Born to Diné (Navajo) and Mexican parents in Walsenburg, Colorado, Armond Lara (b. 1939) spent his formative years observing his mother and grandparents meet their quotidian and aesthetic needs with masterful artisanship and supreme artistic confidence. “I watched my grandparents make everything they needed from cooking utensils to tombstones, so I just fell into it naturally,” recounts Lara. “If I wanted something, I made it.”


Lara continued to nurture this seed of creativity during his early professional career in aviation technology and arts administration. He studied at the Colorado Institute of Art, Glendale College in California and the University of Washington in Seattle. As his career developed, Lara came to count Helen Frankenthaler, Richard Diebenkorn and Mexican muralist Pablo O’Higgins among his mentors. While studying under master paper artist Paul Horiuchi, Lara explored his roots by embedding beads into handmade paper and stitching Navajo beadwork onto his canvases.


Lara moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico in the 1980’s, where he collaborated with many noted Pueblo artists such as Nora Naranjo Morse of Santa Clara Pueblo. He took part in Santa Fe Indian Market, where Georgia O’Keeffe purchased two of his works, one of which was later gifted to the Smithsonian Institution. In 1996, Lara founded the Santa Fe Artists Emergency Medical Fund, which provides financial support to professional artists living and working in Santa Fe County who have medical needs but cannot afford treatment or medications.


In New Mexico, Lara continued to create handmade paper, collages, sculptures and paintings, and also started a series of carved wood marionettes. His puppet portrayals of historical figures such as Crazy Horse, Georgia O’Keeffe, Frida Kahlo and Man Ray, among many others, are made in the spirit of the Koshare, a sacred clown that participates in the ceremonial dances of the Hopi Trie and several Rio Grande Pueblos. Known as a mischief maker, the Koshare clown helps maintain harmony in the community by reminding people of acceptable standards of behavior. Through this vehicle, Lara is able to reflect the humor, tragedy, frustration and beauty of what it means to be human.


Lara’s artistic career has followed many paths, but his family heritage has remained a significant force in his creative process. At an early age he discovered that his grandmother, Juanita Sánchez Alarid, was raised by a Hispanic family but was actually Navajo. As a young child, she had been kidnapped, enslaved, used as a maid, and later baptized and married into another Hispanic family.


More recently, Lara learned that such abductions were a common occurrence for Native Americans in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. In his most recent body of work, the Flying Blue Buffalo Project, he chronicles the search for his family heritage through an art installation and storytelling initiative. Selections from this monumental series appear in this exhibition, and a larger grouping of the winged buffalo will occupy part of our atrium during Santa Fe Indian Market in August.