Shane R. Hendren, a New Mexico-based artist and storyteller, has won a $100,000 Maxwell/Hanrahan Foundation Award in Craft, one of the nation’s largest awards in the discipline.
ALBUQUERQUE—Shane R. Hendren is many things—a jeweler, rancher, metalworker, sculptor, father, filmmaker, and horse trainer. He’s also a storyteller and “story maker,” as he calls it, so the shape of his life and career comes alive in moments carefully remembered and shared.
Internationally recognized for his metalwork and recently the recipient of a Maxwell/Hanrahan Foundation Award in Craft, Hendren’s expansive work grows out of history—both personal and more far-reaching. For example, his current exhibition, his MFA thesis show at the Institute for American Indian Arts held at both the Coe Center and Container in Santa Fe, examines the stories of Genízaro descendants, those whose Native ancestors were enslaved by the Spanish.
Hendren’s life has been full of watershed moments that led him to his current path. He tells these stories with relish, as if around a campfire. While growing up on one of his family’s ranches in Nevada, “buckaroos” wintered in barns across the expansive property.
“No buckaroo worth his salt wanted to work a hay crew in the winter,” he explains. With nowhere to go, they stayed on the property. “I was enamored with them,” Hendren recalls—and also with their saddles, with horns and cantles fashioned in silver, and tooled leather filling out their bodies. Inquisitive as Hendren was, he wanted to know how those cowboys came by such fancy stuff.
“So I asked,” he says. “And this buckaroo said to me, ‘Horses are prideful animals, and what they wear is a reflection of them and of us.’ They’d work six months to buy a saddle like that—and it wasn’t for display. They used them. Any day, he might end up dead somewhere on the ranch, and his saddle would go down with him. That’s my heritage. That’s where I come from.”
Beauty, utility, and legacy—these are what Hendren’s work aims for. Working in a style all his own, yet forged through the traditions of his Navajo and European ancestors, Hendren has focused on a visual language that “is a reflection of who I am, as well as my forebears and their sacrifices.” Much of his jewelry work is fabricated silver, built piece-by-piece and intricately engraved like the saddles that first piqued his interest in the craft.
Yet, “jewelry was just the easiest way to make money,” he explains. His work for decades has defied genres. He painted, did photography, and even took ballet classes back when he was enrolled at the University of New Mexico for a time. When his daughters attended Native Youth Film Camp in Santa Fe, facilitated by Comanche and Blackfeet producer Jhane Myers, Hendren was inspired by how they loved and connected to the medium.
“When I started my MFA in 2020 at IAIA, everyone expected me to do jewelry. I love jewelry, and I feel great every time I sit down at my bench,” he says. “But I wanted to do something that wasn’t market-based.” He started to explore film and emerging media like 3D printing in earnest, creating a new body of work that nevertheless speaks to the themes that have long preoccupied him—cowboying, Indigeneity, story, and translating heritage and history into present-day objects.
Hendren understands his work as a vessel for his knowledge and the knowledge of his ancestors. So as an artist, he is also a vessel of this knowledge. And he takes stewarding it very seriously. He is willing to share what he knows with anyone who wants to learn.
“I want to leave a good legacy,” he says. “What we do now isn’t as important as how it affects people going forward. If we are going to put our time and energy into something, it should make the world a better place.”
In May 2023, Hendren was one of five artists—and the only recipient based in the Southwest—to win a Maxwell/Hanrahan Foundation Award in Craft, one of the nation’s largest awards for craft. The award will support his work with $100,000 of unrestricted funds—and will surely bring more experimentation to his jeweler’s bench and beyond.
You can catch Hendren at Santa Fe Indian Market on August 18 and 19, 2023, and see the work produced for his thesis—along with work by his peers—at the Coe Center until June 30, 2023.