LONNIE VIGIL (1950 - Present)
"The moment you let go of control, that is when the spirit comes in." Lonnie Vigil
Sparkling flecks of mica exist naturally in abundant clay deposits in the northern Rio Grande area and the Sangre de Cristo mountains of Northern New Mexico. The micaceous pottery tradition reached a watershed moment when a large vessel made by Lonnie Vigil became a finalist for the 1992 Santa Fe Indian Market’s highest award, its Best of Show award. From that moment forward, micaceous pottery, made routinely for culinary ware since at least AD 1300, entered the rarified arena of fine art.
As a child growing up in Nambe Pueblo, Lonnie Vigil’s family taught him that everything in this world has its rightful place in the grand scheme of things; even the pebble in the riverbed has its own resting place and should remain there.
Lonnie Vigil carries this awareness with him, and is a self-taught artist. His art holds the integrity of ancient beliefs and traditions, transmitted through his great grandmother, Perfilia Anaya, and those who came before her.
If the Western mind tends toward logic and cognitive learning, making us wise in some ways, the ultimate truth of existence may be more richly grasped when known intuitively.
Northern New Mexico is a land of extraordinary power and beauty that has been observed and honored spiritually for many generations by its Indigenous People. It is not difficult to appreciate how a rock could acquire the same holiness as a mountain or mesa. When man sees a flower, it generally reaches his attention laden with extraneous analytical concepts, and as such is not a flower in its archetypal essence, Tathātā, as a Buddhist would say, before words or ideas about it. For Lonnie and his forbears, reality is understood in its most fundamental quality; at the level of direct contact.
Lonnie Vigil’s art, the art of fashioning beautiful objects from mica-rich clays, carries a clarified grace that proceeds, not from the head only, but from the heart and soul, and from a deep knowing feeling. Like most true artists I am familiar with, Vigil makes his art because it nourishes his psyche. In 1982, feeling unsatisfied with his career, Lonnie left a well-paying job at the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington D.C. after only a year and a half. He had no sense of what lay ahead. “For several years, I was already feeling like there was something else I should be doing with my life. My job wasn’t satisfying, and I just didn’t see how I could continue doing it and feel alive.” Praying and meditating, “It was becoming clear to me that my intention was to serve as guardian of the clay and keep pottery making alive in my pueblo, and to share it with the world,” he recalls.
Lonnie Vigil returned to Nambe Pueblo, and the desire to create pottery grew, increasing as he began experimenting more-and-more with clay. “I think we all as human beings have the answers within ourselves. It’s just a matter of knowing how to access them,” he says.
Unadorned, gorgeously formed vessels that feel Classical in essence emerge as a result of the coil-and-scrape technique and open firing. But for the artist, micaceous clay, harvested with proper respect in the Springtime or Fall after the Earth has had quiet time to rest, is divine in its very being, a part of Mother Earth herself. The pulse of the living planet and its mystery enters into Vigil’s art. While his vessels are of this material universe, they also exist in a sophisticated dimension of their own, a place beyond space-time. The language of Lonnie’s creativity is elegant and subtle, and very difficult to participate in without the internal impulses handed down through generations of Native potters, including, of course, those Native potters before contact with Europeans. As viewers, we are allowed the privilege of seeing into the real being of Vigil’s art only when we drop the blind, mechanical eye of our habitual way of perception.
The artist, Lonnie Vigil, welcomes experimentation and boundary-pushing. Some of his work appears very contemporary on the surface. Yet perceived in his deceptively unaffected art is the sophistication of the first art, the art of Chauvet and her sister caves. Experiencing Vigil’s creations, in our blood we recall what must have been the emotions of our earliest ancestors playing with shape, symmetry, light and shadow, texture, color, beauty, and, yes, even the fire clouds so distinctive of Vigil’s vessels. Lonnie Vigil’s art touches us at the level of imagination, independently of meaning. We are gifted again with an event of surprise and delight, a joy that reaches almost beyond wonder, both back and forward in time into eternity.