Ishmael Rodriguez: The Beginning

Ishmael lived in Sacramento in the 1970s and knew a Native American Sculptor by the name of
Santiago Tafoya aka Jim Tafoya. Ishmael was very moved and influenced by the sculptor.
He saw how much peace and satisfaction the sculptor derived from carving; as a result, Ishmael
was very motivated and inspired. He said (as he recounts in a video interview I did with him
in Woodstock NY 2004) that he wanted that: He wanted to find the peace that he saw in Santiago;
he wanted to sculpt also. But Santiago was not inclined to teach; he said-- if you learn you learn.
Just watch. Ishmael used his intelligence, ability and willpower to pick up the skill of carving from
an amazing mentor who he admired and respected. Soon Ishmael was sculpting stone
and wood—he carved marble, totems in wood, soapstone turtles, small soapstone carvings with
Native American motifs, etc. He found he could use art as a “vehicle” as he put it-- to grow, to
connect to people and to the world, and to get some money for needs. He sold his art, for example,
at the Sacramento County Fair, to jewelry stores, etc., selling, bartering and changing his life in a
profound way. Eventually, he was discovered by a Collector of Native American art-- Herb Puffer,
who invited him to exhibit his art at his art gallery in the Sacramento area. One day at the gallery--
who should drive up but none other than soon-to-be Governor of CA Jerry Brown who immediately
bought one of Ishmael’s sculptures for $1600. Ishmael never thought he could earn so much money
from a sculpture. His life was forever changed. He started to get a reputation; his sculptures
began to be displayed in art shows and demonstrations all over the Sacramento area. This is where
it all began….

Written by GG Wasserman
Apr 2019
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