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Traditional Pueblo Pottery

I started doing pottery as a living in 1983. My pottery is made with clay that is dug out from the foothills around my pueblo. This clay is dark like chocolate and very oily. The clay is weathered outside for up to three months, until it dries out and crumbles. It is then placed in a five gallon bucket to let soak for a month or more. The clay is strained through a fine screen to remove any roots or rocks. The straining usually takes a full day.

I mix the clay with white sand that is dug out on the opposite foothills, across the river. This sand is also refined through a fine screen. This takes from 4 to 6 hours. This is the temper, without this the clay wouldn’t bond together.

The mixing of the clay takes several hours. I pour the sand onto a canvas and then add the clay, then more sand. Then I began stepping on it until it is mixed. I usually step two hours the first day then wrap the canvas up and step another hour the next day.

I use the coil method to create my pots. I allow the clay to take the shape and size it wants. Some traditional shapes are the storage jar, water jar, engagement basket; now called the friendship basket, wedding vase, bowls, and seed pots. Potters can express themselves in new and unique shapes. I work in groups of four to six pots at a time, depending on the size. After the pots are made they are left to set a day or two.

I do the traditional carved pottery. I design the pots and cut out the design with a sharp blade. The design is dug out with a carving tool. Each pot takes three to four hours of carving depending on the intricacy of the design. The pots are now left to dry out completely. Takes three to five days.

The pots are now ready for the sanding. This is done to smooth, even, and level the top and bottom of the pots. This take from thirty minutes to half a day depending on the size and number of pots. We then wipe each pot down with a wet sponge or cloth to remove any dust.

The clay I use for stone burnishing is oily clay that I get from another pueblo. We soak this overnight and the next day I strain it thru a fine cloth, to refine it. This can take an hour or more. I apply seven to ten coats of this slip on the pot allowing the first few coats to dry. The next coats we apply we don’t allow to dry out. While damp we start stone burnishing to get the shine. The stone that I use was handed down to me, it was my grandmother’s stone. Depending on the size of the pot it takes from one to eight hours of continuous stone burnishing to achieve the desired shine. After the burnishing, the pot is allowed to dry for four or five days before I attempt to fire it.

I do a traditional firing on the ground using cedar and cottonwood bark. I use these because it gives a fast and hot firing. The pots are usually fired from fifteen to twenty minutes, then it is covered with manure to give it the dark color and continue to bake for an hour. If red is what we desire then we omit the manure.

After the pots are fired the carved pots are done.

Pottery with etch work begins after the firing. I draw my design on the pot with a carbon tip pencil and chip out around my design with another tool. It usually takes me anywhere from one day to a week to finish one of my pots sometimes more depending on the size of the pot and the intricacy of the design. I do wildlife along with some traditional designs, It has taken me as long as six months to finish one of my large pieces.