Interview with Roger Tsabetsaye

Zuni artist Roger Tsabetsaye comes from a very talented family. His sister, Edith Tsaybetsaye is known around the world for her needlepoint work. However, when you visit with Roger you realize right away he is not a jewelry maker, or a painter, but an artist. This fascinating man sees things a little differently than most of us .

Perry Null Trading

When did you get interested in jewelry?

Roger Tsaybetsaye

I was always drawn to art and went to the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York.

Perry Null Trading

When were you there?

Roger Tsaybetsaye

In 1963, I was there for two years. I studied silver and metal making process.

Perry Null Trading

How did someone from Zuni end up in Rochester, New York?

Roger Tsaybetsaye

I was going to school in Zuni and the curriculum changed. Academics started to be pushed with limited emphasis on art. I knew that art was what I wanted to pursue and was encouraged to enroll at the Albuquerque Indian School.

Perry Null Trading

Did you do well in school?

Roger Tsaybetsaye

I was always interested in learning. In elementary school I was the first kid to understand English. Back then all of us Zuni kids entered school only knowing Zuni. However, school wasn’t always easy for me and on occasion I would get into trouble.

Perry Null Trading

Before you left to the Albuquerque Indian School were you doing any art in Zuni?

Roger Tsaybetsaye

I started out painting. I was part of a group of young artists who made the original Thunderbird design for the high school. Later I made the symbol for the Zuni Veterans of all Foreign Wars.

Perry Null Trading

What sparked your interest in art?

Roger Tsaybetsaye

My culture, it is filled with spiritual symbols and figures.

Perry Null Trading

So you get to the Albuquerque Indian School, how does this experience move you forward in your pursuit of art?

Roger Tsaybetsaye

This school encourages art, so it was really the right place for me.

Perry Null Trading

What kind of art are you doing here, painting?

Roger Tsaybetsaye

Yes, I was painting again. I did some art for the school yearbook that was a Zuni Rain Priest making rain sticks and talking to a young man and woman, representing rebirth of past. That led to my art really being recognized for the first time.

Perry Null Trading

What happened?

Roger Tsaybetsaye

I became a recipient of a Rockefeller Scholarship that recognized art students with the most promise.

Perry Null Trading

Where did the scholarship take you?

Roger Tsaybetsaye

To the University of Arizona in the summer of 1962. I began doing lots of abstract art that incorporated my culture, things like Mudheads, Rain Priests a return to the spiritual world. The program had about 25 of us and I took part of this course for three summers, it really took Indigenous Art in new directions.

Perry Null Trading

So you go to the Rochester Institute of Technology after this experience?

Roger Tsaybetsaye

Yes, this is when I begin making jewelry. Something that resembles Traditional Arts, but at the same time is Roger Tsabetsaye art. My work is not defined by Zuni but instead my interpretation.

Perry Null Trading

Today, how much jewelry are you making?

Roger Tsaybetsaye

My Grandson has me doing more unique pieces, something that is going to be very collectible. This summer I believe a Coffee Set I made is going to be on exhibit by the Peabody Museum.

Perry Null Trading

Thank you for taking the time to visit with us.



Available art from: Tsabetsaye, Roger