"Woven Olla" by Randy Walker
A view inside the olla.
The City of Santa Fe Arts Commission, in collaboration with the Santa Fe Public Library and New Mexico Arts, commissioned Randy Walker to create the three-dimensional, suspended steel and fiber artwork to hang under the main exterior entry canopy of the South Side Branch Library. The sculpture references a traditional Pueblo water jar, or olla, and reinterprets it on a scale appropriate to the community and the Library. “Woven Olla” is a unifying form that marks the entry as a gathering place. The piece is an analogy for the Library as a container of knowledge, a resource no less precious than water.
Funding for “Woven Olla” was provided by the City of Santa Fe’s Art in Public Places program as well as New Mexico Arts’ 1% for Public Art. The public art collection at the South Side Branch Library is built around the theme of “Word Flow,” which likens the power of water to the power of knowledge in building community. It includes works from local and national artists.
Artist Randy Walker weaves the final strands through the olla during a community celebration for the piece.
Using the concept of Wordflow—the thematic link for public art at the Southside Branch Library, which likens the power of knowledge to the power of water in developing and sustaining community—I began to consider the objects that people historically used to interact with water. In my research, the olla, or water jar, struck me as a profound form. Traditionally used to collect, transport, and store water it is a part of five centuries of Pueblo pottery history, and continues to develop and transform based on the individual artist creating the pot, and the traditions and materials the artist chooses to invoke. Beyond carrying water, an olla can be fixed in time and identify a specific Pueblo or artist by its color, firing process, shape, and surface ornamentation. An olla, thus, communicates visually, without written words.
The olla is lifted into place.
I was struck both by the formal beauty of the olla as a container of precious, life-nourishing material as well as its traditional relationship to the human head. Seeing historical photos of water jars transported upon women’s heads was somehow reminiscent of a thought bubble, or container of ideas. As I studied the direct, physical connection of a human head to the vessel balanced atop it, I could almost visualize the thoughts of the individual carrier commingling with the water in the jar, passing back and forth without barrier. I realized that the Library itself is a container of knowledge, a resource no less precious than water. I imagined a large permeable vessel, at the scale of the community, a visual metaphor for the Library, carried by the many individuals of the community as they passed in and out of the entryway. With Woven Olla, a traditional form is transformed into a latticework, referencing the permeable nature of the Library as knowledge passes through it.