July 28, 2009

The Art of Tewa Pottery - Slow is Sometimes Better

This summer marks an intense season of courses taught and courses taken. I taught courses in mosaic art and the art of Chinese Brush painting and calligraphy at McDaniel College and had the unique opportunity to study Tewa Pueblo black ware pottery from the grandchild and great-grandchild of the famous potter Maria Martinez.
Teaching and learning these art forms was as mysterious as it was engaging. On both sides it required patience, dedication and persistence. It was most effective when students and teachers alike were able to lose themselves in the process of molding the stuff of art into personal expression.
The ovoid pottery pictured at right is a master work by my teacher, Kathy (Wanpovi) Sanchez. It was produced in a pit-fire with a partial reduction process - where the smothering of flames by dried dung turns the red pottery black. The small lines on the vessel were etched in after the firing and appear to follow the natural flash points on the clay. The circular pattern in the center is a feather motif drawn in slip decoration before the firing. Ms. Sanchez often embellishes the pottery after firing with additions of coral or turquoise, as seen here. I admire the sparing way these focal points of gemstones are arranged.
I like to think of this vessel as a soul’s journey - the faintly drawn lines evoke mythological presences like figures in a dream. All is nebulous and subtle with flashes of mica adding sparks of energy to the otherwise sleepy relaxed feel of the burnished clay. This July I got a feel for what it meant to make slow pottery like this precious object - with hours of pinching coiling and burnishing devoted to a single small hand held pot. There were great lessons learned in this course about slowing down and putting the time and market economy way of thinking behind - at least temporarily. Stay tuned for my next blog on the process of creating the Tewa pottery.

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