Every picture tells a story: See Judy Tuwaletstiwa at Lux Art Institute

Artist/storyteller Judy Tuwaletstiwa, with some pieces of “The Crow.”
(Lonnie Hewitt)

Judy Tuwaletstiwa, this month’s artist-in-residence at Lux Art Institute, is also a master of the art of storytelling. Born in Los Angeles, she lives in Galisteo, New Mexico, with the Hopi husband she met over 30 years ago, when they found themselves in adjoining campsites at Chaco Canyon, where she’d come to recover from the breakup of a longtime marriage and he was doing a scientific study on the Sun Dagger site.

That’s how a nice Jewish girl from L.A. got the name Tuwaletstiwa — pronounced TwoWalletsTeeWah — which means “the action of the wind making ripples in the sand.”

This is not one of the stories actually referenced in her Lux exhibit, but every artwork has a story behind it. “We weave the world through our stories. Together.” So says a sign on the wall of photographs from her series “The Dream Life of Objects.” On a table nearby are photocopies of the objects, and the stories that go with each one. Visitors are invited to take home an image they relate to and leave a story behind. Many do, and you can read their writings, and maybe add some of your own.

An accomplished artist whose work can be seen in museums and private collections, Tuwaletstiwa never went to art school. Her early interest in art was crushed by a seventh-grade teacher, so she went on to other things, like English literature, in which she received degrees from Berkeley and Harvard. She finally made her way into visual arts at age 29, after seeing a touring show of Vincent Van Gogh’s works, and coming face to face with his “Wheatfield with Crows.” That painting, she said, “broke her heart open,” and she never was the same again.

Vincent Van Gogh’s “Wheatfield with Crows”
(Wikimedia Commons)

Her most riveting artwork at Lux is “The Crow,” her deconstruction of a dead crow she found alongside a highway. She gives new life to the bird in a suite of 25 pieces, honoring its spirit by using all its feathers and bones. Coming face to face with her Crow may break your heart open too.

Tuwaletstiwa has won wide acclaim as a glass artist, with residencies at Pilchuck Glass School in Seattle and the University of Hawaii. You can admire her smooth, cast-glass “Artist’s Hands” here, and the large-scale, textured, kiln-fired glassworks on canvas; photos just don’t do them justice. There’s also a thought-provoking red-painted canvas, with a video of the painted-over paintings that lie beneath it, all obliterated by the artist, often with some regret. And there’s a touchingly de-composed photograph from the Warsaw Ghetto. Whatever medium or subject she chooses, her work calls out for contemplation, and the closer you look, the more you see.

Tuwaletstiwa’s art is a healing, heart-centered, spiritual practice that leads to deeper self-knowledge and expresses a profound sense of connection to the natural world. For anyone interested in these things, Friday, Dec. 13, could be a lucky day.

“Diary,” from “The Dream Life of Objects.” The accompanying story: “For a 7th-grade social studies assignment, I created a character, Patty Thompson, who recorded experiences in her Diary as she travelled with her parents by covered wagon from New England to Oregon. I aged the pages by holding them over the gas flame of our kitchen stove. Fire’s voice remains essential to my work today.”
(Lonnie Hewitt)

At 7 p.m., as part of Lux’s Studio Series, she will be talking about her life and work, where art comes from, and how to cultivate your own inner genius. “With words we sing order out of chaos,” she has written, and her talk is sure to be an inspiration, with audience interaction included.

The event goes from 6-9 p.m., so you can come early, contemplate the exhibit, have a glass of wine, and afterwards stay to chat with the artist. This may be your last chance to experience her in person, since her residency ends Dec. 14, though her work remains on view through Jan. 11.

More Words from the Artist

We measure our days from sunrise to sunset.

What if a day were a million years?

Might we hear the heartbeat of a rock?

Might we feel grains of sand forming?

If you go:

Judy Tuwaletstiwa

Studio Series: Friday, Dec. 13, 6-9 p.m. Talk begins at 7 p.m.

Exhibit continues through Jan. 11.

Hours: Thurs./Fri., 1-5 p.m. Sat., 11 a.m.-5 p.m.

Lux Art Institute:

1550 South El Camino Real, Encinitas

760-436 6611/