by Mel Fenson
Working with only a simple set of tools to sculpt works of art from ancient alabaster, limestone and other types of stone, John Suazo, a renowned sculptor from the Taos Pueblo reveals his visions of Native American culture and spiritualism in his work, as he carefully and conservatively chips away each piece of stone.
John prefers to keep his life simple and works at his craft every day. He starts each day of work with a prayer to the Sun. He works both outdoors and in his small adobe studio, which is near his home on Pueblo land. He describes his studio as, “a circle of light , like the moon or the earth,” and observes that, “once inside you feel good.” His studio is situated in a picturesque and inspiring setting, surrounded by the sights and sounds of nature and guarded by Pueblo Peak, which rises high above Taos pueblo.
The purpose of John’s work, he explains, “ is to bring joy and happiness to those who want to see and touch (my work).” His sculptures reveal the images and spirits of animals, birds, fish, Taos Pueblo people and spirits. He says his stones guide him. He believes they are alive and want to tell him stories. As he works, he speaks with them and listens to their stories, which he combines with his own visions to, “harmoniously bring about an understanding between myself and my stones.”
Starting with no preconceived plan, John said, “I follow the flow and the shape of each stone I work with. The stones tell me what to sculpt.” As he begins working with a stone, he discovers a movement, which he said, “develops, and I get a feel for it and begin to see images in its colors.” John said he works fast. A large work may take only two weeks to complete.
John commented that he is inspired by the Mountains that surround Taos Pueblo and by the forms, shapes and movement of the clouds above. He remarked that his work is also influenced by what he envisions might have been the expressions of his people from earlier times. Although he likes to keep his work simple, John points out that, “it is hard work to achieve simplicity,” and he added, “the art of simplification can only be achieved when one has mastered the art after years of study and work.”
Among the various stone types John works with are gray, pink and white alabaster stones from Colorado and orange alabaster stones from Utah, which are among twelve different colors found there. He also works with limestone from Texas and Indiana, Italian travertine, Texas sandstone and other types of stone. He travels to quarries in Santa Fe and Fort Collins, Colorado to buy some of his stone and he also discovers stones in the surrounding mountains, hillsides, mesas and canyonlands. He remarked that he looks for unusual shapes, “that have awkward movement.”
Now in his late fifties, John has been sculpting stone since he was in his twenties, starting while he was a student at the University of New Mexico. He also studied painting at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe. John was inspired to try his hand at sculpting when he watched his uncle, Ralph Suazo, carve cedar.
Sculpting in wood at first, John then moved to stone. Stone is easier to work with than wood, John said. He estimates the sum total of his work now amounts to over 3,600 pieces. His sculptures range in size from small table top sizes to lifesize works that reach over six feet high - such as his life-size sculpture of Popé, who was the leader of the 1680 Pueblo Revolt.
John comes from a creative family. His mother, Jaunita, is a noted potter and his son, Warshaw, who is in his thirties, is beginning his career as a carver. His aunt Jerrie is also a well known potter and his cousin, Jonathan Warmday is a noted painter, who lives nearby on Pueblo land.
In 2006, John was honored with a 30-Year Retrospective at The University of New Mexico’s Harwood Museum of Art in Taos. The exhibition provided an overview of his 30-year career with an exhibit of 35 sculptures and a rare early paper-cast piece. Both small and large-scale works created by John were showcased - with sculptures in alabaster, marble, limestone and other stones. To accompany the exhibit, the museum published a 46-page color catalogue, which illustrated John’s impressive work; it was introduced by the well known southwest author, John Nichols, who wrote, The Milagro Beanfield War and other popular stories about the Southwest.
John’s work has been exhibited widely, including exhibitions at the Moscow Institute of Art and at the Fulgence Gallery in Paris, as well as locally at a store in the Pueblo village. Many people collect his work.
Currently, John’s work will be shown at a Native American artwork exhibit at Colorado State University in Ft. Collins, Colorado on November 5. The exhibit, which will be held at the Duhesa Art Lounge is part of the university’s Native American Heritage Month, which celebrates the work of contemporary Native American artists from the Southwest.
John will also be exhibiting in Tucson, Arizona, at the American Indian Exposition, which will be held at the Flamingo Hotel Ballroom from January 30 through February 11, 201I - as part of Tucson's annual Gem, Mineral and Fossil Show.
His work will also be part of
Art Show to be held at the Millicent Rogers Museum
in Taos in November.
Although he has achieved international recognition for his work, John continues to live on the Pueblo because, “life here is simple and straight, although hard at times." As John works quietly in his studio, chiseling a new piece of stone to discover what lies within, he is not alone. Ancient Pueblo spirits linger nearby, keeping an eye on John’s work, watching silently as hidden forms begin to reveal themselves in his stones.
John may be contacted