My coil built pottery is formed with clay found in the hills of the Santa Clara Pueblo. With prayer we give thanks for the clay and ask for blessings for our family and those homes where our pottery will be. Historic forms and designs are embodied in my carved and plain red and black styles. As I design and carve my pottery, I try to produce a visual contrast between the matte and polished surfaces, this enhances the visual impact of the design.
My designs are inspired by cultural connections such as kiva steps, rainbows, the bear paw and the Avanyu (water serpent), all are part of the ceremonial aspects of our Pueblo life. I stone polish a clay that I liquefy and apply to the pottery, I do not use a “glaze”. Stone-polishing pottery involves learning the right amount of pressure to apply to the stone and knowing when the surface is dry as you are burnishing the clay.
My enjoyment is to polish in the early morning when the temperature is cool and the day is calm. I remember, when I first started with pottery asking my mother if my polishing looked good enough, if I was finished while working on a small pot. Her reply, “It’s done when you have what you want people to know you by”. Because of her I am now known for pottery with a mirror-like surface.
Firing pottery starts with wood as the fuel to produce the immense heat required. As smoke covers the surface of the pottery it leaves a film covering on the pottery surface. The temperature of the pot increases and the film is burnt off and then the gloss of the finish reflects the flames and shines on the surface of the pottery. I then know the pottery is ready to be set aside if it is a red pot or it is time to be covered with horse manure for a black pot.
Black pottery is most widely thought of when talking about Santa Clara Pottery. The firing of black pottery is the same as for the red but once the smoke film has burnt off the pottery, the wood is covered with horse manure which will produced the black finish. During the removal of the manure the smoke can have the effect of a dense cloud as it escapes from within. In this cloud are red-orange flames that look as if they are holding the pottery you must reach for.
The quality of polishing and imperfections with the pottery are determined during firing. With such an intense heat, the firing process will cause any minute crack or pocket of air to show as a defect on the surface of the pot. Clay coils that were not completely merged together will cause the pot to crack, and major air pockets may cause pottery to explode during firing.
This way of firing reveals beauty made by the earth, our hands and fire coming together in the traditional way of our ancestors.
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