The landscape that was home to the Ancient Ones (Anasazi) is shaped with majestic mountains and canyons made up of astonishing geological formations. The sky constantly reveals a story of vivid color, cloud patterns, and bright stars. On a clear night, one can see far to distant galaxies—deep blue spills behind the constellations. I imagine the life of these people, building sandstone structures into the valley walls and surviving entirely from what Earth has offered them. The architecture truly commanded my attention as an artist, embracing the thought that generations of people can live off of only the earth and its resources, still while developing a strong, resilient, and creative community who have left their traces to be discovered thousands of years later. The bold, angled and curved construction of the cliff dwellings built into the canyons were designed carefully by expert masons of sandstone. Mesa Verde, as well as many other places nearby the Canyons of the Ancients, contains these archaelogical sites that unfold ancient stories through sprawling artwork carved into rock faces, artifacts, and towering pueblos balanced on islands of stone.
The geometrically painted ceramic vessels made by the Ancestral Puebloans are another essential component to understanding their sense of creation. Not only is the precision and sense of design visually compelling, but one must also take into consideration the daily ritual crafted into the hand built pottery that was being produced by the communities. The process was utilitarian and selfless—no artist signed his or her pieces; however, their fingerprints are embedded into each coil. One can find several shards of black-on-white painted pottery in the piles of midden throughout the canyons—detritus from ancient Native American life: pieces of vessels, dippers, and sharpened arrowheads embedded into the land that have slept for over a thousand years.
I created several different types of artwork during my residency. I began by making a large piece with a clay I brought from Kansas City, which is called MesaMan, resembling an architectural figure influenced by Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde. When it was raw clay, it acquired the name RainChild. It has now been fired once again and treated with a chrome glaze finish, giving it the final title of PuebloPerson—a sculptural manifestation of an ancient architectural idea. After finding a source of quality clay in the McPhee Reservoir (a prominent archaeological excavation site), I decided to make a few small sculptures with the grey malleable clay from under the ground. They are simple beings—spirits and animals. The clay, once fired at a low temperature, turns to a bright, brilliant orange. If it is fired too high, it melts to a foamy, green goop. I plan attempt more, larger structures using this peculiar clay.
With countless photographs of the places I visited, I also began to experiment with digitally altering my photos on the computer. My sculptures became able to enter the landscapes and archaeological sites of the Canyons of the Ancients, and the LED pictures started to unfold an exciting story. Using tiles of geological samples, I arranged natural colors and patterns within the rocks and skies into my own tessellations and mandalas. They are sketches and paintings using a new technique and a sense of humor to illustrate future ideas. My artwork continues to be translated into digital media, which has given insight to new possibilities of things to create.
I was also granted the great privilege of working with Vince MacMillan, an archaeologist with the Bureau of Land Management and the Anasazi Heritage Center. He is currently working on a new method to document and archive artifacts, rock art sites, and Ancestral Puebloan towers with a process called photogrammetry. The technology includes taking hundreds of photos of an object or place from all perspectives of the piece. The photos are then entered into a computer program that renders all of the images together to create a 3D model of the artifact. Photogrammetry is being used to catalogue the museum's collection into a gallery of the art pieces and archaeological sites to be preserved and studied in the future without being affected by weather and decay. I have included a sample video, one of Lightning Tree Tower, and one of my sculptures, called the Volcano Vessel, which have been processed with photogrammetry. I believe this is a new platform for sculptural work, letting the viewer move the object as if it were weightless, zoom into high-definition detail, and experience the sculpture from all angles. Soon, the 3D model of my piece will be available in a downloadable PDF format. I plan to continue applying this technique to my artwork, and am currently incorporating photogrammetry into a computer animation that will be finished by the new year.
Thank you for your time and the phenomenal opportunity. I hope you enjoy my latest artwork. There is already more in the making, and I will continue to post updates to the Aldo & Leonardo blog!
Colorado Art Ranch
Aldo & Leopold: art + science
Artist in Residence: BLM
Canyons of the Ancients