Clark Tenakhongva

Clark Tenakhongva

Clark was born in Keams Canyon, AZ, in 1957 and was raised in the Third Mesa village of Hotevilla.  His father is of the Corn and Water clans.  His mother is of the Rabbit and Tobacco clans.  From the Rabbit clan, Clark draws his distinctive signature, rabbit tracks.

Clark attended school at the Hotevilla Day School and the Hopi Day School at Kykotsmovi.  Starting in ninth grade, he attended high school in Winslow, AZ.  His budding art talents were encouraged in a high school art class.  He drew illustrations for the high school newspaper and yearbook.  His work was noticed by the Winslow Mail, the local newspaper, so he began illustrating for them as well.

After graduating from high school, Clark entered the Army in 1975.  His enlistment carried him all over the world.  As a soldier in the Army Corps of Engineers, he served in the Panama Conflict in 1977 and the Grenada War.  He was assigned to Korea, Germany, and Iceland.  His favorite stint was in Alaska from 1979 to 1982.  He loved the wild beauty of Alaska.  Perhaps his marriage to Ann Dora Youvella from Polacca, AZ in 1979 as part of his enjoyment of Alaska.  In 1982, they moved to Norman, Oklahoma, where he received an AA in Engineering from Oklahoma State University.

Clark and Ann have four children.  Michael graduated from Northern Arizona University and is a teacher at the local Hopi high school.  Sam graduated from the University of Arizona with a graphic arts degree and works for the Hopi Education Endowment Fund.  His daughter, Carlene, graduated from Dartmouth and taught at Hopi before returning to law school.  His youngest daughter, Simana, is currently a student at the University of Arizona.

Several people in his life provided key inspiration in his journey as a Hopi artist.  Clark started as a painter, but from the time he was initiated into Katsina Society as a twelve year old, he knew the traditional way for carving a tihu (pronounced tee' hoo).  He noticed as he got older that his brother-in-law, Robert Kayquoptewa, was making a living from carving katsina dolls.  In the early 1990's, while out of a job, he started practicing carvings.  He saw artists like Alvin James and Cecil Calnimptewa making enormous amounts of money for their carvings.  As much as he was impressed by their artistry, he knew that the intricate sculpture was not the direction he wished to take.  In his heart, he preferred the older style.

In the mid 1980's, he saw the old style carvings of Manfred Susunkewa at the Santa Fe Indian Market.  Manfred's style made a deep and lasting impression.  He knew the old way was truly the direction he wished to head in his own carvings.  The final push came from trader, Joe Day.  Upon observing the few old style carvings in Clark's home, he encouraged Clark to follow that direction.

In 1994, Clark entered his first show at the Heard Museum.  He was surprised and pleased to win a First Place at that show.  The same year, he took Best of Division awards at the Museum of Northern Arizona Hopi Show as well as the Santa Fe Indian Market.  In subsequent years, he has won awards and increased recognition for his unique style of carving.

His tools are simple.  Armed with pocket knives, wood rasps, and files, he carefully shapes his unique forms from the cottonwood root.  On very large carvings, he resorts to hoof files used on his horses to shape the wood.  His favorite carving is the Butterfly Maiden due to her beautiful colors and intricate headdress.  Unlike some other carvers who rely on pre-cut flat boards to carve the tableta, Clark carves the tableta completely from cottonwood.  His paints are unique in the process as well.  He abhors the stains being used by so many carvers today.  Feeling each piece has a life and energy of its own, the stains suffocate the piece.  He prefers starting with a kaolin base, a white, chalky substance found in the area which in water dissolves to a nice whitewash.  He constantly experiments with plant and mineral materials to find suitable colors.  He has used blueberries to achieve blues and purples.  He has traveled to the Morenci copper mine to obtain copper oxide which when crushed and mixed with water creates a beautiful blue as well.  A soft lavender comes from rocks found in the Little Painted Desert.  Sunflowers provide a nice brown while their seeds can be used for black.  Clark laughs saying, "The plant paints can really stink, but they stick really well."

The time spent on his carvings, depends on the pressures from his work...  When he sits down to carve, he has to move out of what he calls "politics mode" and focus on the carving.  It takes a lot of motivation and self-discipline to practice his art.  He does find that sitting down to carve seems to "clear the cobwebs" from his mind.  He feels rejuvenated when carving.

His current inspiration for carving comes from several directions.  He likes viewing the Goldwater collection at the Heard Museum.  He also looks at historic photographs noticing the styles carved one hundred years ago.  He takes these ideas and melds them into his own original style.  He wishes to bring back some of the carvings that are rarely seen today.

Clark feels his carvings are where they are supposed to be.  For the future, his only worry as an artist is the fact that diabetes runs in his family.  He wonders if his eyesight will carry him and cannot imagine not being able to carve.  He looks outside of the his artwork as well, hoping that when all of his children have finished school, that he can go back to school himself.  He and Ann have put their heart and soul behind supporting their children which is reflected in the success they all demonstrate in their own lives.  Every spare dollar is focused on furthering their education.

When speaking about the problem of authenticity brought on by non-Hopi carvings, he made an interesting observation.  While fully understanding the impact the non-Hopi carvings have had, he worries that many young Hopi carvers today don't fully understand the pieces they are creating.  Because they are not firmly ensconced in traditional ways, they have lost the meaning behind the carvings.  He understands that 90% of carvers working today are trying to provide an income for themselves and their families.  He believes the Hopi people are going through an era which pulls them between the traditional ways and the forces of the larger marketplace.  His stated advice to his own son, Sam, as well as other young carvers is, "If you're going to carve, do it the right way!"

---From Collecting Authentic Indian Arts and Crafts, co-authored by Georgiana Kennedy Simpson

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This site was last updated on September 30, 2020.

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