"Wisdom Keepers" bronzes by Star Liana York

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Introduction It is very rare to have the privilege of knowing an artist from the time when they are young, eager college graduates through their mature years. Star was one of those young artists whose trajectory was obviously spiraling upward toward mastery and “star”dom. Not only did she possess a stunning talent, she was also a gifted businesswoman; a critical piece of the success equation. Many of you will remember that in 1973, President Nixon signed into law, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) to train workers and provide them with jobs. As Visual Arts Specialist for the Maryland National Parks and Planning Commission (MNCPPC) I applied for and received funds to provide studio space and materials for 12 young artists in Maryland. Star was one that I selected. She was thrilled to have work space and materials with which to create her early bronzes. Of the 12 artists in the program, she was the quiet, hard-working one. She quickly learned the tricks of reaching out to her collectors and fans – who have become long-term followers and collectors of her work. Through these decades, our relationship has faded in and out, as with most friends who are busy artists. I have been so proud of Star’s career, her shows, and her steady rise in the art world to an artist of distinction and intelligence. She is a true artist whose talents and interests are continually growing and changing. Her work tells us her story in bronze.

the Ridgeway Report Autumn 2014 showcasing master artists to a worldwide audience ©2014 all rights reserved information: bridgesfnm@aol.com

When, in 1996, I moved to Santa Fe to enter the serious art market that distinguishes this city, Star took me under her wing, helping me find a wonderful studio and introducing me to a retinue of good friends and colleagues. We had a good laugh when she declared, “Now, Bette, don’t forget that 50% of your time should be spent marketing your art”. That was MY line all those years ago to that group of 12! Now our paths have crossed again, as we work together on her re-branding, which includes a dazzling new website, an exhibition catalog, a quarterly newsletter, a film, a coffee-table book and more. Interest in her art is expanding exponentially, and she is generating a following that spans many generations. Star’s love of life, her passion for her work and her animals, along with her boundless curiosity in all things new and challenging, has driven her career in amazing ways. Imagine the joy of being invited into the inner circles of a Native American tribal ceremony, to get to know her subjects who communicate the wisdom of the ages! The artist and creative spirit that she embodies inspires all who are lucky enough to be a part of her world. This new exhibition, “Wisdom Keepers” is a stunner - a culmination of a career that is beyond amazing. Congratulations my dear Star for your generosity of spirit and your continuing inspiration. And, brava, to Shanan Campbell Wells, owner of Sorrel Sky Galleries in Durango and Santa Fe for sharing “Wisdom Keepers” with us, and for her decades-long representation of Star Liana York. Bette Ridgeway Artist and Editor, the Ridgeway Report

A Collection of Bronze Sculpture by Star Liana York

Presented by Sorrel Sky Gallery Santa Fe, NM

“Star Liana York's latest series portrays the knowledge, wisdom, and tradition passed down from older generations to the young. In this special event, Star explores the meaning of our Wisdom Keepers in a technology driven world.”. Shanan Campbell Wells Owner, Sorrel Sky Galleries Durango and Santa Fe

Visit us on the web: www.sorelsky.com Click HERE for map and directions. Click HERE to see our “Wisdom Keepers” FILM

The artist communicates her story with bronze. After moving to the Southwest in 1985, she has created a vast body of work that reflects her boundless interest in people, animals, environment and history of the region. This exhibition showcases only a small fraction of her stunning life’s work.

In this exhibition of “Wisdom Keepers� I have carefully selected my favorite works that celebrate those who steward the fundamental knowledge for living a rewarding and expansive life. Using Native American Imagery as a vehicle for expressing certain themes carries great symbolic and emotional impact. The Western myth is very much a part of our collective psyche as Americans and, as such, communicates a strong message. There are many wise prophets throughout time, and there are those who keep and pass down this wisdom through the ages. When a character emerges from a work I am sculpting, I feel touched at a deeply intimate, subconscious level. It is the essence in a work of art that makes it intensely personal and entirely universal at the same time. As I created these Wisdom Keepers, I was struck by the consistently emerging quality of their strength, compassion and spiritual depth.

“Maria Martinez: The Art Spirit� Bronze Edition of 35 H 25 in x W 21 in x D 21 in Weight 75 lbs.

When I was initially asked to create a portrait of Maria Martinez for the Millicent Rogers Museum in Taos, NM, I was a bit anxious. I had never seen a photo of the most famous Indian potter in history that revealed anything about her character. However, the museum director gave me access to their extensive archives and I began my search. Eventually, I was rewarded after sifting through stacks of old photos...there is was, a candid shot of Maria looking up with a smile in an unguarded moment. Her eyes sparkled beyond the faded photograph. I began the clay, allowing myself plenty of time in case it was a struggle to get her just right. As I worked, I thought about this talented artist, born in 1887, and growing up in the San Ildefonso Pueblo. At that time and in that culture opportunities were vastly different. Maria must have been a powerfully strong spirit to excel as an artist. I tend to sculpt at night when the demands of the ranch and business recede with the fading light. In the still of those evenings, I remember feeling a presence that was companionable.

Photo: Wendy McEahern

“Fabric of Life” Suite The suite consists of four sculptures that reflect the four seasons: Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter. Each represents a stage in the creation of a wool weaving. . . . from the raising of the sheep to the blanket’s use. Interwoven is the life of a Navajo woman, going from child, mother, grandmother and finally elder, I will call her Nizhoni.

“Spring” Bronze Edition of 35 H 28in x W 16 in x D 16in Weight 70 lbs.

In this first sculpture Nizhoni learns to care for and nurture the sheep and their lambs. From this responsibility comes an understanding of the rhythms of nature. Even today Navajo children raised in the cities are often returned to the reservation to live with and learn from the grandparents for a period of time. Having the experience of their traditional old ways that are the backbone of their culture can give them a strong foundation for life. Tending sheep is a valuable chore to the family that is part of this education. This is the beginning of the young girl’s life, as it is the necessary beginning stage of the creation of the wool for weaving.

Photo: Wendy McEahern

“Summer: Spinning” Bronze edition of 35 15 " x 13 " x 12.5 " Weight 50 lbs.

Part of the process of turning wool into weavable yarn is drawing out the “carded” wool after shearing the sheep into thinner, finer thread. It requires pulling the wool thru fingers with a twirling motion as it is wound onto a spindle. Nizhoni has become a young mother who teaches her own daughters by example as her mother showed her and her mother did her, going back generations. Before weaving into intricate patterns, the yarn may be dyed with natural pigments. These patterns are developed from a sense of aesthetic influenced by the dramatic beauty of the surrounding desert environment. The symbols used also reflect their beliefs & myths. Often the design may tell a story of either the tribe or family history that also incorporates their cultural values.. So, not only does this mother pass along the skill of creating yarn and weaving fabric, but also she teaches the symbology of their culture.

Photo: Wendy McEahern

“Autumn: To Market� Bronze Edition of 35 H 25.5in x W 25 in x D 10 in Weight 120 lbs.

A mature woman and weaving artist at this stage of her life, Nizhoni travels to market with the weavings of her family. She is a mother with her own grown daughter now, and she proudly carries the precious cargo of three generations: her mother's, her daughter's and her own....blankets woven from their own hands with skill, care, and love.

Photo: Wendy McEahern

“Winter: Warmth” Bronze Edition of 35 H 25.5in x W 25 in x D 10 in. Weight 120 lbs.

Nizhoni, with her husband, has reached elder status, and together they walked thru the golden years of their full lives. He wraps the beloved blanket over her; the weaving she finished with such pride so many years ago. In their faces are the lines that tell the story of lives well lived. Shared was much love and laughter, despite hardships, and they now face their last years with peace and contentment. The weaving warms them, shelters them, and connects them — an art piece from her heart and hands; an integral part of who they are and the life they’ve shared. “We are strands on a weaving, woven by the sun, threaded by the moon; designed by the dreams of the stars”. ~ Anonymous

Photo: Wendy McEahern

“Grandma's Gifts” Bronze edition of 35 Approx. H 3 in x W 3 in x D 3 in Weight 50 lbs.

Whether seen as gifts of the dolls, or gifts of her stories that pass the legacy of their people to the younger generation. The essence of this sculpture is the value of this giving relationship between grandmother and child. The elders of all cultures are the wisdom keepers… those that can pass down invaluable lessons thru stories, legends, and example. In Pueblo cultures of the Southwest, such elders instill a sense of virtue, self worth, and tribal pride thru stories involving deities called Kachina’s. These Kachinas play a crucial role in the survival and spirituality of the people. Kachina dolls are given to young girls to help teach them the significance of various deities. Here the “mudheads”, the “koshare”, and the kachina “mother” and “maiden” represent the traditional tribal dolls. To acknowledge the outside influences in today’s Pueblo cultures, a teddy bear and sock monkey join the audience that listen with the granddaughter to ancient legends.

Photo: Wendy McEahern

“Pinto Begay� Bronze edition of 35 Approx. H 25 in x W 10 in x D 6in Weight 50 lbs.

"There is more to sculpting Native faces than high cheekbones," Star has said. "To do it successfully, you must create a sense of inner character. The piece must have an expression that reflects the way that person thinks of himself, and his place in the universe." Star's sculpture , "Pinto Begay," is a good illustration of this approach. He is a Navajo medicine man bedecked in jewelry he has received in payment for his healing talents. But his posture and stance, with a hint of swagger, remind us that stature has little to do with size. And his gaze radiates the confidence of someone in possession of extraordinary powers.

“Elk Dreamer� Bronze ed. 35 Approx.: H 30 in x W7 in x D 8 in Weight: 40 lbs.

From the earliest hunter-gatherers to the complex tribal clans that still exist in parts of the world today, one can observe evidence of people deeply involved in the maintenance of a beneficent relationship with Animal Spirits. Essential to this is the intervention of the shaman, or medicine man, who acts as the intermediary between the physical world and the mysterious universe of the supernatural. This shaman from the Sioux tribe derives his powerful medicine from Elk, which is the most sexually potent symbol in Sioux imagery; but he is supported by different animal helpers which are represented by coyote and ferret skins, hawk feathers, and many claws and herbs wrapped around his medicine hoop. A mask of softened elk hide silences his worldly self (shamans literally cannot speak when masked) so that the animal's essence emerges during the rituals. This costume - of an Elk Dreamer - was particularly fascinating to me because it strongly resembles the paintings of shamans found in the ancient rock paintings in Europe - confirming further the universality of the desire and attempt to achieve a spiritual connection with Animal Spirits.

“Dreamcatcher” Approx. Small H18 in Edition of 35 Medium: H 34in Edition of 35 Monument : H 8 in Edition of 15

A custom practiced by some Plains Indian tribes was fashioning a leather wrapped circle and tying string through its middle in the pattern of a spider web. An opening was left in the center of the web to which was attached various good luck charms. Fastening the talisman to the head of a cradleboard allowed the child’s good dreams to pass through the web’s hole, trapping the malevolent forces in the web. The Apache woman has traded for the talisman – called a Dreamcatcher – and views it in wonder and hope for her young child’s future . . .determined to give the child every advantage – using magic and mysticism to insure the child’s well being.

Photo: Wendy McEahern

“Lessons of the Spider Woman� Bronze ed. 35 H 20 in x W12 in x D16 in Weight: 40 lbs. Wintertime was storytelling time for the Navajo. In the evenings the children would eagerly gather around the fire in the hogan to listen to their grandparents relate tribal legends. Frequently the elders would illustrate figures in the tales with designs made from a piece of string. In this sculpture a grandmother is telling the tale of how the Navajo gods of creation made the stars as she begins to shape a star design out of a cat's cradle. According to Navajo mythology, when the other gods asked Black God to fill the dark night sky with stars to make it beautiful, he took a single bright crystal from a fawn-skin pouch and placed it precisely in the north. It became North Fire, the star that never moves, which guides the nighttime traveler. Next he placed other stars in patterns that formed the constellations. It was left to the supernatural spirit Spider Woman to teach the Dineh (Navajo for The People) the relationship of the stellar configurations to nature. From her they learned that by observing how the positions of the stars changed through the seasons they would know when to plant and when to harvest. String games were a popular form of amusement for the Navajo - but only in the months between October and April, "when the Spider People are at rest", says Navajo lore. Many a winter evening was pleasantly passed with a grandmother teaching her grandchildren the lessons of Spider Woman. Photo: Wendy McEahern

“Story Teller� Bronze ed. 35 Approx. 21 x 17 x 18"

Storytelling has always played an important role among Native Peoples. The storyteller is at the very center of any given culture, conveying important messages about history and identity. Values, such as respect for the natural world, love for elders and children, and the importance of family were passed along through stories. Oral narrative has been important to most cultures throughout the ages, but the Navajo have long, detailed cycles of stories that are still remembered by a few remaining elders even today. After attending some storytelling gatherings in Santa Fe and Albuquerque, Star decided the subject matter could offer a vehicle for depth of expression and meaning. Storytellers are performers, using a gesture of body and face to enhance appreciation of a story and stimulate the imagination of their listeners . . . when done well, it is a true art form, conveying through entertainment, key attitudes and morals of a culture. In this sculpture, a Navajo Grandfather is telling one of the many legends of the eagle . . . that regal bird being an important symbol in many Native American cultures. His hands describe the bird's ascension and one can easily imagine the scene as his listeners gather around the fire and the shadow of his hands cast against the hogan wall brings the bird to life for his audience in the dancing firelight. Photo: Wendy McEahern

“Te Ata� Bronze edition of 35 H 28 in x W 17 in x D 17 in Weight 85 lbs.

This sculpture is intended for the 9 foot monument to be installed at the Oklahoma State Capital Park in Oklahoma City. The plan is to create a park lined with historical figures from Oklahoma's past. The first chosen to be sculpted was Te Ata, a Chickasaw/ Choctaw woman who was an actress in the first half of the 20th century. She developed a play based on the life of her family and ancestors, intertwined with Oklahoma history. The show was so popular she performed all over the world, often for kings and queens of many different countries. She became an honored ambassador of our country's culture, basing her stage play on the oral tradition of storytelling.

Photo: Wendy McEahern

Spiritual Liaisons The creation of fetishes, effigies, and talismans goes back to the earliest evidence of mankind. The compulsion to make aesthetic objects displays the creative spark that distinguished Homo sapiens from Neanderthals; it is a unique providence of the human mind. First expressed in stone carvings and cave wall paintings from the Paleolithic Period, it has continued throughout the centuries and across all cultures. When mankind is in tune with the natural environment, he is acutely aware of the strengths inherent in other species in order to learn useful survival skills . . . such as the bear for finding healing herbs, the coyote for clever prowess, the deer for evasive tactics. By creating their likeness, the recreation becomes the physical embodiment for the particular characteristic the animal symbolizes for the maker. And, as every creature has it’s unique qualities, so have other elements such as stone, feather and bone, which when added to the fetish increases it’s significance. The object then has become the recipient vessel of the energy given it, spiritual liaison for the bearer, containing the energy. This magic spark can then be called upon when needed, whether it be courage, fortitude, clarity in vision or healing powers. As an extension of this most primal understanding that goes back to the very roots of our being, the artist feels that all objects of art contain an energy endowed by it’s maker. “It is this very mystery I wished to explore in this body of work, and encourage viewers to contemplate. It is partly influenced by those contemporary artists who have reminded me of these mysterious corners of my mind, but mostly by the ancients whose brilliance fascinates and inspires me above all, and on whose shoulders we all stand,” says the artist.

Top: “Bull Vessel” Bottom: Fetish: “Healing Bear”

Photos: Wendy McEahern

“Ancient Echo� Monument: Edition of 5 H 6ft x L 8 ft Maquette: Edition of 30 sold out

For a long time Star has been intrigued by Indian rock art - images pecked or painted on cliff and cave walls by Native Americans. For her, they not only represent a unique cultural and artistic heritage, they signify the first time in man's development that he applied a forward-looking imagination, and attempted to speak beyond the present, to the future. It was while hiking among the desert plateaus of western New Mexico with a former minister on the Laguna Pueblo who wanted to show her one of his "power spots" that Star first encountered the image that inspired "Ancient Echo". After trudging for several hours along desert sheep trails and scaling a steep talus slope, she found herself standing in an enormous amphitheater adorned with a variety of petroglyphs and pictographs. Dominating all the images was the immense drawing of what appeared to be a deer-in-velvet. Star was familiar with the crude stick-figures common to most Indian pictography, and was struck by the sophistication of the design, which was impressively rendered with style and subtlety. Because these "pictures of antiquity" cannot be exhibited in museums or galleries except in reproduction, and because Star felt that by adding select interpretive touches and giving the image a physical reality she could give this mysterious creature a new incarnation, extending its power and presence. It became the model for her next sculpture. It is also a sculpture which Star is reproducing in a larger scale, as a literal monument to "those silent images that

Like the artists before her, Star did not strive for an ideal likeness of her subject. The exchange of weight in the legs has been emphasized to accent body movement, the mouth has been opened wider to make it seem as if the beast were bellowing, and the eyes are hollowed to appear skull-like, giving the entire head a primal set, a ghostliness. As well, the rough surface texture of the cave wall is retained in the animal's coat which, juxtaposed to the simple lines and economical shape of the overall composition, present elements that often define contemporary art. While capturing the animal's spirit, Star has given the sculpture a timelessness, forming it a very ancient piece or very modern one, depending on which way you look at it.


Once I decided to sculpt my version of Kokopeli, I researched what stories and mythologies I could find so I could develop a sense of who this character must have been. A personality started to emerge that took very clear form as I began the sculpting in clay, and I was delighted to see he had a warm, engaging smile and a mischievous twinkle in his eye. I imagine he would have to have been smart, resourceful, and diplomatic at the very least to navigate thru suspicious tribes in the Southwestern lands far from his own culture, but to have impressed the Anazasi so much as to be consistently present in their imagery, even becoming their symbol of fertility, my guess he was also very, very alluring to the ladies.

Be sure to plan a return visit to Sorrel Sky Gallery to see “Kokopelli” in it’s final bronze form.

Santa Fe | Durango sorrelsky.com

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