was born in 1905. He was an accomplished sculptor and mosaic worker and
a veteran of World War II, where he served on the Zuni firefighting crew.
He taught himself to carve using hand tools, including a pump drill and
a hand grinder. He did not convert to an electric grinder until the late
1950's. His equipment was geared toward lapidary work only. Leo's daughter
Veronica recalls, "He used to get these tiny files
if one would
break, he would make it to where he had a real fine edge
he used to do the face carving".
was one of the first carvers to use dot inlay as a decorative element in
his carvings, such as on the wings of birds or the backs of frogs. He also
developed a technique for improving the pitted look of some corals, filling
the pits with coral dust generated from drilling beads.
was known to trade with other Zuni artists for the needed materials, which
were very scarce. In the 1950's, he was experimenting with other non-traditional
materials like lapis lazuli. Of his work, Veronica Poblano recalls, "He
would go beyond; he would take their advice but go beyond".
. . . . . . .
1939 into the early 1940's Leo was married to Daisey Hooee Nampeyo, a Hopi/Tewa
potter, and he taught her carving and mosaic work, which she practiced until
the late 1940's. She also studied relief sculpture at L'Ecole des Beaux
Arts in Paris in 1929, and she taught him the relief techniques that he
used extensively in his sculpture and mosaic work. The Poblanos sold or
traded all their work to C. G. Wallace and were often paid in food, secondhand
furniture and other items.
. . . . . . .
and his last wife, Ida Vacit married around 1947. Ida Vacit also learned
his lapidary and carving skills, and became an accomplished carver and jeweler
in the mosaic style. After his tragic death in a firefighting accident in
1959, Ida completed many of her husband's unfinished pieces. Their daughter
Veronica continues the family tradition in her contemporary mosaic work.
. . . . . . .
mosaic work is derived from the prehistoric tradition of setting cut and
polished stone and shell onto wood or shell backings. Laborers who assisted
in the archeological excavation of the pueblo of Hawikuh (including Leo
Poblano and Teddie Weahkee) are thought to have revived shell mosaic work
by 1930 and possibly as early as 1920. Mosaic figures depicting Shalako
dancers, Knifewing and Rainbow Gods, and Zuni men and women became common
by the late 1930's. As the post-Depression era and World War II affected
the availability of silver and turquoise, nontraditional materials such
as petrified wood and fossil ivory on aluminum or phonograph record backings
began to appear in their mosaic work. The stonework was often finished by
lapidaries, who set their stones into silverwork fashioned by Navajo silversmiths.
As a group, Zuni mosaic work offers us a fresh look at the variety of designs,
materials, and techniques. Leo Poblano was one of the first among several
Zuni artists to create inlay and mosaic artwork.