Sanchez, Russell – Grizzly Bear with Checkerboard and Cougar Designs
Russell Sanchez calls this one of his “grizzly bears”. Why? Because of the sharp ridge on the back, like the fur on a grizzly! The bear is fully polished and etched on one side with older San Ildefonso designs. There is a heartline, checkerboard pattern (snow) and feathers. The opposite side has an incised cougar along with a heartline. The cougar has two large inset pieces of high-grade Kingman Turquoise. There are additional stones for the eye of the cougar and the eyes of the bear. The back has the medicine bundle inset with six strands of hei-shi beads. There are two bands of turquoise and four of hematite. So, why hematite? Russell has begun to use it in his recent pieces for several reasons. There is a traditional aspect in that women wear hematite bracelets when they do certain traditional dances at the Pueblo. There is also hematite content in the clay slips use on the pottery. Russell also notes that when he is able to fire his pieces to a gunmetal appearance, the hematite captures the shine and also gives them a contemporary appearance. This bear has a gunmetal coloration from the firing. The entire piece is coil built, even the neck and head, which is distinctive among potters who make clay bears. As Russell has said
“I’m a traditionalist all the way through. Innovation is part of our tradition. You use the same materials and tools that you have, and the same design elements, and the Clay Mother will come through you for what she wants you to do,” he explains. “Instead of doing the same cloud pattern or serpent pattern, you take that and make it your own. So, in fact, everything I’m doing is old, but new.” Russell Sanchez, Southwest Art Magazine
This bear is a stunning example of how the history and culture of San Ildefonso Pueblo are modernized in concept in his hands. The bear is signed on the bottom in the clay. Simply stunning!