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Michael Toya is following in the footsteps of his ancestors.
The Jemez Pueblo artist braved the elements for three months as he completed a large-scale mural on the outside of the Nativo Lodge in Albuquerque.
“I’ve never done a mural or anything to this magnitude or scale,” Toya says. “At the beginning, it was intimidating. The idea behind this work and this style stems from what my ancestors brought to us. They told stories by painting on pottery or on petroglyphs. I’m doing the same thing with a modern twist and telling my own story.”
Toya’s project is the latest from the Nativo Lodge, which has been hiring local artists to add another dimension to the property.
“We’re proud to offer an experience unlike any other in New Mexico with our artist guest room program – there are few places where you can sleep in actual works of art,” says Nate Wells, president of the Lodge Collection, managed by Heritage Hotels & Resorts. “It’s humbling to work with talented artists like Michael, and his striking design will add a whole new dimension to the guest experience at Nativo Lodge.”
Toya began the project in April and wrapped it up at the end of June.
Depending on which angle you look at the Nativo Lodge property, there is a different story.
The black-and-white line work on the south wall calls for the blessing of the rain. “We rely on rain and snowfall to keep the cycle going for sustenance and growth,” he says. “It’s one of my new concepts.”
Hummingbirds, dragonflies, butterflies and flowers adorn the same wall. Toya says each image has a meaning.
“The side wall is definitely peaceful and welcoming,” he explains. “You have beautiful flowers and the wildlife. The hummingbirds and butterflies are said to be positive messengers and very spiritual.”
At the very top corner is a Pueblo sun. “It welcomes today and reminds us life is in a circle,” Toya says.
Wells says the goal for the Nativo Lodge at San Mateo NE and Interstate 25 is to have all 145 rooms painted by artists. Sixty rooms have already been painted by such artists as Toya, Mateo Romero, Kayla Shaggy, Rose Simpson, Geraldine Tso, Felix Vigil, Jaque Fragua, Lynette Haozous, Jodie Herrera, Marina Eskeets, Ishkoten Dougi, Ricardo Caté and DeAnna Suazo.
Toya’s room – Room 412 – is called “If You Believe” and was completed in 2018.
He says the room depicts popular cultural icons intertwined with traditional Puebloan interpretations of design, which influence and teach the viewer about what Pueblo people believe. More often than not, he says, these beliefs are transformed into powerful designs and traditional markings that give the Pueblo people strength, courage and confidence to keep their culture alive, all of which you can witness throughout the installation.
“For instance, the bear paws represent courage, strength and wisdom, and are a sign of protection,” Toya continues. “The Corn Maidens, and the stalks they were produced from, honor fertility and new life. ‘Life goes on, plant our seeds and start a new beginning’ is what our Corn Maidens wish of us. The steps of life design are the trials and tribulations of your journey. The stars watch over us and shine light into our hearts. The thunderstorm clouds and lightning bolts offer great power. Everything around you is sacred, whether it is the spirits of our ancestors or the forces of Nature. Honor them, give thanks and, in return, you will feel their blessings if you believe.”
Leaning on the traditional side of Toya’s art, his vision features a number of distinctive design components.
“The design is symbolic of welcoming guests, and wrapping them in comfort and traditional blessing,” he says.
Toya has also incorporated the Corn Maiden, which brings the power of life to the people.
Also part of the design is the Avanyu, which is the powerful deity and guardian of water/harbinger of storms. It extends on both lower walls on either side of the hotel entrance, representing the essential life force of nourishment.
“I drew inspiration from my background growing up in a family of artists. All these designs stem from ancestral culture and what I want to share with visitors when they stay at this hotel and visit our state,” Toya says. “It was an exciting opportunity to produce my work on a bigger scale with my artist room years ago and it’s thrilling to return to Nativo Lodge with yet another chance to further my skills and ability as an artist with this grand design. I feel truly blessed not only to showcase art in a piece of this magnitude, but also to set an example for fledgling artists to keep chasing their dreams and not be afraid to share their passion with the world.”