, and frequently visited his father’s parents at Hopi, in Arizona. He remained at San Juan with his relatives until he graduated from high school, then joined his parents, who had moved to Santa Fe several years earlier. He continues to participate in the community life and the ceremonies of his people.

Namingha’s paternal grandmother, Dextra Nampeyo Quotskuyva, is the best known potter at Hopi. Her distinctive work carries forward the Sikyatki style introduced by her great-grandmother Nampeyo (1860-1942), who was the first nationally famous Indian artist. Dextra is the matriarch of today’s generation of Nampeyo potters.

Her son, Dan Namingha, is Arlo’s father. Everyone who is familiar with art knows that Dan is an internationally renowned painter and sculptor with a long history of achievements and honors. Arlo was included in trips to museums and exhibitions all over the world. He grew up in the studio, watching his father work. As a toddler, when no one was looking, he even made certain critical additions of his own to a work in progress.
“Hano Mana,” bronze, edition of 8, 39" x12" x12"
“Palhik Mana #1,” bronze, edition of 15,
14 3/4 x5 1/2 x4 1/2
“Chanter XI,” bubinga and curly maple, 37" x17" x12 1/4"
Only recently did he complete his first formal collaboration with his father. It was a small sculpture of a family called Looking to the Future. Commissioned by the New Mexico Community Foundation, the piece is presented as an award to recognize the contributions of families with long ties to New Mexico. “We already talk about doing more collaborative work down the road,” says Namingha.

When he moved to Santa Fe a dozen years ago, he enrolled in college with an eye toward becoming an architect. “The most exciting part was the drafting courses,” he recalls.“I still use those influences in making maquettes and scaling them up to larger fabricated pieces. I enjoy that process.”

During that time, his parents encouraged him to work at Niman Fine Art, the gallery operated by the Namingha family. “That opened my eyes to a whole other world,” he remembers. “It was an easy transition. Working in the business and setting up exhibitions was a unique introduction to the art world. Many of the clients have become friends over the years.” Quietly, he began to create his own art. “What made me decide to concentrate,” he explains, “was being in the gallery. Interacting with people was a real growing experience. I was able to explain my father’s art from his own point of view. I felt fortunate to see things that my father missed. Once, for instance, I was showing some ladies what his pieces meant, and it brought tears to their eyes. Seeing that reaction brought me to a definite decision.”
An added impetus came from the encouragement of his wife Nicole, with whom he discusses his work in depth. Nicole is a talented beadwork artist who also works at Niman.
Namingha’s original work was a series of kachinas carved in wood. They were somewhat traditional in form, yet had a beautiful abstract quality and a luminous presence. Soon he started to expand and elaborate on his ideas. “I tore down the literal images I was doing, ”he explains,“ and rebuilt them as simple form and movement. I learned to use texture and contrast to recreate what I see, but to express it as an idea, rather than as a narrative figure. Texture is important, like vertical carving for rainfall and horizontal lines for clouds. Shadows provide contrast. I use depth and texture to replace line and color.”

Namingha ranges freely throughout many mediums, including wood and bronze, for his freestanding pieces. He has also been doing some wall-mounted sculptures, which came about because a client asked for a bas relief mantelpiece installation.

He enjoys the support of a highly trained group of individuals who complete various steps of the casting and fabrication processes. Two of them do strictly molds and waxes. Some only do the casting, some the welding and chasing, and some the patinas. Some create bases for the sculpture. All have become close friends. “It’s different from working in a big foundry,” comments Namingha. “It’s more personal and more efficient. I can participate and experiment every step of the way.” Namingha frequently consults with his father when he is working on a new idea. Perhaps the major link between the two artists is the joy they experience with their work, both in the process and in the accomplishment. Arlo Namingha exhibits at galleries in New York, Colorado, and Arizona. His art has been featured at the International Center in San Antonio, Texas, and at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York. The Montclair Art Museum in New Jersey has also acquired two of his pieces for their permanent collection. His future renown seems assured, for he is among the most dedicated, clear, and conscious artists working today. Arlo will be having a one man exhibition at Niman Fine Art July 16 through August 6, 2004.
“Dance,” bass wood, 29 3/4" x 8 1/4" x 7"
also available in bronze
“Chanters #I,” poplar wood, 20 1/4" x 15 1/4" x 21/2"
also available in bronze

Arlo Namingha’s work is exhibited at Niman Fine Art, half a block north of the Plaza at 125 Lincoln Avenue. Hours: 10:00- 5:00,Tuesday-Saturday and by appointment. An opening reception will be held July 16, 2004 from 5:30-7:30 p.m. (505) 988-5091.,
FOCUS/SANTA FE June/July 2004
Suzanne Deats has been a Santa Fe-based arts writer for over twenty years. She has written or edited a dozen books and has written hundreds of articles for various periodicals.