Above: “Red Pot” by Hopi potter Raynard Navasie, 8”h x 7”w x 7”d, clay.
Sedona, AZ: Turquoise Tortoise Gallery opens its new exhibition “Rich Traditions: Native American Pottery” during its“1st Friday Gallery Tour” reception on September 6, from 5-8 p.m. The exhibition showcases the gallery’s impressive collection of clay pots and storytellers.
Dating back roughly two thousand years evidence shows that Native American pottery first appeared when early cultures discovered that lining their baskets with mud created a hard, more durable surface for cooking and parching. Creating a vessel from only mud was the next step, one that revolutionized cooking as well as allowing for rodent-proof storage vessels for precious seeds. These were the tools of non-nomadic cultures and the evolution of clay pottery became a hallmark of Southwestern tribes.
Left: “Zuni Wedding Pot – med.” by Tony Lorenzo, 13”h x 8”w x 8”d, clay.
Being a product of Mother Earth gave Native American pottery an inherent spirit with every step of its creation accompanied by song and prayer. Each individual culture developed their own forms and designs reflecting the natural materials available to them and the work of master potters became easily identifiable. Though the influx of traders and their metal cookware greatly affected the pottery practice its sacred component meant the methods were never entirely lost. Today, an appreciation by many cultures for Native American pottery has created a renaissance of the very finest techniques and designs. Individual potters now sign their works and their own lineage of pottery-making traditions is greatly appreciated.
One of the potters whose work can be found at Turquoise Tortoise Gallery is the Hopi artist Raynard Navasie. Navasie is the third generation to carry on the great gifts of skill and design for which his family is known. His grandmother, Frogwoman Navasie, signed her pots with a frog and Raynard has adapted a frog design of his own to honor her as he signs his initials onto the bottom of each of his own pots.
Raynard began his clay work when about eight years old, learning from his grandmother, his father, Maynard, and his mother, Veronica, first creating small bowls and figurines. His grandfather, who often helped sand and fire Frogwoman’s pots, was also an inspiration. There was continual talk around him of designs and vision, talk of depicting ancient stories or stories from one’s own life. Clay is never taken without an offering, nor is the yucca he uses to paint on the delicate lines of his designs. Navasie fires his pots in the same baking area his grandmother used years ago - over sheep dung just as she did.
Right: “Storyteller – small” by Edwina Tosa Tortalita, 5”h x 3”w x 4”d, clay.
Ida Sahmie, another of the gallery’s artists, takes a unique approach to pottery making: As a Navajo she was raised learning the methods and designs of her mother’s and grandmother’s rug-weaving tradition then she married a man of Hopi/Tewa descent and the tradition of pottery-making captured her imagination. Her mother-in-law is a granddaughter of Nampeyo, a name synonymous with Hopi pottery; Sahmie learned her techniques from the best then drew from her own Navajo heritage for her singular and award-winning pottery designs.
Also at the gallery are several of Tony Lorenzo’s distinctive and beautiful Zuni wedding pots as well as an assortment of traditional Native American storyteller dolls from small to large, from New Mexico pueblos including Jemez and Cochiti; distinctive seed pots and additional pots, from pueblos such as Santo Domingo.
One of the artists whose work you will be lucky if you see at the gallery is that of Master Potter Bertha Tom; her spectacular large pots are sold to Turquoise Tortoise Gallery collectors before they even arrive. Tom is a Navajo who meticulously recreates traditional Anasazi black on white (or tan) designs. Her delicate and intricate detailing is unmistakable evidence of the unmatched skills of this singular Native American potter.
The exhibition extends through September 15. Stop in on “1st Friday” and see for yourself a variety of Native American pots and Native American storytellers; and visit the gallery’s Facebook page to see more photos. For information about Turquoise Tortoise Gallery call 928-282-2262, or visit www.turquoisetortoisegallery.com. The gallery, located at Hozho, 431 S.R. 179, in Sedona, is open daily 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sundays.
Article and photos courtesy of Liz Boykin, Turquoise Tortoise Gallery.