Jump Start Your Creativity and Visit a Show

by Layne Vickers Smith

Does your creativity need a jump start?  One way to give yourself a shot in the arm is to visit an exhibition.  For example, NMPCA member Juanita Dunn’s show last month in Santa Fe was an inspiration to many.  

Clay artists especially appreciated the techniques and inspiration behind “Heads of States,” the first public display of Juanita’s imaginative ceramic portrait sculptures now showing at Alumbramos Art Gallery on Canyon Road.  The show opened November 29.

Fifteen sculptures—nine men and six women—represent different ethnicities and heads of states ranging from a leader of an empire or a family circle or a prison. Most of her inspiration comes from faces she finds in old photographs and her love of rich fabrics and ornamentation which she recreates in clay. She sculpts in paper clay using coils and slabs. She applies texture, multiple layers of underglaze, glaze and final finishes. Many are fired six to eight times.

“This show was inspired by the many ways a ‘Head of State’ can be identified or imagined,” said Juanita. “Many times there are special head gears, hats, ribbons, hair ornaments, clothing or other accessories that signify special status. I spend many hours in construction and finishing and I want each one to stand as a unique individual with their own personality.’’

In the display, an Elizabethan queen wears real pearls in her head dress; an impish Nordic peasant wears a headdress of sticks and twigs, a Turkana woman’s clay fish atop her head. By contrast, the fierce Generalissimo needs no special ornamentation to show his strength as head of state.” Other characters include a Venetian cleric and shaman, German brewmaster, cocky Frenchman, and a clown who resembles one associated with well-known burger chain.

Which are her favorites? She confesses, “I just love old wrinkly men. They have so much character.”

But she admits the smooth-faced old Nordic peasant captivates her.” Juanita’s college roommate sent her an old photograph that inspired the creation of a woman with the sticks and twigs for a hat.

 “She’s my latest creation and the last thing I create is always my favorite. Isn’t that always the case?”

The Alumbramos Art Gallery, 901 B Canyon Road, is across from The Tea House. Owner Beatriz Posada can be reached at 505-469-3346. Most of the work from Juanita’s show remains to be seen at the gallery into the first months of 2020, even though the show closed at the end of December.


The author of this article, Layne Vickers Smith, is a long-time NMPCA member and former board member. As membership chair she recruited Juanita Dunn to join when both were enrolled in a Day of the Dead workshop at Santa Fe Clay.

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