Published on June 24, 2014 by Carol
Alex Jacobs is a Native American visual and performing artist who has called Santa Fe home for almost 30 years. But he hasn’t forgotten his roots in Akwesasne, the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation in northern Franklin County. Jacobs first travelled to the southwest as a student at the Institute of American Indian Arts, where he graduated in 1977. In the 1980′s, he supported his family as an ironworker and has also been an activist, broadcaster, musician, poet and art teacher.
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Todd Moe met Jacobs while touring the farmers’ market at the historic Santa Fe Railyard this summer. His fabric collage works of art resemble brightly colored paintings. It’s his own technique – “painting” with fabrics – that combines elements from New Mexico with the quilt-making traditions of his Mohawk mother and grandmother. He still visits family in the North Country, but also enjoys the challenge of creating art in the southwest and navigating Santa Fe’s busy arts community.
Jacobs has been selling his fabric collage works at the Santa Fe farmers’ market for five years. He says that there is a group of Native American vendors that sell their artworks under the Palace of the Governors, but they have thousands of local artists in that program. As an outsider from New York, he decided to form his own space at the Railyard instead.
He first came to Santa Fe in the mid ’70s and studied at the Institute of the American Indian Arts. Jacobs cuts and designs fabric to create unique collages. He says that his technique is kind of a decoupage, using the same acrylic mediums. But instead of sewing the fabric, he glues and varnishes them to create his art.
The fabrics he uses came from his mother and grandmother, Sarah Jacobs and Anna Billings of Akwesasne. He says that they were really well known quilt makers in the area. As a starving artist, he says that he also uses his mother’s calico scraps and commercial packaging from the American Spirit cigarettes and the Land-O-Lakes butter wrappers. The dye in his fabrics, the ink in the papers and the bold colors make Jacob’s artwork stand out in the Santa Fe area.
In New York, Jacobs did a lot of grant and proposal writing and says that he got involved in the politics. While living in New York, he won a few awards for his art, including a poetry fellowship from the New York Foundation of the Arts and artist-in-residence positions through the New York State Council of the Arts. However, a lot of times he felt pigeon-holed into certain artistic mediums and felt it was hard for him to break out and explore other types of artistic expression. He says that he also struggled because he is a minority.
There is a great community of Mohawks in the Southwest, but Jacobs says he has had to separate himself from thousands of other artists who flock to Santa Fe. His collage work has to be very different in order to stand out.