Museum of Contemporary Native Arts

Rose B. Simpson

By Michelle McGeough

Protector, 2009 Clay, pinecone, bronze screen, hardware, Approx 17 x 17 x 14 inches Courtesy of the artist

Protector, 2009 Clay, pinecone, bronze screen, hardware, Approx 17 x 17 x 14 inches, Courtesy of the artist

 “i don’t want unexplained anger, i don’t want unexplained fear, i don’t want unexplained hope, i don’t want unexplained heartbreak, i want the raw TRUTH.”[1]

As an emerging multi media artist, Rose B. Simpson challenges the status quo by eschewing the contemporary Native art market she grew up surrounded by. While honoring the traditional teachings and the clay tradition of the Santa Clara pueblo she was born into, Simpson has pushed beyond traditional cultural art forms. Her artwork articulates her exploration of self, while expressing the contemporary reality of Native America. At the core of her practice is the desire to redefine what Indian art means beyond the expectations she feels are directed by the market and the consumer.

Simpson’s artistic practice includes sculpture, printmaking, drawing, creative writing, music and dance. Although her formal training began at the University of New Mexico, she graduated from the Institute of American Indian Art with a BFA in Studio Arts in 2007. By introducing her to clay and figurative work, her mother, Roxanne Swentzell, is perhaps one of her earliest role models. Simpson writes, “My mom is still one of my greatest influences. She taught me how to make things out of clay, and now we constantly share our pursuit of truth, she is my best friend and my partner in healing.”[2]

Like many of her contemporaries, Simpson’s work explores very complex issues regarding the present and future of Native America, issues that include contemporary Native identity and cultural survival. No matter the medium, Simpson’s execution displays an unparalleled degree of proficiency that not only speaks to her technical abilities but to her contemplative and uncompromising nature. Art historian Kathryn Davis observes that Simpson “draws like an angel with a good right hook.”[3] Simpson states that no matter what the media, whether comic books or graffiti art, her intent is “to control it to make something positive that induces consciousness.”[4] It is that same desire to create awareness that one sees in her self-portraiture. She explains, “I tend to do self-portraits because I feel they’re the most honest….each piece portrays a different personality. I guess I’m digging around and figuring out who I am in all these different aspects.”[5]

Simpson does not limit herself to self-portraiture. The Protector (2009) is an example of the clay figures that Simpson has become known for. Their disproportionate and genderless features create a sense of other worldliness. For Simpson, it is not just an aesthetic choice, but one that she uses to simplify the message of the piece without any of the connotations that gender carries. In this instance, The Protector is safeguarding a revelation Simpson had regarding western media’s concept and construction of beauty.

While still a student, Simpson participated in the Institute of American Indian Arts 2006 exhibition Relations:  Indigenous Dialogue. In 2008 along with her aunt Nora Naranjo-Morse and cousin Eliza Naranjo-Morse, Simpson created a multi-site installation for Site Santa Fe’s biannual exhibition Lucky Number Seven. Her more recent exhibitions include the Heard Museum’s Mother and Daughters: Stories in Clay. In 2009 the Berlin Gallery featured her work along with that of two emerging Native American artists from New Mexico in the exhibition 3: Marla Allison, Eliza Naranjo-Morse and Rose B. Simpson. That same year she was a part of Chiaroscuro Gallery’s group show Contemporary Indian Market 2009.

Simpson is also a musician and has provided vocals for Chocolate Helicopter and The Wake Singers. Simpson is presently enrolled in the MFA ceramics program at Rhode Island School of Design and remains active in the Santa Fe, New Mexico artist collectives Warehouse 21, Meow Wolf and Humble Space.

An Intellectual Conversation, 2009  Clay, Hardware, chain Installation approx. 4 ½ x 10 x 4 feet Courtesy of the artist

An Intellectual Conversation, 2009 Clay, Hardware, chain Installation approx. 4 ½ x 10 x 4 feet Courtesy of the artist







[1] John Grimes and Joseph Sanchez, eds., Relations: Indigenous Dialogue. (Santa Fe, New Mexico: Institute of American Indian Arts, 2006), 173.

[2] Rose B. Simpson, personal correspondence with the author, March 8, 2010.

[3] Kathryn. M. Davis, “An Investigation into Pop Art of Drawing,” in Alchemy: Snap! Crackle! Pop! An Exhibition of Drawings (Albuquerque, NM: 516 Arts, 2008), 51, Exhibition catalog.

[4] ARTISODE 1.3 “Rose ‘Bean’ Simpson,” KNME, New Mexico, Public Broadcasting System, September, 2008.

[5] Paul Weideman,“Rose B Simpson; Get Back, You Dominant Paradigms,” The Santa Fe New Mexican, January 1, 2010,

Additional Resources compiled by students in Contemporary Native American Art History course at the Institute of American Indian Arts, Spring 2013. 

Web Resources 

“Artist – Rose B. Simpson.” You Buffalo Thunder Art. 2011. Video. 

This link leads to a video interview with Rose B. Simpson posted on the You Tube website. This page also contains many other videos of Simpson and her work.

“Rose B. Simpson,” interviewed by Angie (Kichi) Collier. Contemporary Native Artists. 2011.

This link leads to a great interview with Rose B. Simpson. Within the post is a variety of Simpson’s work. The interview touches on some key inquiries about being a contemporary native artist.

“Rose B. Simpson: About the Artist.”

This link leads to the Chiaroscuro web gallery of Rose B. Simpson. This webpage contains a short bio that gives information that is not provided above. This site also has some other great images of Simpson’s work.

Selected Bibliography 

Farrell Racette, Sherry. “Encoded Knowledge: Memory and Objects in Contemporary Native American Art.” New Native Art Criticism: Manifestations. (Santa Fe: Museum of Contemporary Native Arts, 2011). 45.

This is an essay within the Manifestations book. In this essay, Farrell Racette comments on Simpson’s studies of the energy of raw clay.

McGeough, Michelle. “Rose B. Simpson.” New Native Art Criticism: Manifestations. (Santa Fe: Museum of Contemporary Native Arts, 2011). 162-163.

This is the citation for the biography provided above. This book is useful for someone researching Contemporary Native American art and artists. Not only does it contain many biographies, but is also has some very interesting essays.