Armond Lara collaborates with form & concept on this monumental art installation that tells the centuries-long story of enslaved Native American children. The Santa Fe artist sends 77 hand-painted, cast resin Flying Blue Buffalo sculptures soaring through the gallery’s atrium. Inspired by his own family history, Lara dreamed up the winged buffalo as a new symbol of Native survival and resilience. Each sculpture in the suspended flock is labeled with the name of an abducted child. The installation debuts at a special reception on Friday, August 17, 5-7 pm, on the weekend of Santa Fe Indian Market.
Suspended from the ceiling is a herd of blue buffalo, seventy-five of them, flying on wings. The buffalo tell the story of thousands of Native American children who, from the 17th Century through the 19th, were abducted from their families and enslaved on ranches and in homes across the Southwest. The Flying Blue Buffalo installation is the creation of veteran Santa Fe artist Armond Lara, and it’s on view starting August 17 at the Santa Fe gallery, form & concept.
You can listen to two versions of the radio segment on the KUNM website— one that’s 4 minutes and one’s that 7 minutes. Both stories include this gorgeous quote from Armond:
I decided that all I would see was a cloud of blue. I thought it would be a beautiful presentation. That’s the whole philosophy for Navajo people. Walk In Beauty. It has to be in a beautiful way. It doesn’t have to be ugly, even though it is ugly. We can take the pride and the endurance of still being here. Like the buffalo.
Meanwhile, we’re deep in the installation process for Armond’s show. You can see the grid system we’re using in the photo above, which will support all of the sculptures in the piece. Come see it on opening weekend, August 16-18!
Later this month, when Armond Lara sends 75 winged buffalo sculptures into the stratosphere of form & concept’s atrium, he’ll fulfill a long-held dream. Lara has been depicting buffalo in his artwork for years, but more recently they’ve turned blue and sprouted wings. The Flying Blue Buffalo series is a reference to the Santa Fe artist’s family history: his grandmother, who was Navajo, was kidnapped as a small child and forced into servitude by a Mexican family. Across three centuries of Spanish, Mexican and American rule, thousands of Native children were similarly enslaved as household servants or field hands.
The Pueblo people called these abducted youths “Lost Bluebirds,” a symbol that Lara combined with the buffalo to create a new icon of Indigenous resilience. He dreamed up a massive installation of 75 winged buffalo sculptures, which came to fruition through a Kickstarter campaign and 3D printing technology. We’re hosting a preview of the installation on Thursday, August 16, featuring a talk by Dr. Estevan Rael-Gálvez of Santa Fe. The installation opens with a reception on Friday, August 17, and Lara conducts an artist talk on August 18.
“My grandmother didn’t talk much, but if she did talk, you listened,” says Lara. He’s known the story of his grandmother’s abduction for as long as he can remember, but it wasn’t until recently that he learned how common the practice was. “My sister was doing genealogy research on the family, and she found a list of all the Native American kids who had been ‘adopted’ by Mexican families in the Four Corners area,” says Lara. “It dawned on me, whoa, this is really widespread. That’s when I started asking other people about it.” He learned about the kidnapping and enslavement of an enormous number of Native American children over several centuries—from the 1600’s when the Spanish arrived, through the period of Mexican Independence, until the late 1800’s under the government of the United States. A number of Lara’s close friends revealed that they too had ancestors who were taken.
For Lara, this growing web of stories reminded him of his grandmother’s resilience, which has been an enduring source of inspiration. “I looked to my grandparents for guidance. The strongest voice was my grandmother’s voice,” Lara says. “She didn’t talk about it, she just did it. If she needed something, she’d make it. If she needed a robe, she’d weave one. I really admired that quality.” He dreamed up an art installation and storytelling project that might communicate this ethos, and inspire people to learn more about their heritage. A series of five winged blue buffalo marionettes that Lara carved from wood over a number of years became central conceptual elements.
With the help of his frequent collaborator Joseph Riggs, an artist and retired attorney who lives in Santa Fe, Lara pitched the idea to form & concept. The gallery commissioned a digital model and several mock-ups of the buffalo from Albuquerque technology firm 3D Proven Systems, while Lara and Riggs started gathering stories for the project. “We’ve represented Armond’s work for years, and were so excited to help bring his vision into reality,” says Sandy Zane, Owner of Zane Bennett Contemporary Art and form & concept. “For a project at this scale, we turned to 3D printing technology to capture the original carvings in high fidelity.” The gallery mounted a Kickstarter campaign to fund a round of 3D-printed sculptures, which were used to create molds for a final series of 75 cast resin sculptures.
Riggs says the scale of the installation is vital to the project, because it communicates the staggering number of children, families and communities affected by the issue. “I’ve lived in the Southwest my whole life, and I was unfamiliar with the story,” says Riggs. “You can’t find it in history books in New Mexico, but as I learned, there were slave markets all across this region. It became a deep part of the culture of the Southwest.” Each of the 75 buffalo sculptures will represent the story of one “Lost Bluebird,” with oral and written accounts of their fight for survival. “People in New Mexico have been searching for a way to explore this part of their family history,” Riggs says. “They can take pride in the fact that they’re Hispanic, and they’re Native American, and they’re American. There’s so much division in our country. We need to find ways to show our unity, to show how much we’re alike rather than how we’re different. And I think we can do it through this story.”
Special Event Armond Lara: Flying Blue Buffalo Project
Wednesday, February 17 Open House: 2-5 pm Panel Discussion: 3 pm
Our Kickstarter campaign for Armond Lara’s Flying Blue Buffalo Project is in full swing! So far, we have 22 backers and have raised over 10% of our goal. We’re celebrating the campaign’s midpoint next Saturday, Feb. 17 with an open house and panel discussion event from 2-5 pm. The panel starts at 3 pm, and features professional and amateur historians who’ve extensively studied Native slavery in the Southwest. Like Armond, a number of the panelists have Indigenous ancestors who were enslaved. They’ll shed light on this under-examined history through conversation and storytelling. Here’s the lineup:
The creative dynamo behind the Flying Blue Buffalo Project! The Santa Fe artist is Hispanic and Navajo. A dark chapter of his family history helped inspire the project. Since starting this endeavor, he has studied the larger phenomenon of Native child slavery in the West.
Moises Gonzales is an Assistant Professor in the Community and Regional Planning Program at UNM, he also serves as the Director of the Resource Center for Raza Planning and is the Director of the Bachelor of Arts in Environmental Planning and Design Degree Program. Gonzales holds a Master’s Degree in Urban Design from the University of Colorado, Denver as well as a Professional Planning Degree in the Master of Community and Regional Planning Program from UNM. He was the co-instructor for the summer urban studio that worked with students on the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo cultural corridor and he is still currently involved with this project. Moises will also be advising on the historic restoration plaza project for Nambe Pueblo and has also advised iD+Pi on the potential housing assessment project with the Santa Clara Housing Authority.
With ancestral connections to both Hispanic and indigenous communities, Dr. Rael-Gálvez was raised working on a farm and ranch stewarded by his family for generations in Costilla, New Mexico. He holds a B.A. from the University of California at Berkeley and an M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, where he completed an award winning dissertation, “Identifying Captivity and Capturing Identity: Narratives of American Indian Slavery. ” He is currently working on the manuscript, The Silence of Slavery. Formerly the State Historian of New Mexico, Executive Director of the National Hispanic Cultural Center and Senior Vice President at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Dr. Rael-Gálvez currently is a writer and the founding principal of Creative Strategies 360°, a consulting firm which supports transformative work within communities and organizations, including his present project, an initiative on “Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation.”
When I started storytelling, it was the first time these stories were told by a Navajo person. That was thirty years ago. Since then, I’ve worked – as a storyteller, folklorist and cultural consultant – collecting, learning and retelling the oral tradition of the Diné Hozhojii Hané (Navajo Blessingway stories). These stories present the world view of the Diné people and details their relationship with their surroundings. I have retold these stories by oral tradition in Navajo and in English for a variety of organizations, universities, elementary schools and conferences throughout the US, Canada, Africa, Europe and Mexico including the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian, the Denver Arts Museum, Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, the Rhode Island School of Design (RISDI) and programs sponsored by the PEW Charitable Trust.
I was the Olive B. O’Connor Distinguished Visiting Professor of Literature and Storyteller-in-Residence at Colgate University and one of nine women, and the only Native storyteller to be included in the Women’s Chautauqua Institute. In 2006, I received the Navajos Making a Difference Award at the annual Navajo Studies conference. I am on the roster of the NMHC Chautauqua Speakers Program, which features specialists on New Mexico history and culture. I have done storytelling workshops with students and teachers (in New York schools) and seniors (at the northern Navajo Medical Center. A few years ago, I founded the Hané Storytelling Festival for indigenous storytellers. I was featured in Jack Hanna’s Zoo Life, the German documentary, Niedergang der Najavos and Miss Navajo, a PBS Independent Lens documentary, in which I spoke about winning the 1982 Miss Navajo Nation pageant that celebrates women and tradition.
Kim Trujillo is from Belen, NM. She received a BA degree in journalism from NMSU. She is a former news anchor in Albuquerque at KRQE-TV. She is currently working in NM film as a costume designer. She is featured on Ancestry.com commercial that has aired more than 12,000 times over the last two years nationally and in Canada.
Joseph Riggs is an artist from Northern New Mexico, currently residing in Tesuque, NM. He is a retired criminal defense attorney, having practiced law for 40 years and Albuquerque and Northern New Mexico. In addition to his art, he is collaborating with Armond Lara on Lara’s Flying Blue Buffalo Project. His other interests include community activism as Project Manager of the Santa Fe Artists Medical Fund, and as President of the Tesuque Water Association Board.
Weston Brownlee is the Director of Operations at 3D Proven Systems, and a professional sculptor. His current work in the realms of digital art, 3D Modeling, 3D Scanning, and 3D Printing, when paired with his background in lost wax casting, foundry, and traditional cast arts all have come into play to help realize Armand Lara’s Flying Blue Buffalo Project.