Estella Loretto Biography

Estella Loretto




Sculptor, ceramicist, jeweler, and painter Estella Loretto was born on the Pueblo of Jemez reservation in New Mexico, USA. From an early age she was interested in visual arts and learned traditional pottery from her mother, Pueblo ceramicist Albenita Loretto. At fifteen she left the reservation to attend the Institute of American Indian Art in Santa Fe, studying for a semester in Belgium on a cultural exchange before graduating in 1972. Additional studies in Mexico took her to villages thoughout Oaxaca, learning Spanish and immersing herself in indigenous cultures and art practices. 

A Foreign Study Grant from the All Indian Pueblo Council allowed her to travel to Nepal and India, where she studied Nepalese ceremonial art and spiritual practices, and in 1975 she earned her B.A. in Social Sciences and Ethnic Art Studies from Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado. 

1978 was a seminal year in her career, as she was awarded two Fellowships, one from the Japanese government to study at Tekisui Museum of Traditional Japanese Pottery in Ashiya, and another from the Royal Family of Iran to continue her studies in Japan, now at the Oomotoo School of Traditional Japanese Arts. She  participated in her first formal exhibition at the Emabashi Gallery in Osaka, Japan, before returning to Pueblo Jemez in the latter half of the year to study traditional pottery once more with her mother and other Master Pueblo artists, as well as raku firing from Robert Piepenburg. From there her studies took her to the South Pacific where she studied woodcarving; to Issaquah, Washington to study printmaking with Master Printer Arlene Mickelsen; and taking further raku studies with Ralph Esposito in Spokane in 1987. 

From 1992 to 1994 she worked as the sole apprentice to Allan Houser, a monumental sculptor, at his studio in Santa Fe. This was a pivotal time in which she would become the first nationally-recognized Native American woman to work in monumental sculpture, the medium for which she would become most recognized. 
Her multi-faceted career expanded to include jewelry making in the late 1990s, studying under Ray Tracey. Meanwhile, exhibitions took her to New York, Washington, Hawaii, and throughout the Southwest; among these was the Santa Fe Indian Market, where she was the showcased artist in 1981 and at which she showed nearly every year through 2019. 

In addition to her art career, Loretto has lectured at universities and conferences throughout the U.S. After her creation in 2010 of a sculpture of 17th century Algonquin-Mohawk woman Kateri Tekakwitha, who was to be canonized by the Catholic Church, she was invited to attend the Church's ceremony at the Vatican the following year. Loretto has also been commissioned by celebrities Jane Fonda and Randy Travis, celebrated Navajo artist R.C. Gorman, and others. Her work is also included in various private and corporate collections, as well as the All Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, NM; Turtle Center Museum, Niagara Falls, NY; Tekesui Museum of Pottery, Ashiya, Japan; the Institute of American Indian Arts Museum, NM; the Heard Museum, Phoenix, AZ; and many others.

Estella Loretto continues to live and work in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Awards and Fellowships:

1978: Tekisui Museum Fellowship, Ashiya, Japan; Royal Family of Iran Fellowship
1986: Most Distinguished Artist award, Museum of Native American Cultures, Spokane, WA
1991: Kingston's National Registry of Who's Who in Art
2001: King Fellowship for Sculpture, School of American Research (now the School for Advanced Research), Santa Fe, NM
2009: Best of Santa Fe Award, U.S. Commerce Association; SBA Native American Success Stories profile

A complete timeline of Estella Loretto's career can be found on her website, here.