Pottery Beyond the Millennium
By Michael Hice
editor of Indian Artist and Native Artists magazines,
SFAOL contributor Michael Hice is currently a freelance writer
specializing in Native American art and culture, other types of
art, and travel in the Southwest.
In the last three to four decades, entire books and extensive
magazine articles have been written on Pueblo pottery. Pueblos
known for pottery, and the potters who have become famous for
innovative ideas or the precision of their technique, traditional
as well as inventive, are examined and re-examined.
am not attempting to replicate those valiant efforts here, but
am taking a glimpse at some early innovators and fundamental characteristics
that have become associated with five pueblos famous for pottery.
I also examine what a few descendants of recent generations of
potters are doing and hear from some of them about where they
feel the centuries-old pottery legacy is headed in the 21st century.
selections I have made are in no way meant to slight all the hard-working
potters contributing to the extraordinary evolution of the art
form. Space limitations limited selections, chosen for exemplary
asterisk * next to a name indicates that the person is deceased.
Known predominantly for its striking white-slipped ware (black-and-white
pottery of fine line design) Acoma has produced substantial amounts
of black and orange designs. Also common to Acoma is polychrome
pottery in fine line designs, animal motifs, and interlocking
designs at Acoma are often optical illusions that tease the eye
of the beholder. Some pots are so finely painted with a one-strand
yucca fiber that the concentration and patience required to make
them stymies the imagination.
and nativity scenes are made at Acoma, and some potters attach
three-dimensional figures to their pottery. Salamanders and frogs
are favorite motifs.
women who in the 1950s began to create the legend that Acoma pottery
has become were Lucy Martin Lewis* (born circa 1900) and Marie
Z. Chino* (born 1907). These women began to adapt prehistoric
designs and started a renewal of creativity and quality in Acoma
pottery. Both spawned generations of renowned Acoma potters.
an Acoma name that continually arises is that of Dorothy Torivio.
Torivio's work is recognizable by that distinctive optical illusion
quality. "They even drive me crazy," she says.
the beginning, Torivio used mostly Mimbres designs. Then she came
up with the idea of repeating one design element over the entire
pot. Old Acoma designs seen in the archives of the Wheelwright
Museum as well as developing her own patterns inspired Torivio.
She produces some of the most eye-catching pots covered with designs
like the mesa spiral or her four-pointed star pattern, in which
the four points of the star represent the four directions.
Most Hopi pottery follows the tradition begun by the great Nampeyo.
The traditional look is immediately identifiable by its complex
geometric designs, highly stylized birds and feathers and distinctive
color. Iron in the clay and traditional outdoor firing produce
variations of the distinctive yellowish hue of its slip.
Hopi potters are quite innovative, interpreting with individual
style the designs initiated by Nampeyo. Potters also often create
their own unique designs.
a young woman in the 1880s, Nampeyo* began to observe ancient
Hopi designs on pottery sherds extricated from archaeological
digs at Sikyatki. Sikyatki pottery, produced between 1375 and
1625 A.D., is considered some of the most beautiful of all Pueblo
pottery. Upon using the designs in her pottery, Nampeyo began
a trend that would quickly become one of the strongest pottery
traditions of this century. A Nampeyo pot is one of the most highly
prized possessions of any 20th century art collector.
the question of the existence of an artistic gene, a large percentage
of Nampeyoıs descendants turned out to be renowned artists including
her great-granddaughter Dextra Quotskuyva (born 1928). Quotskuyva
is regarded as one of todayıs finest Hopi potters. She believes
in the importance of the connection of the potter to the earth
through the clay. "It reminds us that we come from the earth
and return there," she says.
son is the superlative painter Dan Namingha, who splits his time
equally between creating breathtaking painting and spectacular
sculpture. His talent defies those who donıt accede to the theory
of an artistic gene. Some in the art world consider Namingha the
Namingha, Danıs cousin, is one of the most innovative young potters
working today and also now splits his clay time with painting.
"Creating pottery is one kind of experience; painting is
another. My creative urges are pulled by both. I give pretty equal
time to each."
San Ildefonso Pueblo
Though other forms exist, San Ildefonso Pueblo (known as San I
to locals) is best-known for three basic looks. One black; one
red; and the other black-on-black, the technique developed and
made famous by Maria Martinez and her husband Julian in the early
part of the century. A stylized feather motif is an image strongly
associated with the pueblo.
The pottery legacy at San Ildefonso begins earlier, but
Maria Montoya* (born 1885) who married Julian Martinez* (born
1887) brought fame to the pueblo with their new black-on-black
technique . . . new in 1919.
line of descendants produced one of the most prolific and talented
potters currently producing in her great-granddaughter Barbara
Gonzales. Gonzales laments, "Iım very concerned about many
young potters who have no spiritual connection to the clay; they
only produce pottery for commercial reasons. For centuries, potters
have felt the spirit of the material and conveyed its expression,
feeling a bond with the earth and its gifts. Itıs vital to our
son Cavan Gonzales (born 1970), continues the family legacy. "I
feel my traditional pottery is really progressing. I see a resurgence
in traditional technique
my traditional efforts feel they are moving forward smoothly,
I feel a lot of anxiety and impulse toward progressiveness. These
are the urges any creative artist feels, especially when meeting
artists from around the world."
Santa Clara Pueblo
Santa Clara Pueblo is best-known for carved blackware and polished
redware. Contemporary potters are doing high-quality, innovative
work in several techniques. Black-on-black and polychrome are
popular as are the double-spouted wedding vase and clay figures.
High polish, the bear claw, and serpent images are common.
Examining the legacy of the pottery at Santa Clara Pueblo
is a most formidable task. To cover the history of the families,
even one family, requires volumes. Therefore, we skip most of
the long evolution to examine some recent additions to that famous
branch of the family has led to Tammy Garcia (born 1969). "The
traditional part of me prays daily over my pots, basically giving
thanks to the Creator for the clay and the talent. And respect
for the culture sets some boundaries. However, my artist, creative
side pushes for new shapes and designs, or new arrangements of
design motifs. Stories are told through design work on pottery.
For example, the parrot
sister Autumn Borts (born 1967) produces one to two traditional
pots to three to four contemporary ones. She uses the traditional
serpent motif in homage to her grandmother who taught her the
medium. Her contemporary images include hummingbirds, flowers,
dragonflies, and water themes. She thinks young potters in the
new millennium will be trying to move on and will be highly collectible.
She hopes the religious aspects of pottery, what she believes
is the heart of the work and the basis of the Indian way of life,
continues. "It is important to teach the young these things,"
branch of the Santa Clara family honors the world famous Margaret
Tafoya (born 1904) as its living matriarch. That branch of the
family leads us to the famed brother and sister potters Nathan
Youngblood and Nancy Youngblood Lugo.
Nancyıs concern with new generations of potters is the need to
carry on the tradition which she does see taking place. However,
when organizations such as Indian Market cease differential recognition
of traditional versus contemporary pottery, "I feel they
are sending the wrong message, de-emphasizing the importance of
cultural tradition to American Indians."
"I support the movement of contemporary potters
Youngblood believes potters should set their own perimeters. He
too believes in staying within certain limits of the traditional
process. He has four rules: 1) he digs and processes his own clay,
2) he uses the coil method for building pots, 3) he fires outside
in a bonfire, and 4) he burnishes with a stone.
"I am walking the same road as many young potters (40s and
under). I want to move away from the Oregional artistı concept
and consider ourselves American artists, not simply Indian artists.
As I said, in believing in the importance of tradition, I think
every potter should stay within his or her own set of perimeters,
but I will always be pushing the envelope in terms of shapes,
design, and size."
Nathan distinguishes between the craftsman and the artist. "The
craftsman reaches a level of ability and quality, often high quality,
but chooses not to move beyond it. The artist will always stretch
for more. I consider myself an artist," he says.
The best-known southern pueblo for its pottery is Zia Pueblo on
the Jemez River west of the Rio Grande. The reason Zia pottery
and motifs are so familiar and influential is the pueblo has long
produced pottery for trade with others. Its motifs can often be
recognized in the painting of pottery from neighboring pueblos.
of the distinctive marks of a Zia pot is the Zia bird, painted
on much of its pottery. The bird may or may not have a split tail
but has a straight beak. Another recognizable element is a single
or double band, which runs from the top of the pot to the lower
area. It is frequently called the "rainbow band." Flower
motifs are also popular. Zia pottery, with its animal and flower
images, strikes many as the most whimsical, fun pottery.
polychrome made today is generally thick-walled, of a reddish
clay tempered with ground black basalt. Designs, also geometric,
are painted in black or red on a white or buff slip.
couple that descends from a family of well-known potters making
a mark on Zia pottery is Marcellus Medina and his wife Elizabeth
(b. 1956). He is a painter who renders beautiful images of various
dancers and images of pueblo life on her high-quality pottery.
Style of pottery developed and made popular by potters of San
Ildefonso Pueblo around 1920. It is characterized by a dull black
paint against a shiny black slip.
A process in which the potter, using a smooth stone, rubs the
pot surface until it is very highly polished. Before burnishing,
the potter applies several coats of clay slip.
All traditional Southwestern Indian pottery is made by coiling
The process of baking and hardening pottery. All traditional
Southwestern Indian pottery is fired outdoors, often using dried
cow or sheep dung as fuel.
Pottery that has been mechanically baked in a commercial kiln
or similar device.
Three or more colors.
A fragment of pottery, sometimes ground and used as a temper.
Often found among ruins or out on the mesas, where they should
remain unless gathered by Native potters.
A fine, liquefied clay applied to the surface of a vessel
prior to firing. Slip fills in pores and gives a uniform color.
An innovation begun in the 1960s, these pottery figures are
composed of a seated adult figure with two or more children. The
adultıs mouth is usually open, as in telling a story.
by Michael Hice: KOSHARES
- THE SACRED CLOWNS