Falling Apart, Coming Together

Laguna painter recovering from death of son

Date October 30, 2008 at 10:00 PM

Categories Local News & Sports


De Haven Solimon Chaffins started drawing and painting when she was in preschool, and she kept it up throughout her life €” until 10 years ago, when the death of her son Skye from complications of cerebral palsy threw her into a downward vortex of grief.

€œFor the first time in my life, I just didn€™t care. I didn€™t care about color, I didn€™t care about pictures; I just didn€™t care,€ she said.

That was a sure sign of serious depression, she acknowledged. Solimon Chaffins, who grew up alternately in California, where her father was a U.S. Marine, and her family€™s home in Paguate, Laguna Pueblo, was lucky to attend a great school system in San Clemente. There she was learning about art from toddlerhood onward, lessons that were reinforced by her family at the pueblo. Nobody groused €” much €” when she expressed herself on the walls in crayons and paint. She was always encouraged, she said. When she graduated from high school, it was an easy decision to attend the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) in Santa Fe, and to top that Associate of Arts degree with a Bachelor of Arts from the University of New Mexico. By the time she was out of school, Solimon Chaffins was making a name for herself with her striking paintings, filled with both rep- resentational and abstract forms.

But when little Skye died in her arms 10 years ago, it was as if all the creative life force went out of her. It didn€™t help that the tragedy ended her marriage as well.

€œIt was my daughter (Fauve, then little more than a baby herself) who was my rock,€ Solimon Chaffins told the Journal. €œShe was always keeping me going, telling me it was going to be OK.€

Five years ago, Solimon Chaffins picked up her brushes and paints again. €œI€™ve really been concentrating on coming back to it. And the viewers of my work tell me there is something more there than used to be,€ she said. €œSomething€™s deeper somehow. I think it has as much to do with Fauve as with Skye, although the two of them are always my inspiration.€

Traditional pueblo stories and beliefs play an important part in Solimon Chaffins€™ imagery. Her paintings have a strong visual presence as she fragments pueblo iconography through abstracted forms, utilizing the negative space of the canvas as much as she does the primary subject matter.

The paintings are part of a two-woman show at the IAIA Museum Store through Nov. 23. She shares the show with Santa Fe€™s Shawn Bluejacket, a Shawnee jeweler, also an IAIA graduate.

Bluejacket grew up €œall over the place€ because her father was a petroleum geologist. Born in the U.S., she spent a large part of her childhood in New Zealand and teen years in southern California.

€œI think it€™s given me a little bit different perspective that some other Native artists,€ she said. Her mother was a interior designer, and her grandmother and aunts were demon quilters and crafters, so Bluejacket also was encouraged in design and art from her youngest years.

Her first plan was to be a fashion designer, €œbut I realized I don€™t actually like to drape and sew fabric and you pretty much have to do that,€ she said, laughing. At IAIA in 1989, she began working with metal and found her métier. She loves to make jewelry, she said, because it is a traditional form of self-expression. €œPersonal adornment occurs around the world among all peoples,€ Bluejacket said. €œIt€™s such a personal, subjective thing.€

Although her work is known for the way it surrounds and presents precious and semi-precious gemstones, she said her own artistic expression is in the silver and gold metalwork. Bluejacket€™s work is known for its textural sterling silver or 22-karat gold surfaces. Though her pieces look substantial, hollow-form construction makes them light and comfortable to wear. Each piece contains surprising, fun elements.

€œI love stones €” I guess I take after my father there because he, too, loved stones and minerals,€ she said. €œBut I think of them as the finale. The metalwork is my art, and the stones finish it, by adding the color I love.€

Items in the Solimon Chaffins and Bluejacket collections are available for purchase and, as always, each purchase benefits the IAIA Museum.

If You Go

WHAT: New Works by De Haven Solimon Chaffins and Shawn Bluejacket
WHEN: Through Nov. 23
WHERE: IAIA Museum Store, 108 Cathedral Place
CONTACT: 983-1666