A protégé at 27, Kaa Folwell is radiant in maternal splendor in her home-studio at Santa Clara Pueblo. Just as her son and unborn child surely will, Kaa carries clay and the permanence of linage in her blood. The daughter of acclaimed potter Polly Rose Folwell, and granddaughter of Jody Folwell, a revolutionary potter whose distinctive firings and contemporary designs changed the surface of Santa Clara pottery in the 1970s, Kaa has had her hands in the clay since babyhood. Yet, Kaa’s talents exceed the expected.
A 2018 graduate of the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, the incubator for many a celebrated artist, Kaa holds a BFA in Studio Arts with a focus in metal jewelry and digital arts.
“I wanted to push myself and step outside of my creative comfort zone, because I’ve grown up with pottery,” she says. “It was really important for me to push those boundaries and see what else I could do. I didn’t want my background to just be in Pueblo pottery.”
For her senior project, Kaa made molds of her teeth as well as those of her son, mother and grandmother to create sterling silver “grills” that highlight issues she sees in her Pueblo community surrounding language.
“My thesis was creating teeth grills that explored loss of permanence, accessory and impediment within the Tewa language,” she says, explaining that the majority of people in her age group can’t communicate with their grandparents in their own language.
She views Tewa as becoming an accessory to day-today life, much like the grill in urban culture.
“I really feel that with indigenous cultures our language is the main aspect of who we are as people. Without our language, kind of like our teeth, there can be a disconnect in identity.”
She plans to incorporate her grills into her pottery, building on what has become a signature style of making the ephemeral permanent. Kaa has become most well known for her cutting edge approach to mixing elements of graphic and graffiti art into her pottery designs.
“When I first started making pottery for a career I was looking at a lot of graffiti designs and street artwork. I loved the idea that pots are these pieces that will be around well past their makers, but graffiti and street art are so ephemeral.”
Listening to Kaa, it seems that the women of Pueblo pottery are a force to be reckoned with. For these courageous artists, being a strong woman comes with the job description, a torch that Kaa seems to be carrying seamlessly.
“I watched my grandmother’s career, and just sitting there and being with her always trying to push those boundaries of what else she could do,” says Kaa of her grandmother Jody who the books call one of the greatest avant-garde Pueblo potters of the century and whose work is in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian.
“She likes to say she’s not really an artist just a ‘professional cheater.’ She loves looking at magazines and one of her classic designs she uses is from a David Bowie album.” She goes on to say that her grandmother’s political career was also instrumental in her pottery career after she achieved her masters in law.
“The Pueblo itself, when you really get into the roots of it, and how the Pueblo ticks, it’s because of these realty strong women who, like my grandmother, once they have their mind set to something there’s no one changing it. You see that passed on from generation to generation.”
According to SWAIA, the organization responsible for putting on Santa Fe Indian Market, the largest indigenous art market in the world, for 97 years, Kaa is an artists to watch out for.
Visit Kaa Folwell at her booth at this year’s SWAIA Santa Fe Indian Market, booth # PLZ653.
To shop the Drew Red bracelet Kaa is wearing in the photo, here’s the link to our ETKIE Red Collection.