Tammy Garcia

Tammy Garcia

Tammy Garcia

Your first fleeting glimpse of an artwork by Tammy Garcia may well register an impression that she works firmly in the tradition of the Santa Clara Pueblo. The zigzag, step, and swirl motifs she uses—on their own or to embellish renderings of birds, fish, and Native dancers—are similar to the deeply incised patterns on the surfaces of traditional coil pots made by her mother, Linda Cain, and her grandmother, Mary Cain, as well as Garcia’s aunts and uncles, all of whom are accomplished potters.

But dwell even a moment longer on any work by the prolific Garcia, and you soon realize that while she remains deeply connected to her roots, the artist has moved far beyond the pueblo and its traditions to stake out new creative territory that is entirely her own. In her hands, traditional motifs sometimes become minimalized in an almost Southwest-meets-Bauhaus style. Artistic mediums are shaken up in a delightfully disorienting way: Carefully designed patinas give bronze sculptures the look of Navajo jewelry. What appears to be black-glazed pottery is, in fact, blown and sandblasted glass.

“You can definitely see the cultural influences in what I do,” says Garcia. “But early on I realized that, to hold my interest, I needed to keep finding new imagery and to continually do something different.”

Her works are found across the country in the prestigious collections of the Heard Museum, the Eiteljorg Museum, the Autry National Center, the Rockwell Museum, the National Museum of Women in the Arts, and the National Museum of the American Indian. In her home state of New Mexico, you’ll see pieces by Garcia on display in the Albuquerque airport and in the Capitol Art Collection in Santa Fe. In 2008, she won the Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts.

But Garcia, with becoming modesty that belies her impressive achievements, won’t play that game. “I really don’t think about my goals,” she says. “I’m more about working in the moment. What I achieve at this time in my life will lead me wherever I end up.”

By Norman Kolpas for Southwest Art - Edited