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Joseph Coriz
Santo Domingo Pueblo Artist

JOSEPH CORIZ, award-winning silver and goldsmith, is from Santo Domingo Pueblo, but his pieces echo the shared heritage of all Pueblo Indians. Known for his fine overlay work, Joseph draws inspiration for the scenes in his pieces from the collective stories of his grandfather and the grandfathers of other pueblos. In the Southwest, the ancient ritual of storytelling flows easily from the past to the present, like a ribbon curling back on itself. For Pueblo Indians, the boundary between the “myth” time and today is fluid—and possibly nowhere is this more apparent than in Joseph’s storytelling jewelry.

Joseph’s pieces evoke the petroglyph images carved into canyon walls over one thousand years ago, visual images in rock art linked to the realm of myth, the time of the Ancient Ones, ancestors to today’s Pueblo Indians. It is said by today’s Puebloans, that the Ancient Ones created the rock art for the express purpose of communicating a message across the millennia to their descendants. Thus, the stories begin in the ancient petroglyphs.

Over a thousand years ago, clans of the Ancient Ones journeyed to find their Center Place. Their rock art images represent layers of significance. First, there is the image itself, for instance a hand or a spiral or an animal. The image also calls forth a narrative of the myth time, thus representing not only the explicit but also the mythical—deeper meanings than the mere image of a time when life was precarious, when belief systems were being formed, of great danger to be faced, and through this all, the people were finding their way.

The painted handprint (pictograph) or pecked hand (petroglyph), for instance, is an identification. It also marks a place in one’s personal journey. And, finally, it also marks a sacred place.

The spiral represents the journey of the clans. It also marks the journey of oneself, searching for one’s place. It also represents the concept that our choices bring us to where we are.

Along with the hands and spirals covering the rocks and canyons of the Southwest are animal petroglyphs, these images representing first the obvious of predator and prey. But the animal images also evoke the notion that everything is connected and necessary. All Pueblos perform some sort of animal dance, that for one is a petition to the gods for the well being of people and of animals. The dance also demonstrates the bond between people and animals, and finally the reverence for animals as mentors, gatekeepers, testers and allies.

The search for our personal Center Place is ongoing. According to Pueblo belief, we must continually struggle to find our balance, yet we will never get to the place of power that is in the animals and the kachinas. The Zunis put it in terms of raw beings versus “finished.” Rawness is associated with the world of myth, with the time of the beginning, and with the ability to effect change in the physical world. So, the more finished, the less power. Raw beings, such as kachinas and animals have more power than us. We are “finished” and the least powerful, and so we must rely on the more powerful to guide and protect us. Thus, evoking the powerful rock art images not only reminds us of what has come before but where we strive to go. All meanings are bound together.

Joseph taps into this collective unconscious of myth in his storytelling pieces. A basket of corn represents bounty, but also responsibility and devotion. The hands represent sacred places and also guidance.

The pueblo represents home, but also so much more. The ancestors of the Santo Dominguan Indians lived in Chaco Canyon, the center of the Chacoan Empire, whose spiritual power had roots in the extraordinary celestial phenomena of the 10th-, 11th-, and 12th-centuries. So, the pueblo scene with starry nights evokes images of the greatness of the Ancient Ones, but also of their fall from that greatness, their humility living in the cliffs, the resulting complete, complex and inclusive religion, and their humble quest for Center Place, which they finally found in today’s Pueblos—and where these ancestors of the great Ancient Ones strive to be worthy of their Center Place. Again, all meanings are bound together.

If images have power, and if that power can be imparted to the places where they are created, then power can also be imparted to the one who acknowledges, embraces and treasures those images—giving one’s own meaning and significance to the images.

Joseph himself never had a mentor. His interest was in drawing, not in jewelry making, even resisting a nudge from his mother. On the day he graduated high school, Joseph found his mother’s and father’s jewelry tools in his room. In the way of the Puebloan tying the present to the past, his mother had passed along the heritage to her son. But, Joseph did not heed that call. He went on to study architectural drafting. Fortunately for all of those who appreciate fine craftsmanship combined with unique artistic expression, Joseph listened to the calling of the tools and answered with his heart.

He says that each piece comes from his heart. He asks for blessings before he starts a piece, using the tools handed down to him from his parents. He says he can feel the energy from his father when he is using his tools. “People have said they can feel the passion and care I put into each piece.”

As with Joseph’s tools, he uses the symbols passed down from generation to generation, each imbued with layers of meanings and significance and spirituality. Gazing on one of his creations, looking deep within, we also can be transported back to a mythic time…to a campfire in a canyon, and as the story stick is passed from one storyteller to another, each one adding meaning to the story, the firelight illuminating the canyon wall, flickering and bringing to life those images that invoke deep feelings, the stories and images compel us toward even deeper meaning.