Artist Media Series
Virgil Ortiz is known for his innovative style of Cochiti pottery, inspired by the Monos figures made at the pueblo in the 1880s. As I wrote in the book, “Virgil Ortiz: Pueblo Revolt 1680/2180,
“This use of the figures for social commentary is where they derived their name, monos. The word is a colloquial blend of Spanish and Keres, with inexact definitions that range from “mimic,” “mocking,” or “cute” to “monkey.” While “monkey” might have suggested the elongated bodies and arms or the simplified open-mouthed faces of the figures, it was also a subtle racial pejorative aimed at their Cochiti makers.”
This is one of Virgil’s traditional clay figures made from native clay and painted with native clays and wild spinach (black). The figure has been traditionally fired. As noted the Monos figures were originally created as objects of social criticism and reflection and Virgil continues on this same path in his contemporary work. This figure has his arms raised and the body is painted with a bit of a wry smile, mustache, and beard. The body of the figure has wild spinach designs on the front and traditional Cochiti cloud patterns on the back. The arms and legs have rain and river designs. Around the center for the “belt” are sun designs. Note the “turkey tracks” on the backs of the ears! There is always something fun and almost mischievous on the faces of Virgil’s figures. As well, note how deeply the black fired on this piece! The earrings are also traditional red clay added after the firing. It is signed on the bottom, “Virgil Ortiz”. It is from 2006 and it is in excellent condition with no chips, cracks, restoration, or repair.
More on the Monos figures from “Virgil Ortiz: Revolution”.
The Monos figurative art from Cochiti Pueblo has a fascinating story of resilience, resistance, and revival. The historic Monos figures were made in Cochiti from around 1880 to about 1920. Their function was to provide social commentary in a world that was inundated by the new arrival of the railroads and an influx of “foreigners” to the region. “Cochiti potters engaged in social criticism, conducting a discourse, often through parody, on the changing occupants of the Pueblo World. Figures expressed the ways that potters viewed those who differed from themselves, and many are humorous or satirical.
Although the potters were predominantly women, the figures were mostly men and most often Spanish, New Mexican, or Anglo-American in descent and almost certainly depicted local wealthy merchants, cowboys, and priests. As a coping mechanism for the Cochiti potters, the figures were a subtle and subversive form of empowerment. The regional traveling circus or “freak shows” that came into the New Mexico Territory were also a source of inspiration. “Cochiti potters observed all kinds of people with whom they came into contact, and they recorded their impressions of them in clay in a way that communicated amusement, criticism, or simply an active interest in the rapidly changing local scene. Because the figurines were not used by Pueblo insiders but were made for sale to some of the same outsiders they portrayed, potters had to develop a keen understanding of what their targeted audience, the Western other, would understand, appreciate and buy. This use of the figures for social commentary is where they derived their name, Monos, which means “mocking,” “cute,” or “monkey,” possibly as a pejorative relating to their makers