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Native American sculptor Michael Netonhoh shares his new vision. We accept this challenge, enjoy it in the sense that it's a gift, it's a new way of looking at life. Coming up next, on Colores. The last thing that I remember seeing was that it was a new way of looking at life.
The last thing that I remember seeing was the icon through the end of the site on my rifle. He was looking for some more of my friends, my fellow soldiers to shoot at. He suddenly turned his head towards me and we were twenty yards apart. He looked at me and I could see his eyes. I just remember seeing his eyes, our eyes met, our eyes locked and in two seconds we knew what was going to happen. I put my, the sights of my rifle right at him and I shot and at that moment after shooting my friend who was right behind me said something.
So I ducked and a grenade rolled into my hand. I let go of my rifle and I pulled my hand back away from this grenade and it exploded and I was suspended and I was blind. This is a piece of marble from Tennessee and what I'm trying to do is block it in and what it is is a woman sitting down on her knees and you can see here is the thigh on this side down through here. The hips will be right in this area and the shoulder is right in here somewhere and the arm is out this way.
The elbows here and the forearm comes this way and this kind of subtle mass here is somewhere in there. Our fingers, fingers will be in there somewhere and on this side right here is the face right where the palm of my hand is in there somewhere is her face. What I see when I'm starting a sculpture is I get this picture in my mind, this idea, this thought that formulates in my mind's eye and I've developed this ability at this point to design a sculpture in my head where I see this great form, great shadow if it's a body, a human body, then I can move the arms, move the legs, change positions and it's kind of like a shadow reform that I see. So once I get the idea for the piece then the excitement, the energy is building, my hands are working very quickly and molding, shaping, forming from this picture that my mind sees in my mind's eye and it sends messages down to my fingertips and what my fingertips feel in the material that I'm working with,
relays this message back to my mind and it tells it yes, no, right wrong or whatever's happening. When I'm working with the stone, my fingers have to see what this chisel is doing in front of my hands alongside the side in front of and I'm feeling the stone, feeling the crevices, what areas I have to remove. This chisel comes along behind my fingers removing the stone but it's time progresses, the stone starts to have this feeling of this form that I'm looking for inside and it starts to become soft, it becomes warmer, it becomes almost sometimes pliable in the sense that it's starting to take a life. And what my hands feel is not only what's on the surface but underneath the surface there are these bones, the chest cavity I have to feel in there and I know what's going on underneath the surface where the flesh is, where the bones are and by knowing what's inside, then I know what's on the surface of the piece.
I'm working in darkness in that I don't see anything but there's this energy, this kind of electrical force of sorts that's flowing through my fingers and through my mind. This energy is like an electrical force like lightning coming down from the sky, the lightning starting generating from my mind and shooting down through my arms into my fingertips and as it hits the earth, this electrical force is like touching my fingertips and it's like electricity shooting through my body into this material. It molds and shapes with an amazing intensity force that's generated.
This energy that I talk about is another sense at this point and the visual imagery is something that my mind receives from my fingertips which is a world of touch. So it's not sight anymore and sound is nonexistent often so it's a single channel of touch and feeling an emotion that has taken place. This energy that I talk about is a world of touch and feeling that I don't know what's going on underneath the surface of the piece. When I originally made the sculpture, I was going to call it.
I was going to call it when age is no more. But then once I put the crow on his shoulder, I had to call him the secret because the crow was his friend and when he takes his walks in the early morning or late afternoon, the crow comes and lands on his shoulder and tells him secrets of things that he saw during the day. Some of the secrets that the crow might be telling the old man is a little boy who stole corn in the field that morning or the two young lovers who were taking a walk or the young man who killed the deer yesterday that they might go visit today because he might give them some meat. In the normal sense of being disabled, I don't think that I'm disabled. I don't have a disability. I don't have time to have a disability because I'm working too much, too hard.
I'm having too much fun doing what I'm doing and I haven't got time in my life to think, feel disability, to think, blind. When I was a kid, I remember fishing on the reservation and catching these little cutthroats and I started sticking them in my pockets. And they were very small and they would wiggle in my pockets when I stuck them in there. And at the end of the day, when I was through fishing and I was taking them out, there were all these little fish that were mangled, they were slimy, and my pants were sticky, and all of this fish goop and so I really wanted to take off my pants as well as get rid of the fish. I forget that I'm blind simply because there's no space in my life for being blind. But then suddenly I'll come to this point where I'm walking through the room and I crash into the wall.
And immediately, I know I'm blind because I've crashed into this very, very, very hard, stable thing. So disability is a strange thing. I think it can be worked around, gotten rid of, if we find something that we're excited about with life, and then disability is destroyed. And the name of this piece is a Towson deer hunter, and the man on the bottom is the clown, and he plays a part of the hunter, and the man thrown over his shoulders is the deer hunter, and he's the dancer that the clown shoots with his willow bow and straw arrows. And once he shoots him, he puts him over on his shoulders, and the hard part about this piece was getting the balance. And the way I got the balance for that Towson deer hunter was I had to put something up on my shoulder, and the only way I could get it done was by putting Laurie up there. Come here, let me show the man.
It's lean over. It gave me an idea that I really didn't aim forward, but I had to arch my backwards to get that balance just right. It was 10 years old, suddenly blind. I would get on a bicycle, and I would start riding. I would fall down, I would ride into a tree, into a wall, into whatever's in front of me. And it would hurt, and I would cry. But if I stopped, where would I be? I would be nowhere, I would stop living. I wouldn't enjoy life, I would experience things. I would become nonexistent as a human, as an individual with feelings and emotions. It's a challenge. It's a game, is what it turns into. A game of whether it can be done, or it can't be done.
Accept this challenge. Enjoy it, in the sense that it's a gift. It's a new way of looking at life. Live, cry, and live. I have a dream. From the first time I heard of Michelangelo and saw photos of his work. I wanted to see them, I wanted to touch them. I never thought this dream would come true. I couldn't possibly imagine ever having an experience like that.
One day after we found out we were going to have a papal audience with the Pope in Rome where all of Michelangelo's pieces are, I thought, could it be possible that I could touch one? After our papal audience, we went to the chapel on the hillside in Rome. The priest opens up this rope and takes us into this inner area where the Moses is sitting. I crawled around on the Moses for like two hours or so and looked at him from the head to toe. A half hour later walking down the streets in Italy, I would get flashes of what I had just touched an hour ago. So these flashes kept coming back into my mind, this feeling of what I had touched, the softness of the stone, the uncertain areas, the smooth curves of the stone feeling like flesh. It was just amazing.
After I looked at the Moses, two years later, I got to look at Michelangelo's David. As I was on top of the scaffolding and started to feel the David, I started to cry. My dream again had come true. And so as I looked at him, I looked at his eyes and the beauty of the eyes, his eyelids were just incredible. The tear ducts in the eyes, in the corner of the eyes, the no one is going to see from down on the ground, from the floor looking up there.
They're there hiding in the corners of the eyes, the peoples of the eyes that look like hearts. His lips, his lips are soft, they're so soft that you can feel the heart beating, pumping, pushing this blood through his lips and his lips look like they're going to open in a second and he's going to start talking. The veins in his neck are just bulging from the adrenaline that he's feeling of looking at Goliath standing in the distance and his hands are the tension in the hands and holding the rock. This hard cold stone was so soft, so warm that you could just feel the bones, you could feel his heart in there maybe pumping and beating and it was just amazing to feel this flesh of a man 18 feet tall.
Prior to looking at Michelangelo's pieces, I carved a stone and I could give some life to this piece of stone as far as I was capable at that point in time and place in my life. But after looking at Michelangelo's pieces, I got a new sense of what stone was about. I knew that there was actual life in these pieces. I knew that there was flesh inside, that there was, that it's warm, that it, I could see before my hands could see but after I looked at his pieces, I had new life in my hands, I could see twice as much as I could see prior to that time.
Inspiration comes from everywhere. I'll be standing there, fishing and I get an idea and I'm inspired. I'll be walking down this street and all of a sudden a picture will come into my mind. It's a great picture of sorts. It's not a clear picture but when I dream, I dream in color and I can see some incredible pictures in my dreams sometimes. I wake up and I'm excited about this whole thing that I just saw. I don't always make pieces or sculptures out of these things that I see but just the memory stays with me for years and it's like I can pull them out of a file and look at them, sit down, concentrate and look at them.
There's this dream I had about this duck and it was a mallard and it was coming out of the sky like it was getting ready to land on this lake and in this dream I was looking at this picture of this duck in the, the picture was on a wall and as I looked at this duck, all of a sudden this duck started to come out of the wall in to mid air and I could see the feathers on the duck. Some little feathers here and there which were kind of flipping to being tossed by this tremendous amount of wind that it was going through. As it came out, I went around to one side and looked at it from that side and I walked around to the other side and looked at it from the other side and there's this duck just totally suspended in mid air, not moving, nothing holding it up. And I can see the colors and the detail and it's just incredible. It was exciting. I don't remember if I knew shortly after that it was a dream or not but sometimes I do know that it's a dream.
And then after I think about that fact that it's a dream and I think, oh, I'm blind, I'm not supposed to be able to see it but it's too late. I've seen it. This excitement comes from the creative process. I can't describe what the creative process is and I can't tell you what inspires me. I can tell you where I get ideas but this thing inside, this inspiration, this desire, this love is in there. I don't know how to explain it. I don't know what it is. The only way that I could possibly get people to get an idea of what it is is look at my work. Close your eyes, feel it with your hands. And then maybe you'll know what I feel inside. I think love makes the difference.
If you love anything, then you nourish it, you take care of it, you work at it, you work at making it better. The love I have for my wife Lori is really special. And if you nourish it and take care of it, then it's great, then it gets better. And I think it's the same thing with my work. I love my work. And if I put time, if I put energy, and if I put all these feelings inside, I think feelings that everyone has. I love for something, the desire to make something happen. I have this desire inside. And I have this love inside. And that's all I need. It's kind of like a marriage. My work and myself, we're married in some crazy way and about way. It's a marriage. It's a marriage of frustration. It's a marriage of love. It's a marriage of anger. It's a marriage of extreme ecstasy.
There are days when I, when I, what I call, I spin my wheels. There are days of frustration. There are days of exhaustion. I remember times working on this stone piece. When I had worked my fingernails down to the very end. And I would, I would be brushing my teeth at night. And it would hurt to hold this toothbrush in my hand to brush my teeth. And I forgot that I was supposed to quit three hours ago, but I got carried away this desire, this love to create brought me to this point of barely being able to hold this toothbrush in hand to brush my teeth. It doesn't come easy. So there's something amazing about this whole process that I just love. And that's that I can never ever accomplish what I want to get done.
And a thousand years I could never do it. Three lifetimes. I would love three lifetimes to be able to do this. And even at the end of that, I would never be able to get what I want to get done. And that's the nice part about it. That's a magical thing about it is I'll never be satisfied. And if I was satisfied, it would all be over. There wouldn't be anything else to look forward to tomorrow. The magic would be gone. I love my wife. I love my kids. I love my work. And I love to go fishing. What more is there to life than all of that? It's life. It's great. And this is my new baby.
I think so much of what I am today is due to my brother. I have this very special relationship with my brother. It's kind of love that that's really true. He has unconditional love for me. We've never had an argument in our life. And consequently, we gave of ourselves to each other. And I remember following him through the woods. And he always wanted to see what was over the next hill. This one time at Santa Clara Pueblo, he stopped and turned around and asked me if I was okay. There's snow on the ground. There's ice in my shoes. And he asked me, are you okay? And I looked at him. And this tremendous love that I have for him made me say, I'm fine.
And he smiled at me and he said, okay, let's go over and see what's on the other side of that hill. For a video, because that copy of this colores program, then $29.95 plus $3 for shipping and handling to KNME TV, 1130 University Boulevard Northeast, Albuquerque, New Mexico, 8702, or call 1-800-328-563. And he said, okay, let's go over and see what's on the other side of that hill.
Thank you.
Episode Number
Michael Naranjo: A New Vision
Producing Organization
KNME-TV (Television station : Albuquerque, N.M.)
Contributing Organization
New Mexico PBS (Albuquerque, New Mexico)
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Episode Description
For artists, vision is the most precious ability one has and to lose it would be such a blow that the artist's creative life might end. However, throughout the history of art, there have been many great artists who have worked with profound disabilities. Inspired by memories of his childhood at Santa Clara Pueblo, Michael Naranjo makes beautiful sculptures our of bronze and marble. Naranjo's work is more than sculpture, each piece is a story of determination and working against the odds. When he lost his sight while serving in the Vietnam War, his inner strength spurred him on to create art with a new vision.
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Talk Show
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Moving Image
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Guest: Naranjo, Michael A., 1944-
Producer: Kruzic, Dale
Producer: Kamins, Michael
Producing Organization: KNME-TV (Television station : Albuquerque, N.M.)
AAPB Contributor Holdings
Identifier: cpb-aacip-4bfde95c2e7 (Filename)
Format: 1 inch videotape
Generation: Dub
Duration: 27:40:00
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Chicago: “¡Colores!; 126; Michael Naranjo: A New Vision,” 1990-04-18, New Mexico PBS, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed March 2, 2024,
MLA: “¡Colores!; 126; Michael Naranjo: A New Vision.” 1990-04-18. New Mexico PBS, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. March 2, 2024. <>.
APA: ¡Colores!; 126; Michael Naranjo: A New Vision. Boston, MA: New Mexico PBS, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from