The latest work of Jeffrey Fulwilder is of three water birds statues for the memorial site for the late Colorado Rockies President Keli McGregor, which is located at the Salt River Fields at Talking Stick.
Photo by Daniel Martinez

Jeffrey Fulwilder: Talent Takes Artist to New Heights

By Tasha Silverhorn
Au-Authm Action News

Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community member Jeffrey Fulwilder has made a mark for himself in the Community with his O’odham and Piipaash–inspired sculptures, which can be seen and enjoyed at a variety of locations around the Community, including six large sculptures installed along the Pima Corridor.

Coming from an artistic family, Fulwilder has always had a natural artistic ability.

The inspiration to become an artist came from his uncle and one of his older brothers. He saw their ability to make beautiful drawings and paintings and wanted to do the same.

Fulwilder grew up in Lehi with his parents, the late Russell O. Fulwilder and Angelita B. (Manuel) Fulwilder, and his siblings. He is the grandson of the late Penrose Fulwilder and Lizzy Carlos, and the late Benjamin Manuel and the late Ida (Howard) Manuel.

A Family of Artists
The Fulwilder family is known for their artistic talent. “Some of the men were very talented in art, as well as the women,” said Fulwilder. “We [the family] just knew they had talent. Some would draw pictures of where they were during the war and send them back home. My uncle Clayton inspired a lot of us; he used to draw portraits and everything.”

Fulwilder explained that his uncle Clayton would come to his home and hang out; he would draw something, and Fulwilder and two of his brothers would sit at the table listening and watching as he would talk and draw.

“He was a big inspiration to me,” said Fulwilder.

But it takes more than inspiration to become an artist, and at an early age it was clear Fulwilder had inherited the family’s talent. At 10 years old, one of Fulwilder’s drawings was published in the magazine of the Red Wind Foundation.

Fulwilder attended a number of schools in different states in his early years; this experience broadened his outlook on what was “out there.” After he finished high school at Intermountain Indian School in Brigham City, Utah, Fulwilder enrolled at Lake Henry School of Trades in Denver, Colorado to focus on auto mechanics and later took an art critiquing class at Scottsdale Community College.

Fulwilder worked to support his family, but continued to pursue his art on the side. For a company called Error Correction Resolving (E.C.R.) in Denver, Colorado, he designed and installed mural paintings in the company’s headquarters building. The murals creatively depicted a variety of legal challenges.

In the late 1980s, Fulwilder designed artwork for T-shirts, posters and other promotional items for musicians, including reggae artists Jomo Pemberton, Sister Carol and Driftwood, and various benefit shows. Fulwilder also has been a longtime apparel designer for the Red Mountain Eagle Powwow.

Becoming Three-Dimensional
In the mid-2000s, Fulwilder’s artwork took a leap as he moved from pen and paper to Styrofoam models and steel sculpture. In August 2004, Fulwilder began a year-long process that would jump-start his career as a sculptor. He started working with MainSpring Capital Group, the development company for various real estate properties including the Pima Center at Via De Ventura and the Loop 101 freeway. For MainSpring, he was commissioned to create sculptures that reflect the Community’s culture.

The first was of O’odham Gourd Dancers. To help Fulwilder bring his vision to life, he enlisted Magnum Steel Erectors to cut the raw steel and help install the finished piece. The second was O’odham Women Basket Dancers the sculpture, which weighs almost two and a half tons and is nine feet tall, was installed early October 2005. The baskets alone are four feet round.

The third piece at MainSpring features two flute players, commonly known as “Kokopellis”; it stands 16 feet tall and weighs 2,700 pounds.

Cultural Influences in Art
Today, as an accomplished artist, Fulwilder works in mixed media, utilizing wood, steel and other mediums for his large-scale sculptures. The designs in his art reflect the O’odham culture, which is important to him.

I always try to incorporate the O’odham culture in my work,” said Fulwilder. “I try to help educate the outside people to know who we are and what our Community culture is about. You’ll see pictures in town of northern Indians or of different tribes that are not from this area. I just want people to know that we [O’odham and Piipaash people] are here, so I try to incorporate the culture in the work.”

Various Community departments and other organizations also have commissioned Fulwilder to create artworks, including the Salt River Senior Center, Human Resources, Drug Court Program, Red Ribbon Walk Against Drugs, the SRPMIC Housing Division, and the Arizona Indian Business Association.

Last July, Fulwilder and Blue Crow Studios delivered a 500-pound steel contemporary art sculpture of a bundle of devil’s claw to Talking Stick Resort’s Shadow Lounge, where it was positioned and installed with special lighting for illumination during the nighttime hours.

Then, in early February, Fulwilder unveiled his sculpture titled “Fire Keepers,” located at the Scottsdale Pavilions’ newly remolded UltraStar Cinemas. The sculpture incorporates ancestral Huhugam figures holding hands and dancing around the fire. The large piece has a fire representation in the middle which serves as a seating area where people can relax and enjoy the scenery.

Artwork for the Community and Beyond
Fulwilder’s latest sculpture depicts three water birds, based on the blue herons that are often seen on Huhugam pottery designs. The sculpture is installed at the Reflections Trail at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, the memorial site for the late Colorado Rockies President Keli McGregor. Fulwilder also created a miniature replica of the sculpture for McGregor’s widow.

The water bird sculptures were manufactured by Blue Crow Studios. They are made from stainless steel, which is treated so that it looks like rusting steel. The birds weigh from 240 pounds to 60 pounds.

I really like working with Blue Crow Studios,” said Fulwilder. “There are only two staff [members], an uncle and his nephew. It’s better that way, because they focus more on the quality of the work, compared to working with a larger company where they might have 10-12 guys working on the project and it feels like there is a rush or it’s just another job to them sometimes the quality is not there.”

Currently, Fulwilder is working with Blue Crow Studios on another sculpture, which will be installed in the lobby of Two Waters Building A.

“We are working on four-foot baskets with O’odham/Piipaash designs, including two light fixtures that are going to stand six feet tall and two feet wide,” said Fulwilder. “Hopefully we can do something for the other building in the future,” and he said he also looks forward to expanding his artistic vision beyond the Community soon.

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