Cochiti Pueblo artist Jeff Suina incorporates traditional pottery materials and knowledge as well as architectural and digital technologies in sculpting angular and eye-catching works in clay.
Jeff Suina creates his signature polymetric pottery from his home studio in Cochiti Pueblo, New Mexico, where he sits near a large window that allows natural light to enter his space. Like other Pueblo potters, Suina learned the fundamentals of his craft during his adolescence while working alongside his mother, who is also a potter. The small clay figurines he created during his formative years sparked an interest to continue that style of pottery-making as he grew older.
After taking a break from clay for several years, he resumed the craft full throttle during the late 2000s with amazing ideas and, eventually, accolades. In his most recent works, Suina applies his background in architecture and mathematics, which inspires his polygon-shaped pottery creations. He also utilizes three-dimensional drawing programs to visually conceptualize his unique works digitally.
“The art always endures,” says Suina. “It can be social commentary, a snapshot of the artist themselves. There is a story to be told with each work.”
Suina sometimes works with commercial clay but prefers natural clay, which he collects and processes himself. The artist attributes the multi-talented Virgil Ortiz, another acclaimed Cochiti potter, to the development of his skills, noting that Ortiz has provided useful and insightful knowledge about how to work with Pueblo natural materials.
There’s a specific design for every piece of Suina’s pottery—in his works, you can see the vivid level of thought and preciseness that characterizes his craft and style of incorporating sharp angles, symmetrical shapes, and smooth curvatures.
“Most of the designs are unique to me, but they are absolutely inspired by Cochiti Pueblo traditional patterns… because I do follow a loose set of standards established by what came before me,” explains Suina. “I do like to explore positive-negative spaces created by the light and dark spaces.”
Suina started out constructing his polygonal pottery with commercial clays, but during the pandemic, the artist pivoted. “It was like the answer was right there in front of me. I could do all of this traditionally without having to rely on a store or a kiln,” says Suina.
Earlier this year, Suina exhibited seven of his polygonal works during a well-received show at Santa Fe’s form and concept gallery. The unofficial title, Contemporary Geometry, was a nod to his decision to exclusively use contemporary commercial materials for this show rather than traditional Pueblo materials. Additionally, Suina shows his work annually at the two biggest Native art markets: the Heard Museum Guild Indian Fair and Market in Phoenix and Santa Fe Indian Market in New Mexico.
Suina recalls hearing stories of older Cochiti potters who created pottery so big they would have to take off their doors to get the clay outside to fire. Such stories have been an inspiration for Suina, who has future plans to work in large scale and push the limits of his pottery.
“The geometric pieces could go colossal in size,” says Suina. “That’s one thing I’m curious about is how big can I go before it becomes impractical.”