One of four emerging artists featured, Oklahoma's Raven Halfmoon connects to her history and culture through clay sculpture

On a recent morning at ROY G BIV Gallery’s new location on West Rich Street in Franklinton, gallery director Lynette Santoro-Au looks more like a surgeon as she slowly, carefully cuts through layers of bubble wrap encasing a recently unboxed piece of art.

The white walls are currently blank, but by Friday, Aug. 9, they’ll feature the work of four artists: Columbus’ Angela Smith, Cleveland’s Jonah Jacobs, Emily Sullivan Smith of Kettering, Ohio and Oklahoma artist Raven Halfmoon. Their pieces will comprise a new exhibit, “Form X 4,” which will run through Sept. 7. (ROY G BIV will host an opening reception during Franklinton Fridays at 7 p.m. on Aug. 9.)

All four artists, Santoro-Au explained, make work that deal in some way with the earth and our place in it, incorporating themes of nature and form. After she cuts away the final layer of bubble wrap, Santoro-Au gingerly handles a corporeal stoneware sculpture by Raven Halfmoon titled “Blue for You” and places it on a pedestal. The sculpture is shaped like a woman’s head, with a blue, glossy glaze on top that contrasts with lighter and darker portions. Part of the blue glaze drips down the face and lands at the lips, bringing to mind a falling tear.

In a phone call later that day, Halfmoon, who is part of the Caddo Nation, described the significance of the piece. “It’s based on my own experiences living in today’s world and trying to figure out my place in my tribe, my generation, my culture,” she said. “The material itself is tied to the earth and the ground and where we came from. Clay has a lot of touching points for me as far as history goes and the connection to my tribe. The Caddo Nation worked a lot with clay and made phenomenal pottery. … I’m really close with that material, and I feel a deep connection to it.”

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In another Halfmoon piece on display at ROY G BIV, a gallery that primarily focuses on emerging artists, an earthenware sculpture of a woman’s head harks back to an ancient Caddo tradition.

“Caddos were super into traditional tattooing. We had a lot of face tattoos, arm tattoos. So I wanted to do a piece that symbolized that,” Halfmoon said. “The glaze itself isn’t like lines in tattooing, but the way I glaze a lot of my figures in my pieces, I’ll gloss out part of the face and do different designs, and that is symbolizing Caddo tattoos in my own way.”

Growing up, Halfmoon didn’t have access to clay, so it wasn’t until college at the University of Arkansas that she got the opportunity to work with the medium. Once she did, she gravitated to strong clays that resembled the types her ancestors would have used.

“The clays are easier to handle because they have grog in them. It’s also a conversation starter as far as ethnicity and the clay that my people used. It was very groggy and strong. We didn’t use porcelain, [which is] very delicate,” she said. “I want to use clay that looks like the clay Caddo people used — natural, strong, gritty. It’s usually red, black. Those are the clays I’m drawn to.”