J.D. Roybal (1922-1978) was an artist with a great deal of talent and a sense of humor. His favorite subject was what the Tewa Pueblo people call the Kossa Clown, figures that are considered something like Court Jesters in the Kiva religion. These clowns perform fertility rites during the spring and fall dances at the Pueblo.
In the Hopi religion, Katsinas wear masks and outfits to hide their identities. It is believed that when the person dons their mask, they are loaning their physical bodies to the spirit of the Katsinas. At San Ildefonso, the Clowns use body paint and headdresses for that same purpose. It is not unusual--in fact it would be rare if it didn’t happen--for clowns to pick someone out of the crowd to have some fun with them. Sometimes there is a purpose and sometimes it reminds the audience that we are human. Most of their humor is aimed at customs or attitudes that are outside of the Pueblo way of life.
Roybal had a famous uncle, Ama Tsirah, who was a well-known painter and probably influenced him a great deal. He attended Catholic High School and a Business College, but his heart was in art. Most of his paintings were small, detailed watercolor and pen and ink pieces, but he did do some larger paintings as well. Beginning in the early 1950s, he was a regular on the art circuit and was showing at the Heard Museum Fair and the Eight Northern Pueblo Arts and Crafts Show where he often won the top award. He also showed at smaller Native art shows around the country and was always successful.
His paintings brought smiles to people’s faces. His work is in most major Native American Art Museums. We are lucky to have some really nice examples of his work. I hope they make you smile!