For Ira Lujan, the pandemic presented time for investment — investment in family, in community and more importantly, in his own work. After a successful showing in SWAIA’s virtual Santa Fe Indian Market, Lujan purchased an electric furnace for his glassmaking studio in Pojoaque, just north of Santa Fe, which gave him the freedom to finally work around the clock on his art.
“Before, I would only have four- or five-hour time slots to use glassblowing equipment around town,” says Lujan, “so I would rush to get everything done in time. But now, with my own electric furnace, I’m finding I can plan out my designs more and work with them all night if I have to, and I’m finding delight in the finer details of each piece.”
Lujan is mainly known for three types of work. His commercial work includes beautifully rendered ten-to-twenty-foot chandeliers, replete with handworked glass feathers and antlers. Both Hotel Chaco and La Fonda Hotel have these works of art. Pueblo pottery-inspired vessels with hand carved designs are another type of work Lujan creates. Finally, there are totems made of multiple intricately shaped parts, made from a variety of different colors of glass.
“The glass pots are mainly what I’ve done these last four years,” says Lujan, who is from Taos Pueblo, “but now that I work from my studio, I’ve gotten into doing various detailed motifs on the work. They’re influenced by Acoma and Cochiti pottery, but with my own spin, like geometric florals across the top of the pots.”
But where Lujan’s real mastery is on display is on the finials or lids of each piece. For these, he has allowed his newfound freedom to flourish, and the results are like nothing he has ever done before. Birds of the Southwest, like parrots, quail and roadrunners, are included in Lujan’s skillful designs [on the lids].
“They are just getting so realistic,” says Lujan. “They look like the bird pottery one sees from, say, Cochiti, but the details are just getting so minute.” He adds, “I love what I’m able to do now that I have my own studio. I can spend over twelve hours on one sculpture, and by letting them anneal longer, it takes the stress out of the work and stabilizes everything. They are all coming together so beautifully.”
Lujan’s totem pieces are meant to depict figures and forms in the midst of transmutation, changing from human form to animal form, or vice versa. These moments of intense prayer or transcendence have always been a theme of Lujan’s work, but now they are getting richer and more narrative-based.
“I have one totem that represents a deer dancer,” says Lujan. “At pueblos like San Juan, after the ceremonial dance — the last dance — the hunter shoots the rifle, the deer scatter and the women of the pueblo try to catch them. The women run out of the pueblo, away from the walls of the pueblos and go to the river. If they don’t come back before sunset, they will turn into a deer. They’ve been dancing and praying all day, and if they don’t return, they live the rest of their lives as a deer. It’s those moments I wish to represent in these new works, that moment of transformation after intense prayer.”
Joshua Rose is currently a Senior Vice President at the Santa Fe Art Auction, responsible for Native Art and Fine Art. Previously, he spent the last 15 years as the editor of American Art Collector, Western Art Collector, Native American Art Magazine and American Fine Art Magazine. He currently resides in Santa Fe and Phoenix, Arizona.