The Cleveland Museum of Art Presents Monumental Sculptures by Rose B. Simpson

Rose B. Simpson working on Strata in her studio at Santa Clara Pueblo, New Mexico. Photo by Kate Russell.

“I think in clay,” said Rose B. Simpson in an interview with The New York Times. One of their Breakout Stars of 2023, the Native American sculptor has envisioned a site-specific project for the Cleveland Museum of Art’s Ames Family Atrium this summer. Commissioned specifically for the museum’s expansive, light-filled space, the two monumental figural sculptures, titled Strata,are constructed from the artist’s signature clay medium, in addition to metalwork, porous concrete, and cast bronze.

In 2022, Nadiah Rivera Fellah, associate curator of contemporary art at the CMA, invited Simpson to visit Cleveland and consider creating a project for the atrium. “According to the artist, the pieces are inspired by a visit to the museum, the architecture of the building, tumbled clay brick fragments from the shores of Lake Erie, and an interaction with an owl at the neighboring Museum of Natural History,” Rivera Fellah said. She added: “Simpson considers the atrium itself a collaborator in the process of creating Strata, and says, ‘the space spoke to me with its beauty,’ and inspired the design of her sculptures.”

Simpson’s relationship with clay is ancestral. Her work is informed by her identity as a Native woman of the Kha’po Owingeh (Santa Clara Pueblo) tribe in northern New Mexico. She is from a lineage of women working in the ceramic tradition that dates back to the 500s CE. “Simpson’s signature clay sculptures are beautifully handmade and delicate,” explained Rivera Fellah. “When seen in person, one gets a sense of the artist’s hands and finger impressions in the clay and can see how she works the surface of her objects to shape them. For this reason, Simpson’s work will be perfectly situated in the Ames Family Atrium, in that her work is striking from a distance, and it also rewards close observation.”

Also on display in the museum’s contemporary gallery is Heights III, a sculptural self-portrait of Simpson holding her daughter. The mother and daughter are connected through a bridge-like form linking their heads. The mother-and-child subject is one of Simpson’s most iconic sculptural motifs. The arms of the figures are missing, replaced instead with handles, symbolizing their likeness to double-handled, Pueblo ceramic vessels.

Simpson’s large-scale sculptures represent a bold intervention in colonial legacies of dependency, erasure, and assimilation, and balance her tribe’s inherited ceramic tradition with modern methods, materials, and processes. Her work asserts a pride of place and belonging on land where Native residents have been forcefully dispossessed of their territories and cultures.

Rose B. Simpson: Strata is on view from July 14 until April 13, 2025. This exhibition is free to all during the museum’s public hours.

11150 East Boulevard
Cleveland, Ohio 44106


Rose B. Simpson: Strata, July 14–April 13, 2025

Picturing the Border, July 21–January 5, 2025 in the Mark Schwartz and Bettina Katz Photography Galleries | Gallery 230

Monet in Focus, Through August 11 in the Julia and Larry Pollock Focus Gallery | Gallery 010

Into the Seven Jeweled Mountain: An Immersive Experience, Through September 29 in the Arlene M. and Arthur S. Holden Textile Gallery | Gallery 234

Korean Couture: Generations of Revolution, Through October 13 in the Kelvin and Eleanor Smith Foundation Gallery

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