Posted by: dbjaquith | August 2, 2013

Pueblo Indian Art and Culture

Taos Pueblo

Taos Pueblo

In July I visited my daughter and son-in-law in Albuquerque, NM and then headed north to Santa Fe, one of the world’s great art communities. The purpose of this visit was to take part in a week-long workshop titled Celebration of Pueblo Indian Art sponsored by Crizmac Art & Cultural Materials. Our group consisted of art teachers, museum educators and others interested in learning more about the art, history and culture of New Mexico’s nineteen pueblos.

Originally there were 60-80 pueblos in New Mexico; 19 exist today. Pueblo natives maintain their ancestral lands despite historical attempts by the Spanish and U.S. government to take away their lands. Pueblos believe they belong to the Earth and are the center of the universe. Extended family is their way of life; traditions keep their culture strong. Knowledge must be earned through trust and responsibility.

Pueblo pottery at Andrea Fisher Gallery

Pueblo pottery at Andrea Fisher Gallery

Clay being ground over a screen

Clay being ground over a screen

Pueblo artists collect clay in undisclosed locations, carry the dry, hard chunks home, scrape it into fine particles over a screen and mix with water. We worked with a woman from Taos, Dawning Pollen Shorty, who brought us micaceous clay indigenous to that region. The clay is very spongy and the mica flecks sparkle against the red color of the clay. We spent a day making clay pieces and later went to Taos to fire our pieces in a pit. Pollen taught us a coil method that is different from my prior understandings. Instead of laying new coils on top of previous coils, they are joined on the inside, with the clay pushed downwards against the inner wall.  We were advised by Pollen to work with the clay “No faster than a heartbeat.” I will pass along this advice to my students.

Firing in the pit

Firing in the pit

Firing day was awesome in so many ways. The drive to Taos, about 90 minutes north of Santa Fe, is full of landscape wonders. We visited Pollen’s family where her parents and grandmother, all artists, welcomed us to their home. Chopped cedar wood was prepared next to the rock-lined pit. Our pieces were ready and fired quickly in the pit. Pollen’s mother laid horsehair on some of the pieces as they came out of the fire, imprinting curly black lines over the red clay body.  Some Pueblo artists continue to fire their work this traditional way, others find contemporary kilns and ceramic materials more effective and efficient for their work.

Bowl by Pollen's mother, Bernadette, with horse hair line

Bowl by Pollen’s mother, Bernadette, with horse hair line

Taos Pueblo is the oldest continuously inhabited community in the country. It consists of the ancient structure (smaller than I had expected) and many smaller groupings of homes. The entire Pueblo sits below a magnificent backdrop of the Taos Mountains. A creek runs through the middle of the Pueblo, separating it into the northern and southern areas. We were able to walk throughout the pueblo and, with a photo permit, take photographs of the buildings and scenery.

Creek at Taos

Creek at Taos

On a different day we visited Santo Domingo Pueblo, where we were guests of the jeweler, Raymond Tenerio and his wife, Gabby, who prepared a delicious traditional meal. Their home hosts numerous Feasts and is beautifully arranged with traditional blankets, pottery, artifacts and jewelry. Raymond and Gabby shared jewelry-making traditions with us and many of us purchased his work that features turquoise and shells.

The rest of the week was filled up with lectures, museum and gallery visits, walks through Santa Fe and delicious food. I met with Santa Fe art teachers who, like me, use choice-based pedagogy in their classrooms. Everyone on this trip was warm, kind, and generous in spirit and mind. The experience has greatly informed my teaching, my artistry, and my outlook on life. I hope to return next summer!

Santa Fe art teachers: Mary Olson, Roni Rohr, Amy Birkan

Santa Fe art teachers: Mary Olson, Roni Rohr, Amy Birkan


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