The Flying Blue Buffalo project is the long-held dream of Santa Fe artist, Armond Lara.
This project tells the story of the kidnapping and enslavement of an enormous number of Native American children over several centuries, from the 1600s when the Spanish arrived, through the period of Mexican independence, until the late 1800s under the government of the United States. The story is told through the paintings and sculptures of Armond Lara.
Armond’s grandmother, a Diné (Navajo) woman, fell victim to kidnapping as a child, was raised as a servant in an Hispanic family and eventually married into an Hispanic family in Southern Colorado. Armond guided the project from Santa Fe, New Mexico. Joseph Riggs, a retired attorney living in Tesuque, New Mexico, was the project manager. form & concept in Santa Fe hosted this major artistic and historic installation during Indian Market 2018.
The artistic roots of Armond’s dream began with five large wood carvings of Flying Blue Buffalo. To Armond, these carvings represent the children who never came home. The sculptures were scanned and printed using the latest 3-D imaging technology by an Albuquerque technology firm. 77 buffalo were then cast in resin and hand-painted and strung by Armond. The sculptures were suspended in a dramatic installation from the ceiling of form & concept in August, 2018. The exhibition included many of Armond’s original paintings of Flying Blue Buffalo from over the years, along with unique stories from New Mexicans whose family history features similar experiences. Insights were included from some of the premier historical researchers in the Southwest.
The Flying Blue Buffalo installation was unveiled at a preview reception on Thursday, August 16 in conjunction with a lecture on the topic of indigenous slavery by Dr. Estevan Rael-Gálvez.
The official opening of the exhibition was on Friday August 17, and an artist talk took place the next day, Saturday, August 18 at 2pm.
form & concept launched a successful Kickstarter to fund the production of the Flying Blue Buffalo with 3D Proven Systems. View the promotional video from the Kickstarter below.
“Buffalo are masters of survival,” says Armond Lara. “They’re still around today, even though we tried our best to kill them all off.” The Santa Fe artist has depicted buffalo in his drawings, paintings and sculptures for decades. In recent years, they’ve turned blue and sprouted wings. The Flying Blue Buffalo reference a dark chapter of Lara’s family history: his grandmother, who was Diné, was kidnapped as a child and forced into servitude by a Mexican family. This was a common story in the West. Across three centuries of Spanish, Mexican and American rule, millions of Native children were enslaved as household servants or fieldhands.
The Pueblo people called these abducted youths “lost bluebirds,” a symbol that Lara combined with the buffalo into a new icon of Indigenous survival. In August 2018, he collaborated with form & concept to fulfill his long-held dream of creating a monumental installation of flying blue buffalo sculptures that explores this little-told history.
“My grandmother didn’t talk much, but if she did talk, you listened,” says Lara. He’s known the story of his grandmother’s abduction for as long as he can remember, but it wasn’t until recently that he learned how common the practice was. “My sister was doing genealogy research on the family, and she found a list of all the Native American kids who had been ‘adopted’ by Mexican families in the Four Corners area,” says Lara. “It dawned on me, whoa, this is really widespread. That’s when I started asking other people about it.” He learned about the kidnapping and enslavement of an enormous number of Native American children over several centuries—from the 1600s when the Spanish arrived, through the period of Mexican Independence, until the late 1800s under the government of the United States.
A number of Lara’s close friends revealed that they too had ancestors who were taken. For Lara, this growing web of stories reminded him of his grandmother’s resilience, which has been an enduring source of inspiration. “I looked to my grandparents for guidance. The strongest voice was my grandmother’s voice,” Lara says. “She didn’t talk about it, she just did it. If she needed something, she’d make it. If she needed a robe, she’d weave one. I really admired that quality.” He dreamed up an art installation and storytelling project that might communicate this ethos, and inspire people to learn more about their heritage. A series of five winged blue buffalo marionettes that Lara carved from wood over a number of years became central conceptual elements. With the help of his frequent collaborator Joseph Riggs, an artist and retired attorney who lives in Santa Fe, Lara pitched the idea to form & concept. The gallery commissioned a digital model and several mock-ups of the buffalo from Albuquerque based 3D Proven Systems, while Lara and Riggs started gathering stories for the project.
“I’ve lived in the Southwest my whole life, and I was unfamiliar with the story,” says Riggs. “You can’t find it in history books in New Mexico, but as I learned, there were slave markets all across this region. It became a deep part of the culture of the Southwest.” Riggs says the scale of the installation is vital to the project, because it communicates the staggering number of children, families and communities affected by the issue. Each of the 77 buffalo sculptures represent the story of one “lost bluebird,” with oral and written accounts of their fight for survival. “People in New Mexico have been searching for a way to explore this part of their family history,” Riggs says. “They can take pride in the fact that they’re Hispanic, and they’re Native American, and they’re American. There’s so much division in our country. We need to find ways to show our unity, to show how much we’re alike rather than how we’re different. And I think we can do it through this story.”
“We’ve represented Armond’s work for years, and are so excited to help bring his long-held dream to fruition,” says Sandy Zane, Owner of Zane Bennett Contemporary Art and form & concept.