Billing his work as contemporary Navajo pottery, sculptor and graphic artist Gerald A. Pinto is expanding the boundaries of traditional sculpting by mixing media such as copper, turquoise and even battery-power into his work in innovative ways.
“I always tell people it blends the past with the present,” says Pinto. “Even though I call it contemporary, I showcase some of the more traditional designs, too.”
Pinto has been doing pottery for around 28 years, but committed to it full-time after leaving his job with Amtrak in 2003. He credits his family with being his biggest artistic influences and inspirations. “My mom is a weaver and my dad was a silversmith; they taught me a lot about Navajo designs.” His cousin, Dennis Charlie, who is known for his carved pots, encouraged him to pursue the art. “For a while, I was doing pieces similar to his, but over the years, I moved towards my own style.
“I developed it over the years … the copper and the turquoise is how people recognize my work.” Brown pots, that were pit-fired with copper and turquoise, are part of the Elemental Series.
Some of the newer pieces, with black and white carvings, are part of the series called Diné-Bikéyah (which translates as the People’s Land). “It reflects the culture of the Navajo people,” he says.
Once Pinto finishes shaping his pots, he carves out the designs and affixes the complementary accents. The designs “are a combination of all the cultures that are represented in northwestern New Mexico. I live not too far away from the ancient Anasazi ruins. They did a lot of black and white pots. They painted their designs, and mine are carved. But, their particular design, the migration pattern, kind of a triangular zigzag, is one of the designs that I picked up. The feather design is more of a Navajo symbol that you see on the more recent Navajo pots. I would say that they are inter-Tribal. But, they do have a lot of meaning within the Navajo creation stories. Even though the designs come from different cultures, they have a similar meaning within their individual Tribes.”
Though they are ornate and artistic, some of Pinto’s pottery can be used as regular serviceware. People can use them as smudge pots, for burning sage. Or, they can use the larger platters for serving dry items, like bread. But, the majority of them, especially with the intricate designs, are meant to be displayed.
Pinto is drawing from his background as a graphic artist, photographer and acrylic painter to inspire his next series.
“I’m working on some new pieces that are inlaid with electroluminescent wire. The new series is called Fusion. It’s battery-powered, and they’re actually sound-activated. When you put them next to a speaker, they pulse with the music.”
Customers can commission Pinto to do special orders. “I do custom pieces every now and then. I’ve done a food-safe bowl, with a commercial glaze. I’ve also done lamps. People have requested vases that were shaped and wired into lamps.”
His artwork is very personal to him. “I always say each individual pot is my baby. I spend a lot of time producing each piece. They’re all different in their own way. So, it’s like I’m giving a piece of me to each customer. I’ve always wanted to do pots that not only reflects the Navajo culture, but also the surrounding cultures that are intertwined with the southwest. “
Pinto relies on social media and word-of-mouth as his primary marketing tools. People can view his current projects on Facebook. He will have booths at Santo Domingo Feast Day, Aug 4th, and Gallup Inter-Tribal Indian Ceremonial, Aug 10-14th. And, then, back to Santo Domingo for Labor Day Weekend Market.