Tags for: Rose B. Simpson’s Strata
  • Magazine Article
  • Exhibitions

Rose B. Simpson’s Strata

Figures striking at a distance, rewarding up close
Nadiah Rivera Fellah, Associate Curator of Contemporary Art
June 1, 2024
person carving a large brown statue

Rose B. Simpson working on Strata at Santa Clara Pueblo, New Mexico. Photo by Kate Russell

Rose B. Simpson (Santa Clara Pueblo, b. 1983) has envisioned a site-specific project for the Ames Family Atrium titled Strata. The light-filled open piazza with a 60-foot glass ceiling is an expansive gathering place, and the largest free indoor space in Cleveland. Since it opened in 2012, the atrium has been activated with contemporary art at various points. Simpson’s Strata is the second work to be commissioned specifically for the site.

three people carrying large long piece of wood over shoulders
Rose B. Simpson’s studio at Santa Clara Pueblo, New Mexico. Photo by Kate Russell

In 2022, I invited Simpson to visit Cleveland to consider creating a project for the space. From initial conversations and that visit, she proposed the following: 25-foot figures mounted on metal bases at both sides of the atrium, facing each other above the heads of visitors. These two figures are made of layers of dyed Pumice-Crete (a light yet sturdy mixture of pumice, or volcanic rocks and ash, and concrete). The layers of the mixture mimic rock eroded through geologic time as well as the material structure of man-made architecture in reference to nature. The shoulders and head of each piece are built in fired clay. Mounted to the heads are aluminum structures intended to cast shadows to reference the structures of the mind in relationship to time and space and how these influence our perceived reality.

two people in the snow carrying large brown sculpture inside a building
Rose B. Simpson’s studio at Santa Clara Pueblo, New Mexico. Photo by Kate Russell

According to the artist, “this piece is inspired by a visit to the museum, the architecture of the building, the possibility of the space, [and the] tumbled stones from the shores of Lake Erie.” Simpson considers the atrium itself a collaborator in the process of creating Strata, saying that “the space spoke to me with its beauty” and inspired the design of her sculptures. 

Simpson’s heritage and identity as a Native woman has greatly impacted her work. She was born and raised on the Santa Clara Pueblo, New Mexico, and is from a long lineage of women working in the ceramic tradition in her tribe that dates back hundreds of years. Her signature ceramic figures represent a bold intervention in colonial legacies of dependency, erasure, and assimilation. The influence of her identity as a Native woman is evident in her work, but she balances her deep rootedness in her heritage with modern methods, materials, and processes, incorporating elements like metal and Pumice-Crete along with clay. 

Simpson’s signature clay sculptures are beautifully handmade and delicate. When the they are seen in person, one gets a sense of the artist’s hands and finger impressions in the clay and can see how she works the surface of her objects to shape them. For this reason, Simpson’s work is perfectly situated for the Ames Family Atrium. Her figures are striking from a distance, and they also reward close looking.

The decision to feature Simpson’s work grew in part out of the extensive process the museum undertook leading up to our “Indigenous Peoples and Land Acknowledgment” (announced January 31, 2023). Working in concert with an advisory committee of area Native Americans, the CMA adopted the resolution to recognize the Native Americans who were dispossessed from this region in the past and to inaugurate a new era of collaboration with Indigenous peoples living in Northeast Ohio. This initiative includes a series of efforts to enhance representation of Indigenous Americans in the museum’s permanent collection, exhibitions, and public programs. The acknowledgment itself was recently posted as a plaque in the museum’s Horace Kelley Art Foundation North Lobby, and a longer statement explaining its purpose and background is on our website.

person sculpting clay
Rose B. Simpson working on Strata at Santa Clara Pueblo, New Mexico. Photo by Kate Russell

The CMA convened an Indigenous advisory committee in late 2021 to discuss whether an acknowledgment should be made, to seek guidance on how Native Americans and their arts are presented in the galleries, and to explore ways to develop a long-term relationship with the region’s Indigenous community. Committee members represent a range of ancestries and tribal affiliations; some have deep roots in Northeast Ohio while others arrived more recently. This same committee was consulted in the proposal and early planning phases of Rose B. Simpson: Strata

building in desert at dusk
Rose B. Simpson’s studio at Santa Clara Pueblo, New Mexico. Photo by Kate Russell

Recently, Simpson’s work has been featured in solo exhibitions at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, the Nevada Museum of Art, the Princeton University Art Museum, SCAD Museum of Art in Savannah, and Field Farm in Williamstown, among other locations. We are looking forward to featuring Simpson’s work in Ohio through this major project in the atrium.