Peter B. Jones
By Ryan Rice
Ceramic artist Peter B. Jones is one of the most recognized and accomplished Iroquois artists working today. His forty-five year career has been achieved and maintained by the mastery of his medium and the establishment of a solid repertoire of work in clay. By studying traditional techniques developed over time by ancient civilizations such as the Hopewell and Mississippian, and later, his own Iroquois culture, Jones is one of several artists responsible for re-invigorating (reactivating) and mentoring a distinct traditional pottery practice among the Haudenosaunee. Yet, clay also serves as a contemporary medium that Jones manipulates as an expressive means for functional and sculptural artistic traditions to co-exist.
Upon mastering “throwing” techniques, Jones’s work became spontaneous and malleable, enabling him to develop contemporary and fluid figurative sculptural forms that are uniquely different from his traditionally based pottery. His clay sculptures are hybrids of amalgamated techniques evolving from the magnitude of utilitarian vessel forms and his relationship with the clay. Thrown slabs of clay form a body—the vessel or foundation for each sculpture. Jones then adds sculpted heads and hands to each form and shapes each figure’s face to exude unique personal characteristics—the wear and tear of an elder’s life experience or the fragility and innocence of a newborn. These portraits are neither happy nor sad, but appear simply conscious of being. The sculpted hands attached to the body without arms, grasp firmly onto traditional objects (horn rattles, wampum strings) and/or contemporary Western-devised paraphernalia (dollar bills, treaty), alluding to the dichotomy/deception of traditional custom. Indian with Baggage (2002) arises from Jones’s strong-minded, dry, honest, and humorous social critique on Indian life in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The stirring traditional-style effigy pot 9-11 (2002) articulates a universal moment of seizure and contemplation that allows Jones to insert an Iroquoian worldview within the context of a global crisis.
Peter B. Jones was born on June 8, 1947 into the Beaver Clan of the Onondaga Nation at the Cattaraugus Reservation in Seneca Territory (northwest New York State) to a Seneca father and Onondaga mother. He grew up in a household of seven children, nurtured by an extended family that encouraged the arts and its affect. In 1963, Jones (then 16 years of age) left for Santa Fe, New Mexico to attend the newly opened Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) where he graduated in 1965 (High School Diploma) and 1968 (Associates of Fine Arts). At IAIA, he was strongly influenced by Otellie Loloma (1922-92), a highly acclaimed Hopi ceramicist, who taught him to merge traditional protocol and practice with classical Western clay techniques. During this time, Jones’s work took on a pan-Indian style that was influenced by IAIA’s diverse student body, the Southwest, and the effects of the civil rights movement on Indian solidarity forming across the country. Red Paint Can (1965) is Jones’s enduring critique of the social, political, and popular culture movements that yielded a “new breed” of non-Indian individuals desiring Native identity.
After being drafted and serving a stint in the United States Army, Jones moved to Anadarko, Oklahoma where he taught pottery at Indian City USA through an on-the-job training program sponsored by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Jones returned to the Cattaraugus Reservation in 1977 where he was reunited with his community, nation, and culture. It is this context of Iroquoian values and aesthetics that remains a catalyst for his artistic creations.
Additional Resources compiled by students in Contemporary Native American Art History course at the Institute of American Indian Art, Spring 2013
Native Roots Artists Guild. Peter B. Jones. Web. http://www.nativerootsartistsguild.com/Pottery/Peter-Jones.aspx
Iroquois Pottery Collection-ClayHound Web. “Jar”. Peter B. Jones. Web. http://www.clayhound.us/gallery/147.htm
absolutearts.com. Indepth Arts News: “Being Indian: The 6th Contemporary Iroquois Art Biennial” Peter B. Jones. http://www.absolutearts.com/artsnews/2007/09/24/34684.html
Youtube.com. Iroquois Pottery made by Mohawks of Kahnawake. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7pb8iZ-1bz4&feature=youtu.be
Vought, Mary Beth. Iroquois Art: A Retrospective Exhibition of His Work from 1965 to 1990. Iroquois Indian Museum. Scholharie, New York. 1990.
Ryan, Debora. Everson Museum of Art: Haudenosaunee: Elements. November 13, 2010 to January 16, 2011. New York.
Dowd Fine Arts Gallery. The Earth is Our Earth. March 27-April 22, 2007. New York. 2007.