Artist to Know: Ramona Sakiestewa

Liz Catalano
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Hindman Offers Two Weavings by Leading Contemporary Artist

Hopi weaver and artist Ramona Sakiestewa knew her career path by the age of seven. At the time, she didn’t know that she would one day evolve ancient Pueblo weaving techniques, launch a homeware brand, and help design the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. Sakiestewa took each of those projects in stride while reinventing the textile medium. Today, she continues to influence contemporary Native American art and national art policy. 

The first session of Hindman’s upcoming Western and Native American art sale will feature two woven textiles by Ramona Sakiestewa. Bidding will begin at 11:00 AM EDT on May 6th, 2021. Learn more about Sakiestewa and her works before the auction starts.

Ramona Sakiestewa. Image from UNUM Magazine.
Ramona Sakiestewa. Image from UNUM Magazine.

Ramona Sakiestewa started making art at four years old by sewing clothing for her dolls. At seven, she made her own clothes to wear to school. Sakiestewa grew up around Albuquerque, New Mexico, and inherited her father’s Hopi culture and traditions. She worked at a Native trading post during her teen years, setting her on the path toward weaving and textile arts. 

Sakiestewa headed to New York in her early twenties to scrape out a life in Manhattan. She saved her paychecks to go on adventures around the city, take classes at the School of Visual Arts, and visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art on the weekends. When New York’s charm wore off, Sakiestewa tried living in California and Mexico City before settling in Santa Fe. An arts administration job supported her during this time, but Sakiestewa soon felt the need to create. 

Sakiestewa took one of the biggest risks of her career in the early 1980s. She took out a loan from her father-in-law, opened a weaving business, and hoped for success. It was a difficult time to be a Native American woman artist. Curators considered the prehistoric Pueblo techniques that Sakiestewa taught herself to be “crafts” rather than “art.” Sakiestewa reports that museum leaders turned her away from contemporary art spaces and directed her to ethnographic and natural history museums instead. “The only time people get shows for weaving and it’s a big deal is when someone commissions an atelier in Europe to weave a Picasso or Matisse painting,” Sakiestewa recently wrote for UNUM Magazine.

Ramona Sakiestewa, Corn Migration 2, 1995. Image from Hindman.
Ramona Sakiestewa, Corn Migration 2, 1995. Image from Hindman.

Despite the economic tensions of 1980s America, Sakiestewa’s new business flourished. She experimented with traditional vertical looms and vegetal dyes in those early years. Her tapestries paid homage to ancient Native American techniques, particularly from Pueblo and Navajo traditions. By the early 1990s, most of the distinct features of Sakiestewa’s style had fallen into place.

Around this time, she produced the two textile works available in Hindman’s upcoming auction. The first piece, titled Blue Corn 10, features a deep blue color field marked by square and rectangle designs. Thin white lines cross a broad black band along the bottom. Corn Migration 2, the second available Sakiestewa weaving, has a similar banding pattern. It displays red bars with spiked white shapes detailing the bottom half. Each textile has a presale estimate of USD 3,000 to $5,000. 

Opportunities popped up everywhere for the artist during the 1990s. After receiving an invitation, she created over a dozen tapestries based on the drawings of architect Frank Lloyd Wright to benefit his foundation. This set her on the architectural path and caught the attention of a Washington, D.C. designer. He approached Sakiestewa and offered her partial creative control over the design of the National Museum of the American Indian. Sakiestewa spent the next decade building “design vocabularies” that would represent the diverse cultures and traditions of Native American tribes. Her touches are visible everywhere in the museum today, from the front doors to the wall treatment in the main rotunda.

Ramona Sakiestewa, untitled textile. Image from Cowan’s Auctions.
Ramona Sakiestewa, untitled textile. Image from Cowan’s Auctions.

Sakiestewa mostly sells her works in galleries and through her business. However, some of her textiles have appeared at auction in recent years. Bonhams offered several Sakiestewa weavings in 2020, auctioning them for an average of $3,000 each. Cowan’s Auctions sold an untitled textile for $5,000 in early 2020. This price more than tripled the high estimate and set a new auction record for the artist. However, Sakiestewa’s works tend to fetch much higher prices in private sales. Her Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired tapestries reportedly sold for between $16,000 and $24,000 each in 1991. 

In addition to her artmaking, Sakiestewa advises on design projects, serves on museum boards, and works on national art policy commissions. The artist retired her loom in 2009 in favor of paper works and printmaking, feeling that she already created her best woven art. She also launched a homeware line to combat what she calls “Home Depot” aesthetics. Sakiestewa’s many responsibilities only motivate her to keep growing: “You never ‘make it’ nor do it alone,” she told Local Flavor Magazine in 2019. “You have to keep working at it. You age out, even as an artist. There’s no stopping, not for me.”

Ramona Sakiestewa’s two textile works will soon be available for bidding. The upcoming Hindman auction will start on May 6th, 2021, at 11:00 AM EDT. The catalog offers over 400 lots of Western and Native American fine art, sculpture, jewelry, and textiles. Visit Hindman’s website for the complete catalog and to place a bid. 

Interested in more artist profiles? Auction Daily recently explored the legacy of cinematic artist John Alvin

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