The Norman Transcript

September 13, 2013

Christine McHorse exhibit at Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art fearlessly weds tradition and imagination

By Doug Hill
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Santa Fe artist Christine Nofchissey McHorse fearlessly weds the traditions of pottery and sculpture into ceramic works that challenge the imagination in upcoming Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art exhibit

Breaking things in a ceramics studio is not usually how artist’s careers are made. In Christine McHorse’s case, shattering the archetype of Native American pottery has sent reverberations throughout the art world and achieved her international success.

Now, the series of ceramics that contributed to this sensation are being exhibited during “Dark Light: the Micaceous Ceramics of Christine Nofchissey McHorse” at the University of Oklahoma’s Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, Sept. 14 to Jan. 12, 2014. A total of 18 ceramic works and 13 drawings will be on display.

McHorse’s paradigm-busting saga began in earnest nearly two decades ago. In 1995 she entered one of her innovative ceramic pieces in the sculpture division of Santa Fe, N.M.’s highly competitive Indian Market art competition. Historically winners in the sculpture category had been men working with heavy important bronze or beautifully colored marble, evocative of art over past centuries. She won the prize for best sculpture which was a first for a potter and a woman.

McHorse had simply ignored pretension, discounted any potential misogyny among the judges and allowed her own three-dimensional artistic imagination to rise to a new level. This work has often puzzled other artists where she resides in New Mexico and among Indian art work collectors. Her pieces don’t necessarily suggest that they were rendered by a Native American.

McHorse was raised in a family of nine children by parents who encouraged intellectual curiosity and unbridled creativity.

“My older sisters Alberta and Arlene were always doing arts and crafts projects,” McHorse said. “Painting, making beadwork, their own Christmas cards and teaching me all that they knew.”

The young women listened to classical music, read books then discussed them and taught their little sister to play tennis.

“I had great mentoring from them as well as my dad and mom,” McHorse said. “They taught me that the world is my oyster and it didn’t stop there — you have the whole universe.”

When she was only 14 the older sisters persuaded their parents to let Christine leave their home in Arizona and join them as students at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe. McHorse became a jewelry maker there, graduated and did post graduate work. She met Joel McHorse who became her husband and they went to live for a time with his grandmother, Lena Archuleta, in Taos pueblo.

Archuleta taught McHorse to make pottery that they sold in her curio shop. They went for excursions into the nearby mountains to dig for the mica-flecked clay that McHorse has continued to use throughout her career. Soon the young married couple moved to Santa Fe.

As a wife, and then mother, her creative spirit and sense of aesthetic freedom soared. She worked in the Navajo pottery style which was in stark contrast to the prevalent New Mexico pueblo kind around her.

McHorse grew up in a family whose motto is “Boredom should not exist.” It’s a motivating factor for her and she began intrepidly crossing artistic boundaries to escape monotony. McHorse took to creating the unexpected shapes, mass and lines that distinguish her Dark Light series. Recognition for her remarkable and unconventional work started coming from outside the United States. Her work demonstrates a universal appeal that’s gratifying to the artist because of her openness to other cultures and art of all types. McHorse has managed to break ground internationally while maintaining the fundamental use of micaceous clay from her roots.

There’s a sense of limitless possibility in the Dark Light pieces that alternately may suggest architecture, human or animal form and the shifting patterns in clouds and trees. The glistening nature of the shiny clay adds a further dimension to the pieces capable of creating an other-worldly aura. “Spine” (2010) looks not so much to be a vertebrae column as a plant sprout in fantastic curlicue form. The sinuously twisting shape seems to defy the notion that it was engineered in what’s essentially mud.

Currently McHorse is hearing the muses’ call to venture further into uncharted territory. It won’t be surprising if what she fires in the future looks nothing like what she has created since the turn of the century. Most of her current work is on commission from collectors who desire art in the familiar McHorse style.

“I’m getting a lot of recognition now for some of my signature pieces,” she said. “But you know what? It’s time for me to move on.”