Bloomfield, Connecticut, is quite far from Taos, but there’s a connection.
Kamatics Corp., a specialty bearing manufacturer and subsidiary of Kaman Aerospace, is marking 50 years in business this year. The corporation’s officials have invited their most outstanding former employees to an anniversary party at the home base in Bloomfield. One of those employees is painter and UNM-Taos instructor Giovanna Paponetti.
Many Taoseños are already familiar with her artwork. Paponetti painted the “Taos Historical Timeline” murals on an exterior wall at Taos Town Hall. In 2004, The Taos News commissioned her to paint an oil portrait of the “citizen of the year” and other honorees for the Tradiciones issue. She was also included in the book “Remarkable Women of Taos” (Nighthawk Press, 2013).
Paponetti was commissioned to create 21 oil painted panels on the life story of Kateri Tekakwitha for an altar screen by St. John the Baptist Church at Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo. She also wrote and illustrated the book “Kateri, Native American Saint.” Also in 2004, she was invited to the Native American Department at Stanford University.
“They wanted to meet me and felt that I portrayed their people in my paintings in an honorable way,” she said.
Her work has been included in documentaries and shown on The History Channel and PBS, among other media outlets.
Work at Kamatics
Though she is currently a full-time artist and art teacher, Paponetti had a nine-year stint in the corporate world. From 1983 to 1992, she worked for Kaman Aerospace as an engineering aide and a graphic artist.
Paponetti is also a consummate storyteller. She has a particularly fond memory from her time at Kamatics.
“I was sent as part of the marketing team to an international air show in British Columbia, in Vancouver, Canada,” she said. “I designed the display with an image of the earth taken from space. During the show, a customer came up to our booth and told one Kamatics rep that the earth in our display was upside-down. When asked how he knew it, the man replied, ‘Because I am the astronaut who took the photo.’ End of conversation.”
Paponetti was up for a promotion to run the public relations and graphic arts department before the company lost some government contracts in 1991.
“Instead, I was laid off along with many others,” she said. “I moved to New Mexico, where I became a painter and professor of art at UNM-Taos. It has been 24 years since I left, but I am very grateful to Kamatics and the way they treated me. In a way, due to a twist of fate, I am here indirectly because of them.”
Paponetti traces back her interest in Taos to a class she took in college, where her employer had helped send her.
“Kamatics Corporation always encouraged its employees to further their education,” she said. “In 1990, they contributed to sending me back to school to finish my Bachelor of Fine Art degree at Albertus Magnus College in New Haven, Connecticut. One of the courses that I took was an anthropology class. I came with my professor and classmates to Taos Pueblo as part of the course. I was deeply inspired by the beautiful deer dance and my life was never the same.”
She returned home and wrote her course paper about the Pueblo Revolt of 1680.
“I was also inspired to paint Native people,” she said. “I hadn’t painted in three years, but I rekindled my passion in Taos. No wonder that, more than 20 years later, I was again inspired to write and illustrate a book about the first Native American saint. Nothing happens by accident.”
Upon the return from Rome, where she attended the canonization of St. Kateri Tekakwitha in 2012, she gave a lecture and presentation at Taos Pueblo.
“I showed the illustrations in my book, my photo shoots of the Mohawk people in Canada that I used as models, as well as photos that I took at the canonization,” she said. “It was beautiful and I felt truly honored at Taos Pueblo. I also did a book signing afterwards, and the money went towards a frame for a print of St. Kateri that I donated to the San Geronimo Church.”
Painting with Paponetti
Paponetti has been teaching art at UNM-Taos for 15 years. During the 2016 fall semester, she will teach a realistic painting class on Wednesdays from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Additionally, she is planning to teach a small three-hour private class.
“Students will learn to express their artistic creativity in subject matters and mediums of their choice,” she said. “The class will take place in a relaxed studio setting with beautiful vistas. The mornings will start off with a focus on a particular technique, artist or style and discussion. Students will then work on individual art projects with one-on-one instruction.”