Remembering Lloyd Kiva New and Paolo Soleri

MEMBER DISPATCH :: Stories and insights from the Foundation’s membership
Article by Channell (Chan) Graham.

This is my recollection of the events and conversations that I had with two remarkable individuals. One, the son of a Cherokee Indian mother – the other, an immigrant from Italy. 

These events began 53 years ago (1966) and my memory of what actually happened is limited to some specific observations and discussions. I have used the internet and two books to help me recall the our conversations and events. The Sound of Drums, A Memoir of Lloyd Kiva New is an excellent book, beginning with New’s childhood on an Indian land allotment in Northeast Oklahoma. The urban ideal, conservations with Paolo Soleri, sonsists of seven published conversations with Soleri between 1973 and December 2000.

In 1959, I graduated from Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, MI, with a Master of Architecture degree and moved, with my first wife, Julie, to Albuquerque, NM. After spending two years working as an apprentice at local firms, I took a federal government position as a GS-11 architect with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The Albuquerque office was an architectural and engineering center for all designated Indian tribes in the United States, including Alaska.

One of my last projects for the BIA was to design and develop a master plan for the fledging new Institute of American Indian Arts, (IAIA), located at the former Indian School in Santa Fe New Mexico. My main contact for this effort was Lloyd Kiva New, director of the arts programs and soon to be director of the IAIA itself. We had several meetings and conversations in Santa Fe at the IAIA, and in Albuquerque at the BIA office. He told me some fascinating stories about his development as an artist, a teacher of art, and businessman. As I wrote this paper, I used his autobiography to expand on my memory and add some details of his early childhood stories that were not a part of our conversations.


Some things I learned from Lloyd New’s biography:

Lloyd New was born on February 18, 1916 in Fairland, Oklahoma on a farm in Indian Trust Land. His father, William Edward New, was Scots-Irish. His mother, Josephine Colston, was a full-blood Cherokee Indian. Lloyd was the youngest of ten children.

An allotment of 80 acres of land was given to full-blooded Indians by virtue of a law passed in 1896.  The allotment given to Lloyd’s mother included a weather-beaten four-room main house, a leaky cellar, some chicken houses, a run down barn, and a cow shed. At the time of Lloyd’s birth the house was home to Lloyd, his mother Josephine, father William, and two older brothers, Floyd and Claude.

The house had to be similar to my grand parent’s farm-house in Jackson County, Ohio where, in the 1930’s, I spent several childhood summers. It was a poorly insulated wood frame house, with no running water or electricity, a cold outside privy, chamber pots in each bedroom, a coal range in the kitchen, pot-bellied coal stoves in the living area, coal oil lamps, and a dug well where you had to drop a bucket on a rope into the deep water below.

Lloyd gives an extensive description of his mother: “The mom I remember seemed to be a number of people wrapped into one regular, every day, overloaded, farm wife and mother and, at the same time the teacher. I remember her as a star, energetic, tall and strong Cherokee lady… As I grew older I noticed that thoughtful looks usually appeared at those times when she had slipped away into a kind of a strong dream-time in which she seem to pass nostalgically into the stories that she had heard in her own childhood years magical stories, which she seemed eager to pass along to me… Mom’s stories open a theater of unlimited imagination to me. Ancestral figures ran across the stage she set like a corps of well behaved repertory actors, mostly people of ancient Cherokee times.”

Lloyd showed his artistic qualities at early age. He drew farm animals on the walls of his room and made clay figurines of the animals, which his mother baked in her oven.

Lloyd left the farm when he was seven to spend nine or ten months every year with his married sister in Jenks, Oklahoma, in suburban Tulsa. He attended a good public school and became deeply involved in his new urban life while keeping alive vivid memories of the first years spent with his mother an the tales of Indian life that were deeply embedded in his psyche.

He was elected editor of the school newspaper in his junior year in high school, and ended his high school experience as valedictorian of his class.

In 1933, Lloyd and a couple friends, bummed their way to Chicago on freight trains to attend the World’s Fair. There he visited the Art Institute and looked at Old Masters and French Impressionist, works that he only know from art books.

In 1934 -35 Lloyd spent two semesters at Oklahoma A & M College, (now Oklahoma State). Next summer, Lloyd with his mother and sister Nancy, went to Muskogee, OK, home of the Five Civilized Tribes, and convinced the superintendent that Lloyd, would indeed be a good candidate for a scholarship to an Art School. He received a tuition grant and a $30 a month repayable loan, which would enable him to attend the Art Institute of Chicago where he gained a sense of pride in his identity.

After graduation from the Art Institute he received an offer from a BIA recruiter to consider an apprenticeship/teaching assignment at the Phoenix Indian Boarding School. He ended up teaching full time to a student body of K-12 students. He discovered that there was very little going on in the contemporary Indian education that included the classic periods of Indian culture. He observed destructive government policies that were designed to wipe out Native American cultures that had existed for centuries.

Lloyd New joined the US Navy in 1941 and received a commission as an officer. He was in charge of a landing group of Marines at the invasion of Iwo Jima.

After four years in the Navy he came back to Scottsdale, AZ where he met some of his friends from the Phoenix Indian School. They shared his concerns about the most traditional Indian artistic expressions and talked at length about starting an experimental school for young Indian craftsmen. Lloyd and his friends formed “The Arizona Designer Craftsmen,” and moved into an empty storefront on the SW corner of Brown Avenue and Main Street in Scottsdale. At this point Lloyd wrote (and told me in 1966±) about his inner drums and what would be his life choices, including, in one of our conversations, what happened and how he was able to make a career choice based on unforeseen events:

In 1946 he drove to Gallup, NM with two leather craftsmen who wanted to get back to the Navajo Reservation.  He had inner feelings regarding his life choices after his discharge from the Navy. He knew he wanted a life in art, but was unsure of what direction that life would be.  He was spending time alone at the El Rancho Hotel.  Out of boredom he took a walk along the street that runs parallel to the railroad with its collection of pawnshops and Indian art. He was passing alcoholic Navajos and thinking about their Long Walk and the misery they experienced.  Looking into a pawnshop window, an unredeemed piece of pawn caught his attention. It was a medicine man’s well-worn shoulder bag hanging from a peg by a silver studded shoulder strap. He concentrated on the bag. There was the nucleus of what he could create in an art form, a woman’s handbag.

Back at the hotel, he started sketching on Rancho Hotel stationary. In his biography he writes that he could actually feel the design, fully-blown in three dimensions. Later he went along the pawnshops looking for silver conchos that could be on the bags. He, again “heard the sound of drums”.

Returning to Scottsdale he was into the problems of production and marketing which was an important step in his way of business. He was soon to learn about the production costs, inventory, management, findings, labor and protracted overhead in how they affected the retail price.

He writes about the first big break in his business. Mrs. Fowler McCormick, wife of the president of International Harvester, bought seven handbags and set of leather booties for her dog, and then, following her visit, asked her husband to help Lloyd. He came by the next morning. After discussing goals and objectives with Lloyd, Fowler wrote out three checks totaling $7500. It was a loan, payable in two years with no interest charges.

The second big break was James Patrick, a new employee of the Valley National Bank of Phoenix, who was there to help at the request of Fowler McCormick. Lloyd was selling his handbags at $45. Patrick asked Lloyd about his various business amounts, including things like materials, labor costs, capital investment, electricity, rent, and insurance. When he asked about a wholesale price Lloyd told him that he did not have one. Patrick said, “you will!” After doing some calculations on a notepad, Patrick stated, “Now let’s see, for every bag you sell at $45 you will be losing about $10 to $20. I figure you will have to average $50 to $100, or you will be out of business before you open your doors.” Patrick also arranged a business loan that would be paid off in two years as a temporary partnership.

In 1947 Lloyd, along with other members of the Arizona Craftsmen Guild opened the doors of a remodeled grocery store on 5th Avenue to the public. He sold a number of bags to customers who were well-known members of the Phoenix community.

One of his friends, Mr. Burt Grassby, advised in the selection of a name for the business: it must look good, sound good, and if possible connect to the image of the business. After considerable thought he settled on a business name, Lloyd Kiva.

Favorable comments from a 1947 visit from Eleanor Roosevelt after her “My Day” column in  national newspapers resulted in a number of national contacts coming to his door.

Around 1953, Lloyd purchased seven acres on 5th Avenue, a half block in front of Scottsdale road and developed it as Craftsman Court. It was planned to include some 20 designer/crafts studios and specialty shops built around a pool-centered mall and patio. Included were studio shops for stained glass, silver and gold jewelry, ceramics, custom design perfumes, textiles and fashions. Lloyd’s fabric and leather good sales room became studio number seven called the Kiva Craft Center at 75 5th Ave., Scottsdale, AZ. By this time he had branched-off into printed fabrics, and clothing design for both men and women.

Within two years Lloyd Kiva Design Associates had become one of the region’s best known names in the small arts/fashion business. Within ten years LKDA had wholesale offerings in a few of the finest stores in America, including Goldwater’s in Phoenix, Neiman-Marcus in Dallas, and Nuesteter’s in Denver. With all this success, he would again hear the sound of drums.

Throughout his success as Lloyd Kiva Design Associates, Lloyd New had a nagging urge to get back in the original purpose of “what’s wrong,” with the lack of creativity in Indian art, and in Indian life itself.  He interrupted his Lloyd Kiva period to volunteer for teaching in the summer sessions held by the BIA for regular classroom teachers. He found it difficult to understand why, in view of a number of enlightened leaders within the Bureau of Indian Affairs there were no persuasive hard educational offerings that offered cultural identity as a starting base. This was left over from the old days when it was government policy to systematically eradicate anything “Native” from Indian life including religious belief, languages and the arts. In Lloyd’s view, and many others, this was a failed effort to get the Native Americans absorbed into the white man’s world. His Native American heritage was going to speak up.

In our conversations while I was working with him on the IAIA master plan, Lloyd had talked about what he had observed in current Indian culture and art.  Young students were not being challenged in their schools to develop an appreciation of their culture and history. This condition was most apparent in big city slums where Indian families had migrated, but also in many conservative Indian reservations. He felt that an education in the arts, or maybe just an exposure to the arts, would be a good way to understand how to use everyday feelings as human beings. His basic approach was to get a beginning student to achieve some degree of excellence in his/her given field of art, based on their native culture that could be recognized by peers and faculty. This experience could instill a feeling of self-confidence that could lead to significant creative results.

Lloyd participated in writing a grant proposal that the University of Arizona submitted to the Rockefeller Foundation in October 1959. He wrote: “The future of Indian art lies in the future; not in the past – let’s stop looking backwards for our standards of Indian art production. Let’s try to find challenging opportunities for the young Indian mind. Let’s be more concerned with the evolution of artist rather than art products… Indian art of the future will be in new forms produced in new media and with new technological methods”.

IAIA Director Dr. George Boyce challenged Lloyd New to come to Santa Fe and help set up the Institute for American Indian Arts as director of the arts program. He accepted the challenge and moved to Santa Fe. As the IAIA arts director he hired an outstanding faculty of professionals, including native Americans, who had been recognized as the leaders in their fields.



I had learned of Soleri through an article in the Architectural Forum magazine. He had drawn “The City on the Mesa” on butcher paper. It was one long drawing, several yards in length, expressing his concepts of city design. Soleri had a complex in Scottsdale, AZ, called The Cosanti Foundation, where he worked and hosted apprentices who paid for the privilege of working with him, similar to the Frank Lloyd Wright apprentices at Taliesin.

Sometime in 1966 in the Commerce Business Daily I saw an advertisement for architectural services for an outdoor theater at the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) in Santa Fe. I drove up to the Institute, to get an idea of what they were planning and was directed to the office of director of buildings and grounds. The director had a roll of prints and which he unrolled. I was amazed. They were unlike anything I have seen before. I asked him, “Who had prepared these drawings?” He answered, “They were prepared here at the school.” I was sure that this was not true. I went to my car and drove back to Albuquerque.

On the way home, I kept mulling it over in my mind; Where did the design come from? Who prepared these drawings? It took me a while but I figured it out. Lloyd Kiva New was then the Arts Director at the IAIA. He had been the owner of a pioneering art gallery in Scottsdale, Arizona that specialized in Indian arts and crafts and his own work in fabrics and leather. I assumed that he would know Soleri through his work in the arts. Using this assumption, I applied for the position as architect for the new outdoor theater. In the application I mentioned I would be delighted to work with Paulo Soleri. We got the job. Pacheco and Graham Architects were one of 40 applicants, but we were the only one that mentioned Soleri. I also think that Lloyd New was instrumental in selecting P & G Architects.

At first Soleri rejected the idea of working with another architect. But Paulo was not registered and the project would require someone who was a professional architect. After my contract signing with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, I talked with Soleri by phone and scheduled a trip to Scottsdale. When I arrived at his Consanti complex he gave me a warm welcome and a tour of the site.

Probably the only swimming pool in Arizona with a concrete roof shade. Before the swimming pool was dug, Soleri built the concrete roof shade on the earth, by carefully sculpting the beams and overall layout. He also placed dry pigments on the earth to be incorporated into the wet concrete. I was there on the day it was lifted from the earth by two large cranes.

They were working on a concrete shade cover for the swimming pool, which had been cast on the ground using a sand form.  I had arrived on the day it was going to be lifted from the sand form and secured overhead to telephone poles. The shade cover was lifted by two large industrial cranes, using hooks cast in the concrete.

Later I spent two days at Cosanti getting to know Paulo. We talked about the theater project at some length. He wanted the construction work to be done mostly by students from the Institute, who would learn construction skills. This concept was based on his experience as an apprentice at Taliesin under Frank Lloyd Wright, where the students paid to be there instead of receiving wages. This was a flawed concept, according to Lloyd New, who said, “You can’t expect young American Indians to work for free. They want to work for wages.”

During my two-day stay at Consanti, I took two rolls of 35mm slide film, showing Soleri at work casting his bells. The most interesting pictures were the shots I took of him working on a set of unfired ceramic bells. He would make each bell different by cutting parts or adding glaze.   I sent the exposed film to Kodak for processing, where they were reported lost. I received an apology and two rolls of unexposed film.

I found Paolo Soleri to be a very interesting individual who treated me with respect and friendship. My conversations with him were nothing like the academic nature of his printed words in his books. Although he was spending most of his time in Santa Fe, he made several trips back to Scottsdale. On one trip back he asked me to pick him up at the Albuquerque airport. On the trip to Santa Fe he told me that he was interested in purchasing a desert site north of Phoenix that might enable him to construct a new city of his design.

One of our more interesting conversations had to do with Paolo’s lack of architectural registration. He told me that he had made a professional application to the Arizona State Board of Architects to be registered, listing his educational and professional experience in detail. The Board sent a retired mechanical engineer to Consanti to interview Paolo and make a report. Paulo told me that the engineer seemed quite unimpressed with the site and asked very few questions.  He later received a letter from the Board asking him to consider taking the architectural exam.  After that he gave up on architectural registration.

In his book, Soleri states that he left the Taliesin Fellowship at Mr. Wright’s request. This is partly true, but there is more to the story that I had heard from Lloyd New, who had heard it from Paolo. One of the yearly events at Taliesin was the “Movements,” a program of music and dance where the Fellowship participated. Everyone had to dress-up, and men wear neckties. FLLW took Soleri into his bedroom and opened a closet door with a display of his four-in-hand ties. He said, “Paolo, pick one of these, just for tonight, as a favor to me…” After thinking quietly, Paolo answered, “F you, Dad” and exited the room and Taliesen.

Constructingthe Paolo Soleri Theater

Soleri was also an on-site design artist, making changes as the work progressed. His  drawings were concept-driven and did not contain construction details. My assignment was to visit the site, at least once a week, and review progress. It occurred to me that Soleri’s drawings did not show any night lighting.  I contacted Lloyd New to see if the theater was to be used only for daytime productions? After that, Soleri was asked to design the concrete light towers. I think that Soleri designed the theater with the intent that it would be used exclusively for daylight productions. In his master plan for IAIA he had an indoor theater located north of the outdoor with large windows viewing the outdoor theater stage and archways.

Soleri was dismissed by the BIA as work was proceeding on the Entry Ramp. He had refused to wear steel-toed shoes and a hard hat. I was informed of his dismissal, but not given a reason.  After Soleri left, the BIA Construction Manager had tried to duplicate Soleri’s Entry Ramp walls, but failed to get the same visual effect.  Soleri had cut and sculpted the earth, covered it with chicken wire, trowled on a brown coat, and then placed a finished coat on by dripping on a stucco slurry.

The Construction Manager placed a reinforced concrete retaining wall to hold the earth, and then used expanded wire mesh to form the shape of the wall. He then applied typical scratch, brown and finished coats to the wall.  I participated in the final inspection of the theater. Soleri was brought back to participate. He was quite upset about the difference in the entry ramp wall construction, and threatened to sue me and the BIA. He later met with my wife Julie, who was at the site, and told her not to worry, telling her, “Tell Chan. I had to say something…”


Both Lloyd New and Paolo Soleri had big egos, but what a difference in style!  Lloyd’s book is full of stories about people he worked with, people he admired and those who had supported his goals and ideas.  Paolo’s books are about Paulo and his ideas on contemporary cities and civilization. The only credit I found was for a foundry-man who helped him set-up bronze casting.

Today the Paulo Soleri Theater sits fenced-in, on the grounds of the Northern Pueblos Indian School, unused, under a threat of demolition and in a state of deterioration.








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