Behind the Scenes at Marla Allison’s Studio

February, 2017

On February 25, 2017, the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center’s South Rotunda will unveil a special solo show by award-winning artist Marla Allison. “Consumed by Design” showcases her all-new series of paintings inspired by the pottery tradition of Laguna Pueblo, of which she’s a member and where she lives and works.

Everyone is invited to read more about Allison’s inspiration on the IPCC Blog, but we wanted to offer a special peek behind the scenes exclusively for our valued IPCC members. Join us as Allison gives a private tour of her home studio!


Allison lives and works in Paguate, one of six villages within Laguna Pueblo. To pay her a visit from the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, a couple of staff members including Museum Director Monique Fragua (Jemez) drive west about an hour through the rolling deserts and mesas.

Marla Allison in her home studio in Laguna Pueblo, 1-13-17-minAlthough Allison does most of her work in her own sunlit studio upstairs, the first canvas we encounter is set up just inside the entrance on the ground floor. The easel is propped in front of the home’s original stone-masonry walls, a detail that distinguishes Laguna architecture from the adobe used in most Pueblos. The painting’s surface looms tall over us and glows red: when it’s finished it’ll be the crowning jewel of “Consumed by Design,” flanked on either side by smaller pieces of varying colors.

“My doors are always open!” Allison tells us as she shows us her work. “There are all kinds of people who say oh, I want to learn how to paint. Well, just come by and paint beside me! I give little spare canvases to the neighborhood kids when they come by so they can join me while I work.”

Allison’s passion for helping others tap into their own creativity arises again and again as she lets us explore her studio. “I do this in hopes that it’ll inspire more people,” she says of her vocation as a painter. “The children who think that they want to be artists? Well, do it! I did! Somehow I figured it out, and you can too.”

Allison knew she wanted to be an artist ever since she was a child herself. After selling her first canvas at a high school art show, she went on to earn her Associate’s Degree in three-dimensional art from the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe.

“My early stuff was not great,” she laughs. “I didn’t know what I was doing, I just knew I wanted to do something.”

Since then she’s pushed herself to continuously try new techniques and materials, not only to discover her natural skills but to develop in new directions. As a result, her paintings have morphed over the last decade through series that are alternately “Picasso-esque,” geometric, or mosaic-like. Throughout these evolutions she’s used vivid colors to depict the landscapes, wildlife, architecture, and the people of her beloved Laguna Pueblo.

“I don’t want to get stuck—I want to be a chameleon, change, adapt,” she explains. “Maybe it’s because I grew up Water Clan. I try to be like water: it adapts, it can be a solid, it can be a liquid, it can flow around every obstacle. That’s how I want to pursue my art.”

Clearly her experiments have been successful: her work has been displayed in over a dozen group and solo exhibitions and has been acquired by such institutions as the Heard Museum Permanent Collection, the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, and the Red Cloud Indian School Collections.

And although Allison is quick to insist that she’s very early in her life as an artist, just beginning to find her path and develop the wisdom of her elders, she’s already eager to give back to her community through her work.

“In a way making art is selfless. It’s sharing everything that I see and putting it in someone else’s eyes so they can see more,” she says. “I’m just touching on this little bit of what I think is cool in Laguna, but I know later there’s going to be so much more that all the kids share in their art that I didn’t even get to see. If I can help with that little bit of inspiration, what are you going to do? What are you going to build on from that? I’ll only do so much. You, the next generation, can make it so much more.”

So if you’re a would-be artist, especially out in one of our Pueblos, don’t be afraid to pick up a paintbrush. All it takes is a few canvases, a little corner of your home, and the dedication to pursue your passion.

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