fig. 17: Jody Folwell
Photograph by Chad Penhallow.


Jody Folwell, born at Santa Clara Pueblo in 1942, is one of the best-known of the avant-garde potters. She consistently finds new ways to draw attention to controversial political and social issues through her remarkably plainspoken pots. Her works are meant not as utilitarian pottery, but exclusively as works of art.

One of nine children in the accomplished Naranjo family, Jody is one of the most renowned American Indian clay-workers. She is known for the many innovations she has instigated in the art of the pot. Her mother, Rose, is an accomplished potter.

Lee Cohen, the now deceased owner of Gallery 10 in Santa Fe, told me not long ago that he thought Jody Folwell was the first Indian artist to make good, innovative, off-round, uneven-lipped, asymmetrical polished pots. He referred to Jody as the "first impressionist potter" and said her ideas were very different from those of anyone else working in clay. He thought this even then, over twenty years ago, when Jody was just beginning to make these types of pots. "She was flying in the face of resistance," Lee said, "and she will always be on the edge fighting the odds."

fig. 18: Iran Contra÷Ollie, Hero or Idiot, 1986-87.
By Jody Folwell. Redware; 16"x10" dia.
Courtesy of Eleanor Tulman Hancock Inc., North American Indian Art.
Photograph by Allan Finkelman, © 1996.

Lee met Jody at the Santa Fe Indian Market before he had a gallery. He bought a group of Jody's asymmetrical pots from her and told her he felt she was making a breakthrough in her work. An architect by trade, Lee had a good eye for form and design; he eventually opened an Indian art gallery in Scottsdale, Arizona, and was an early champion of Jody's unusual pots. "Lee was touched by God," says Jody. "I believe he was one of the clay spirits."

Jody has become known as a nationally prominent artist and was from the beginning promoted by Lee as such, not necessarily as an American Indian, but rather as a contemporary American artist.

Having probably always had a deep sense of social injustice, Jody believes in making statements, both in her speech and with clay. She senses that times are changing constantly, and she tries to keep up with the changes enough to make statements that will affect people. In a culture where harmony is a most valued element, Jody has taken on a challenging role.

We sit quietly looking at the special jar with a dog design Jody has made for the exhibition. This piece calls to my mind Jody's belief in the importance of bringing personal values into her work, in this case her compassion for animals. To Jody, accomplishment is important; it is vital that you work until you drop and that you be connected outside your own self. Living between two worlds, as she does, has given this remarkable artist unique insight.

fig. 19: Lidded jar with dog motif, 1996, by Jody Folwell.
Redware; 24"x13" dia. Collection of the artist.
Photograph by Craig Smith.

Jody's satirical pots are so well designed and executed that the casual viewer may not be aware of the significance of the decoration. Jody often uses words, letters, or parts of words as symbols on the surface of the clay or integrated with the form. Each pot of this kind has an important story, a real reason for being, and it is probable that most collectors who buy such pieces have some understanding of her meaning.

Each of Jody's clayworks is vastly different from the others; there is no repetition for the sake of repetition here. Some of the pieces are beautiful for the finely polished surface and the gracefully incised designs embellished with colorations from the bonfire. Others are caustic, with satirical elements illustrating the statement she wishes to impart. Still others are contrasts in matte and shine or in colors, or sit precariously in light of their width. Each piece has a life of its own. Jody will tell you that's where all of the power exists.

"I do not think of my work as pottery," she admits. "I think of each piece as an artwork that has something to say on its own, a statement about life. I think of myself as being a contemporary potter and a traditionalist at the same time. Combining the two is very emotional and exciting to me."

Jean Bad Moccasin

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All text © Susan Peterson.
Edited by Susan Ressler, based on compilation
© 1997 Abbeville Press and The National Museum of Women in the Arts.