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November 10, 2015

The Indian Arts & Crafts Board: Otellie Loloma

Cast in bronze and resting on a marble base, Hopi-Hoya by Otellie Loloma (Hopi, 1921–93) won two awards at the Second Scottsdale National Indian Arts Exhibition in 1963—first prize in sculpture and wood carving and the Charles de Young Elkus Memorial Award for “the most outstanding piece of Indian arts and crafts which is new in material, technique, or design.”[1] 

261879 loloma hopi-hoya
Otellie Loloma (Hopi, 1921–93), Hopi–Hoya, 1963. Arizona. Cast bronze on a marble base; 47.7 x 11.7 x 10.1 cm. Purchased from the artist in 1963 by representatives of the Indian Arts and Crafts Board. Indian Arts and Crafts Board Collection, Department of the Interior, at the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution. NMAI 26/1879

The juried competition received 372 entries that year, and the exhibition's chair, Paul Huldermann, noted that a number of artworks reflected new styles and techniques.[2] Hopi-Hoya, which was purchased directly from the artist by the Indian Arts and Crafts Board, depicts a Hopi child with long hair leaning forward with arms crossed behind its back. Later that year, Loloma entered three bronze sculptures and one clay figure into the juried Indian Annual exhibition at the Philbrook Museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Muowi (Young Bride), Loloma's terra cotta of a Hopi bride draped in a cotton wedding robe, won first place in the sculpture category. The Philbrook purchased the work for its permanent collection.[3]

Otellie Pasiyava was born in 1921 at Second Mesa on the Hopi Reservation in Arizona. As a child she created “doll-like sculptures out of clay” while spending time with her grandmother.[4] In about 1942 she married the painter Charles Loloma (Hopi, 1921–91), who later became a celebrated jewelry artist. Otellie Loloma began formal training in ceramics in 1947 after she received a scholarship and Charles used the G.I. Bill to study at the new School for American Craftsmen, then part of Alfred University in western New York.[5] After finishing the two-year program, the couple returned to Arizona and in 1956 opened a pottery shop in Scottsdale where they marketed a line of ceramic dishes called Lolomaware.[6]

In 1959 Otellie Loloma became one of the first instructors for the Southwestern Indian Art Project at the University of Arizona at Tucson. That project led in 1962 to the establishment of the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) in Santa Fe, where Loloma was again one of the first faculty members hired. She instructed students in ceramics and painting and occasionally taught dance with textile artist Josephine Myers Wapp (Comanche, 1912–2014).[7] 

Jacquie Stevens (Winnebago, b. 1949), a ceramicist who is well known for her large, asymmetrical vessels, calls Loloma a mentor. Stevens enrolled at the IAIA as a museum studies student until a ceramics course from Loloma changed the direction of her education. She reflects:

It must have been fate that made me take a class taught by Otellie. It was like I returned home; clay became my expression. Otellie taught me that each pot has its own life, personality, character, and form—and that is what set me free. Pottery is like people, every one is different and not perfect. I thought about this and decided it was an important idea. So I developed a new way, an unconventional way, of looking at form.[8]  

Two ceramic artworks by Loloma are represented in the Indian Arts and Crafts Board Headquarters Collection, both purchased in 1965.[9] Her figurative sculpture Desert Bird is both wheel-thrown and hand-built of stoneware. The sculpture is delightfully textural with marks from Loloma's fingers and palms forming the bird’s feathers and wings. She finished the piece by stringing clay and glass beads to its feathers. The other ceramic work, a cylindrical vase of glazed stoneware, was thrown on a wheel. Loloma then incised abstracted figures of people, plants, and rain clouds around the exterior.

259286 loloma—bird


Left: Otellie Loloma (Hopi, 1921–93), Desert Bird, 1965. Arizona. Stoneware; glass, shell, and stone beads; twine; 31.5 x 22.9 x 26.1 cm. NMAI 25/9286. Below: Otellie Loloma (Hopi, 1921–93), vase, 1964. Santa Fe, New Mexico. Incised, glazed stoneware, 16.9 x 15.7 cm. NMAI 25/9245.

259245 loloma

Both: Purchased in 1965 by representatives of the Indian Arts and Crafts Board  from the Department of the Interior Indian Craft Shop, Washington, D.C. Indian Arts and Crafts Board Collection, Department of the Interior, at the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution.


While she acknowledged that Hopi cosmology influenced her work, Loloma revealed that “no one Hopi [person] would probably recognize that they are Hopi figures because I have done it all from my own imagination.”[10] Hopi stories provided inspiration for her work but never sources for duplication. Loloma felt at ease using several ceramic techniques and materials. During a 1968 exhibition of her work in Washington, D.C., actor and art collector Vincent Price noted that Loloma created “beautifully realized sculptures [that reflect] a great awareness of the techniques at her disposal today.”[11] 

A member of the IAIA faculty until her retirement in 1988, Loloma taught generations of Native American artists. Students of Loloma's whose work can be seen in the collections of the National Museum of the American Indian include Peter B. Jones (Onondaga/Seneca, b. 1947), Dan Namingha (Hopi–Tewa, b. 1950), and Robert Tenorio (Santo Domingo, b. 1950). 

After her passing, fellow artist and IAIA instructor James McGrath dedicated a poem to Loloma, one verse of which reads,

I think of her pots,
    of the fullness inside 
    where treasures are held, 
    secure and loved in their silence.[12]

—Anya Montiel

Anya Montiel (Tohono O'odham/Mexican) is a PhD candidate at Yale University and a curatorial research fellow at the National Museum of the American Indian. This post is part of a series Anya is writing on the Indian Arts and Crafts Board Headquarters Collection at the museum. 


[1] “Prizes and Awards,” Second Scottsdale National Indian Arts Exhibition (Scottsdale AZ: Executive House, 1963), 3. The memorial award is named for Charles de Young Elkus (1881–1963), a San Francisco lawyer who was a Native rights advocate and a collector of Native arts.

[2] Ibid, 2.

[3] Christina Burke, curator of Native American and non-Western art, Philbrook Museum of Art, email conversation with Anya Montiel, 5 November 2015.

[4] Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, “Women of Cedar, Sweetgrass, and Sage,” Women’s Studies Quarterly 15, no. 1/2 (Spring–Summer 1987), 41.

[5] Later Otellie Loloma also attended Northern Arizona University and the College of Santa Fe.

[6] The couple divorced in 1965.

[7] Loloma and Wapp performed at the White House and at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City with students from the IAIA.

[8] Susan Peterson, “The Legacy of Generations: Pottery by Contemporary American Indian Women,” in Women Artists of the American West, Susan R. Ressler ed. (Jefferson NC: McFarland & Company, 2003), 110.

[9] The National Museum of the American Indian has another work by Loloma in the collection, a watercolor painting that was donated by Charles and Ruth Elkus in the 1950s.

[10] Smith, 41.

[11] Vincent Price, “Introduction,” Three from Santa Fe (Washington DC: Center for Arts of Indian America, 1968).

[12] James McGrath, “A Song for Otellie,” At the Edgelessness of Light: Poems (Santa Fe NM: Sunstone Press, 2005), 38.

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