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(Many Paths)
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Hopitutuqaiki School Serves Up Stellar Art Success
by Rosanda Suetopka Thayer - The Navajo-Hopi Observer
credits: photos by Rosanda Suetopka Thayer - The Navajo-Hopi Observer

Caliber of Master Instructors Part of Winning Formula

THIRD MESA, Ariz. - With over 24 scheduled classes offered this summer and 81 students ranging from preschool to retirement age, the Hopitutuqaiki Art School is now in its eighth extremely successful year of operation.

The 2012 course offerings proved to be in such high demand, many of the classes had long waiting lists of potential art students wanting to be a part of both the "traditional" and the "contemporary" art course work. The curriculum is on par with off-reservation graduate level art school classroom work.

A big part of the reason for Hopitutuqaiki's success is the watchful, master level teaching instructors who are both Native and non-Native visual or performing artists themselves. These artists/instructors have experienced personal art success not just in the United States but also abroad in varying countries. They continue to produce individual art work as well as teaching at this extremely unique Hopi summer school.

James A. McGrath is just one of the fine examples of the course instructors that travel from other states to teach exclusively for the summer art course work at Hopitutuqaiki.

McGrath was the master teacher for "Natural Pigments," "Clay" and "Art for Kids" during the June through August art programming at Third Mesa.

McGrath has been described by national arts organizations as "teacher, mentor, instructor, inspiration, counselor, guide, environmentalist, innovator, painter, sculptor, poet and writer and citizen of the world."

McGrath was also awarded the Santa Fe Living Treasures award in June 2008 for his major contributions to the arts and world community.

Originally from the state of Washington, McGrath has taught and traveled the world over, starting in Germany then moving onto France, Italy, Ethiopia, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, the Congo, Scotland, Chile, Argentina and Mexico. He also lived for some years teaching at the Hotevilla Bacavi Community School and colloborating with the late Charles Loloma, Hopi's master goldsmith and first major Hopi world-traveled artist.

McGrath was also one of the founding faculty members of the Institute of American Indian Art in Santa Fe, N.M. in 1962 and was primary in establishing "Indian Art" as a legitimate art field and source.

McGrath gently nudges his students to experiment and to consider other cultural art forms when producing new work. His first day introduction in the "Natural Pigments" coursework included a brief instruction history on other third world art forms, paintings and sculpture before the students start on their first project.

In the "Natural Pigments" class, all the paints used in the coursework, were ground from solid rock or sand pit areas that had been harvested by the Hopitutuqaiki art teachers. The "paints" were ground into a fine, dusty powder, shifted thoroughly then are mixed fresh daily with "binders" to get them to adhere to both wood or untreated hand-stretched canvas that utilizes "found object" frames.

These "found object frames" were items like old bicycle tire frames or "wagon wheel" staves with raw canvas stretched over them, making the students think in terms of "reusable" and "environmentally sensitive" materials, which fit in precisely with the "found" pigments that were taken directly from the earth.

One such paint was a sea-foam colored pale green, which were originally three big boulders of pale jade green stones taken from the Four Corners area. It took three days of grinding from huge baseball sized stones into smaller marble sized pieces, then next to a mortar and pestle kind of beating to get it to fine sand. The sand was eventually ground even finer by using a metal rounded hammer-like handmade tool to make it into fine dust.

The "natural pigment harvesting" is a time consuming one, but one that was utilized by most Native Americans living in the United States for pottery, rock paintings and wood cultural products.

The art students in McGrath's natural pigments class found the "natural paint" responds much differently than commercially produced acrylic or oil paints.

Firstly, the colors are not as deep or vibrant as commercial paint since all pigments are taken directly from the earth, so more subtle shades and hues are softer, giving a very "soothing" effect on the canvas.

The drying process for each coat of paint is also slow. Since the paints are made from rock or sand, the drying time takes longer. Careful consideration must be made for each layer of paint that is applied.

McGrath had students create some initial sketches on butcher paper, then consider the color palette within the natural pigments that had been gathered to determine a final piece of painted work.

"Descriptors for the Hopitutuqaiki Summer Arts Program could be described as more, bigger, better," said Dr. Robert Rhodes, Hopitutuqaiki Art School founder and director. "The number of students this year has increased over 20 percent since the start of our school over eight years ago, with eight of the 2012 classes filled to capacity. Though there was some scurrying to get all the right equipment and materials to each classroom, things went very smoothly this year, with both instructors and students working together to create an "apprenticeship" atmosphere, which is how the school is designed.

"Of the 81 students, 38 had taken classes from the Hopitutuqaiki before. Seven of the local Hopi villages were represented with 12 students coming from off-reservation and 10 students from out-of-state to attend. The biggest request from students was that they would like the class coursework to be longer and the studio hours extended to accommodate more time with the instructors and materials. This year has been the most successful ever," he said.

A final art school graduation dinner and show of art project work completed will be featured in early September, with the time and place to be announced.

For more information about the upcoming Hopi art school for summer of 2013 "Hopitutuqaiki," visit their website at or call Rhodes at (928) 734-2433. Early registration and payment for art studio coursework is encouraged since popularity and success has created longer waiting lists.

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Hopitutuqaki, The Hopi School
Hopitutuqaki, The Hopi School, is dedicated to developing an educational process derived from Hopi Indian philosophy, values and methods. Always before, Hopi students have been taught in schools using values, philosophy and methods designed for and derived from an outside culture.

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