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About The Studio Potter

Founded in 1972, The Studio Potter is an independent journal of ceramics, published twice a year in January and July. Each issue is organized around a theme, broadly stated so as to accommodate a range of perspectives, and featuring original and striking design. Recent themes have included: Clay and Words, Money, Sustenance, and The Uses of Failure.

Originally launched by a group of New Hampshire potters, early issues of the journal were dedicated to the experiences and concerns of working potters, an alternative to gallery-centered and how-to publications. SP has long since expanded its editorial reach to encompass aesthetics, ceramic history, and


philosophical arguments, but it remains grounded in the studio and in what is on the minds of all who choose clay as their primary medium. We encourage lively, thoughtful writing from across the spectrum of contemporary ceramics, and are committed to the elegant integration of visual and written content.

The following pages offer a digital sample of the current issue, with additional out-take images and color images not included in the print version. The digital sample is a complement to the complete 96-page issue which is available in print only. Also presented is The Studio Potter Support Pages, a supplement featuring our underwriters. For more information about The Studio Potter, or to join, visit






20 38 4 In This Issue 5 Encounters in Place 6 Preserving Culture by Joe Molinaro and Richard Burkett

14 Side By Side by Ann Schunior

18 The Maker’s Tag by Courtney Leonard

20 Mata Ortiz Today

78 Collaboration of the Heart by Nora E. Vaillant

84 Readings

by Walter P. Parks

24 Encountering the Other

85 Work, Play, and People by Craig Hartenberger

by Terry deBardelaben

30 Finding Source by Rose Bean Simpson

95 Donors 96 Coming Up

34 Being Here by Katherine Taylor

38 Seeding the Continent by Gertrude Graham Smith

42 A Chance of Birth by Winnie Owens-Hart

50 What About Redware? by Steve Earp

54 Indigene/Inhabitant by David McClelland and Meiling Hom

58 To Serve the Divine by Adam Posnak

Front Cover: Kuli Pottery. Image courtesy Terry deBardelaben Foldout: Kichwa Shaman- Dario Vargas Image courtesy Joe Molinaro Back Cover: Raquai Pottery Image courtesy Terry deBardelaben Inside Covers: SP Support pages underwriters Frontispiece: Firing a mucawa Image courtesy Joe Molinaro Contents pages: CLOCKWISE STARTING OPPOSITE PAGE TOP : Andoa chicha pots, courtesy Joe Molinaro; Turks Cap Lily, courtesy Gertrude Graham Smith; Donkey at Mata Ortiz pottery, courtesy Walter P. Parks; Forgiveness by Rose Bean Simpson; Hot-coated Ipetu pot, courtesy Winnie Owens Hart.

65 Shards 66 Translating Tradition by Melinda Burris Willms

74 A Pot with Life by Jackie Seaton

30 5


Mary Barringer Elenor Wilson ART DIRECTOR Rostislav Eismont EDITORIAL ASSISTANT Donna McGee PRODUCTION Jeani Eismont CIRCULATION Elizabeth Webber COPYEDITOR Paula Consolo PROOFREADERS Karin Rothwell, J Doster FOUNDING EDITOR Gerry Williams EDITOR




PO Box 257 Shelburne Falls, MA 01370 Phone: 413-625-9200 SUBSCRIPTIONS

PO Box 352 Manchester, NH 03105 Phone: 603 -778 - 8217 PRE-PRESS PRODUCTION

Eismont Design 50 Monadnock Highway North Swanzey, NH 03431 603 -283 - 0027 PRINTING

Penmor Lithographers PO Box 2003 Lewiston, ME 04241-2003 INDEXING THE STUDIO POTTER is indexed by Ebsco Art and Architecture Index ( For a listing of past articles, see

Vol.41 No.2 (ISSN 0091-6641). Copyright 2013 by THE STUDIO POTTER. Contents may not be reproduced without permission of THE STUDIO POTTER. Contact the editor. THE STUDIO POTTER is published in January as the Winter/Spring issue and in July as the Summer/Fall issue. Submissions welcome. Membership: One year US: $70.00 Canada: $80.00 (US) International: $85.00 (US) Student: $35.00 with proof of enrollment Back issues are available. Postage paid at Manchester, NH. Please send address changes to PO Box 352, Manchester, NH 03105.


e are pleased to include a combination of old and new contributors to this issue. Winnie Owens-Hart has contributed several articles over the years, and Joe Molinaro first wrote here about his experiences in Ecuador in 1993. In response to a recent panel at NCECA on which both of them appeared, Courtney Leonard, a young artist and teacher at the American Indian School in Santa Fe, was moved to respond. And readers interested in reading further about Juan Quezada, mentioned in Walter Parks’s piece on Mata Ortiz, can find a 1995 interview with him in Volume 24, number 1. Here at The Studio Potter, a new presence that also reaches back is that of our new associate editor, Elenor Wilson. Although she will be coming on board just as this issue is launched, Elenor has already been through the gestation and birth of Volume 37, number 2, when she worked here as an intern in the fall of 2009. We are delighted to have her working on the winter issue, whose theme is generation – in all senses of the word. For our last issue we launched a digital sample of several articles -- some with expanded imagery – that could be read on a laptop or tablet. We continue to explore the possibilities (and complications, given our limited resources) of offering a full digital version of each issue to members, but in the meantime anyone can access highlights of this issue by going to the menu on our website and clicking on “digital sample.” As always, this summer issue thanks all The Studio Potter’s friends whose generous support has sustained us during the past year. This includes donors to the annual appeal and to our NCECA activities, and the many potters who contributed to AKAR’s annual yunomi show – as well as our hard working Board and advisors. We acknowledge and appreciate the many gestures of support, large and small, that underlie and nourish the journal you hold in your hands.

STUDIO POTTER is a non-profit organization which publishes journals, produces educational programs, and provides services to the international community of ceramic artists and craftspeople. A professional journal, THE STUDIO POTTER is published twice a year and focuses on critical issues of aesthetics, technology, history and personal development. It is aimed at a discerning readership of ceramists, educators, and others committed to supporting work and dialogue. By fostering innovation and creativity as well as respect for tradition, the organization endeavors to improve the quality of life and work for studio potters. STUDIO POTTER welcomes hearing from potters, artists, scholars and educators with special interests in writing and reporting on topics and events in ceramics. STUDIO POTTER BOARD OF DIRECTORS : Elizabeth Cohen, Carole Ann Fer, Lynn Gervens, Stephen Grimmer, Diane Welden Housken, Brian Jones, Jonathan Kaplan, Kathy King, Nancy Magnusson, Maureen Mills, Nick Sevigney. CONTRIBUTING ADVISORS : Linda Arbuckle, Constance Baugh, Michael Boylen, Cynthia Bringle, Louise Allison Cort, John Glick, Gary Hatcher, Kristen Kieffer, Mark Shapiro.

The experience of the Other is the secret of change. — Octavio Paz Seeing and Using

Encounters in Place


he first use of the word indigenous dates from 1644 – that is, early in the age of European economic and cultural expansion. Though its meaning – native, born (here) – seems straightforward when used by biologists, paradox and contrast are embedded in the term. Inside our native place or culture, it is simply our world; only when the outsider arrives and observes (and almost inevitably, impacts) does being of a particular place begin to be understood – and questioned. For several hundred years, the practices, material cultures, and habitats of native peoples have been both studied and undermined, or simply swept away, by outsiders with their own cultural frameworks and agendas. And, despite the insistence and frequent cruelty of European dominance, “western” culture has also been profoundly changed in the process. Wondering how this plays out for makers is what animated the theme for this issue. Now that hardly anyone, no matter how isolated, lives beyond the reach of digital connection and global culture, what does it mean to be an indigenous maker, rooted in the cultural and natural history of a particular place? How are these makers adapting, or succumbing, to change? In the 1973 essay quoted above, Paz asserted, perhaps too optimistically, that “heedless of boundaries and systems of government…the pottery seen in the frescoes of Bonampak [has] survived Mayan priests, Aztec warriors, colonial friars, and Mexican presidents. It will also survive American tourists.” But survive untouched by industrial materials, environmental change, the Internet, and the cult of the individual? Not likely, in the twenty-first century. The road from question to journal is often a surprising one, and this theme was bent in a different direction by the articles actually submitted, most of which were by American makers. How they were changed by encounters with indigenous cultures, as well as how indigenous potters are navigating new technologies and opportunities, makes for a different collection of voices than originally envisioned – one whose underlying theme is the aftermath and effect of contact, for both parties. Indigenous marks the moment of encounter between home and the wide world. Wondrous or brutal, that encounter is always transformative. — MB


by Joe Molinaro and Richard Burkett The term indigenous people refers to any ethnic group native to a place. Historically, these groups have been deemed unimportant or insignificant when the land they inhabit is overtaken by more powerful governments or states. Those same people must then strive to maintain and preserve their traditions in the face of intrusion from outsiders, who put the indigenous culture and its norms at risk. In the case of the indigenous1 inhabiting the upper Amazon basin region of Ecuador, this has proven to be true for generations of people subject to daily threats from an outside world pushing into territories once inhabited solely by their ancestors. Although the Amazon basin is vast, a common lifestyle can be observed from one location to another, while regional differences help to identify each cultural group. In the upper Amazon basin of Ecuador one can easily witness the gentle transition from the coolness of the Andean range down to the warm, humid jungle floor bordering its western edge. Here you will find the dense vegetation similar to other areas of Amazonia, as well as indigenous people carrying on with daily life that shows many commonalities with other areas of the rainforest. The lush jungle of the Amazon basin region of Ecuador, encompassing nearly fifty percent of the country’s land mass and representing five of the nation’s twenty-one provinces, is home to nine indigenous cultures. While comprising only five percent of the total Ecuadorian population of more than fifteen million, these groups are vital components of a country that is as diverse as the land itself. The marginalization of the indigenous people of the Amazon region began as far back as 1540, when explorers set out to discover the Land of Cinnamon, thought to be east of the Andean mountain range. As in so many other places on earth, a culture and its people were pushed aside by those wishing to exploit the riches of the land. The need for cultural preservation first became apparent when Europeans undermined the natural way of life for people who existed in a symbiotic manner with their surroundings. Living and working with nature in an untamed region of the world, the indigenous people of the Amazon found ways to create items needed for everyday living in what others might easily refer to as a hostile environment. For many indigenous in the rainforest, the displacement that accompanied the arrival of the Spanish, as well as present-day intrusions brought on by oil exploration, lumber extraction, missionary conversion, and eco-tourism, have all threatened the traditions of their culture. While the Ecuadorian Amazon is not unlike other places where outside influences have impacted local traditions, the people of the rainforest region present a perspective into ways where modernism, tradition, and preservation intersect. Our interest in the potters of the rainforest stems from a desire to better understand the diversity of ceramic work produced in remote regions of the world. Travel to Ecuador to

Joe Molinaro, professor of art at Eastern Kentucky University, and Richard Burkett, professor of art at San Diego State University, have conducted research in the upper Amazon basin region of Ecuador for more than twenty years. They are the authors of Mythical Figures and Mucawas: Ceramics from the Ecuadorian Amazon Lulu Press 2013 and have produced two video documentaries on the pottery of Ecuador and the Amazon. Joe Molinaro 300 Lisletown Lane Winchester, KY 40391 Richard Burkett 6354 Lorca Drive San Diego, CA 92115 RIGHT :

Andoan girl with face

painting. All photographs in this article by Joe Molinaro, Richard Burkett, and Nan Coffin.

Preserving Culture E V O LV I N G T R A D I T I O N S

F A C I N G 6







Mucawa with

abstract geometric design. (group) – Andoa stoneware clay fired to earthenware temperature. Coil formed and painted with slips using brushes made of human hair. 4 x 12 x 12 in. OPPOSITE PAGE :


Huaorani thatched house.

conduct research in the Amazon basin is difficult, costly, and time-consuming. Our trips into the jungle by dugout canoe require us to eat strange foods, sleep in mosquito netting on hard floors, and bathe in rivers, creating hardship that is tempered only by our interaction with indigenous peoples who offer us their community, a bowl of chicha,2 and enduring friendship. Our research has involved repeated trips over the past twenty-plus years, some for two weeks and others for up to six months. Multiple trips to familiar villages are often needed to confirm our observations of changes in the cultural landscape. Understanding how and why inhabitants of the rainforest either sustain or move away from pottery-making over time presents a challenge, and these repeated visits to villages and communities help frame our conclusions within the context of tradition, time, and the effects of outside influences that confront the people of the Amazon. Nine groups inhabit the jungle region of the Ecuadorian Amazon (known locally as the Oriente3): Kichwa, Shuar, Achuar, Zapara, Shiwiar, Cofan, Siona-Secoya, Andoa, and Huaorani. They share a similar past and present, which can be seen in many objects made and used in daily life: houses with roofs woven of palm leaves, dugout canoes made to navigate the water routes of the jungle, hand-crafted blowguns used regularly for hunting, feathered headdresses and bone and seed necklaces for adornment and ceremony, and pottery made for a diet based on manioc. Yet there are differences in the basket-weaving, the body decoration, and the ceramics of the various inhabitants of the Ecuadorian Amazon region. Through careful study one can observe these distinctions while identifying a cultural ethos common to all. It is often the making of pottery that helps to define the groups – through specific design and production techniques – and serves to unite their members in their cultural identity. While many communities today still produce ceramics, in some areas it has declined to a point where it is rare to see pottery produced at all. The Cofan (estimated at under 1,000 individuals), for example, claim to no longer make pottery, while the Shuar (with more than 60,000 people) have seen a significant decline in pottery production. Pottery-making in the Amazon basin has been handed down in a matrilineal tradition, and it is not uncommon to find only older women in Shuar villages possessing both the materials (brushes, stains, forming tools, and such) and the complex skills needed for the making of ceramics. Convincing

a younger generation of girls to emerge from these communities as artisans is difficult, since the role of pottery objects used in daily life has been greatly affected by the introduction of aluminum and plastics. In many villages, utility is no longer the necessity that drives the continuation of pottery-making, and in most communities clay objects have never been established as a market commodity. The result is that pottery has little appeal to younger girls who might otherwise learn to make ceramics from their mothers and grandmothers. There are a myriad of reasons why pottery declines within any given culture, many of which have been the study of anthropologists and historians for generations. However, those places in the rainforest where ceramic wares continue to be produced illuminate the complexity of the people’s visual expression and reflect the richness of the land. The materials, the processes, and the tools of production all contribute to the tapestry of tradition that identifies those who still produce pottery in the upper Amazon basin. In communities where pottery-making still thrives, there exists a hierarchy of ceramic production in both quality and quantity. For example, the Kichwa,4 the largest of all indigenous groups in the region, with a population estimated at more than 100,000, are known to be the finest potters in the jungle and support this claim by consistently producing new wares throughout many villages in the Oriente. In these communities, tradition is easily passed on from generation to generation, and young girls are encouraged to participate in training at an early age in order to help provide clay objects for daily use as well as income for the family. Pottery remains an everyday item for the Kichwa, and, more recently, it has become a product for sale in the tourist market. Therefore, the ceramic heritage of the Kichwa is sustained through a delicate balance of utility and sales. They preserve tradition while pursuing new avenues of growth, thus helping to maintain skills that are otherwise easily left behind. Other indigenous groups who are still engaged in the production of pottery, although to a lesser extent than the Kichwa, are the Shiwiar, Achuar, SionaSecoya, Zapara, and Huaorani.5 The nearly 700 Shiwiar inhabit a portion of the eastern Amazon region bordering Peru and continue to produce lively ceramic wares that remain in use today. While the process of creating and decorating pottery is similar for all groups, the Shiwiar are more likely to show a playful side to their surface painting, with figure images and/or words painted onto the forms. In one case, a bowl with the word “Tuesday� written across the interior of the form, using the same style and pigments as other traditional decoration, illustrates how the Shiwiar see these forms as both functional objects and message boards. 9


Mucawa painting


Painted mucawas drying OPPOSITE PAGE BOTTOM :

Kichwa brushes and pigments for painting.


The young potter, having just learned this term in school, used her pottery as a type of notebook for written language practice. This type of visual communication among members of the village shows a more personal, intimate, and noncommercial side to their work. The Shiwiar, like many groups producing pottery today, wish to find venues for the sale of their products, yet the dense jungle and remote locations of their villages make it difficult to market the wares. Transportation within the rainforest is costly, time-consuming, and sometimes dangerous, creating a serious obstacle for market development, and the fragility of Amazonian pottery diminishes its appeal to a tourist market concerned with safely transporting delicate objects. The Achuar (with approximately 5,000 individuals), Zapara (with 200) and Siona-Secoya (with 1,500) are other indigenous groups who continue their pottery-making tradition with varying levels of development. Like many who produce wares in the jungle regions of Ecuador, these groups continue passing along information from older women to younger girls in order to provide pottery both for daily use and occasionally for sale or trade outside the community. An increased international awareness of the rainforest together with the rise of eco-tourism has provided an opportunity for a resurgence of traditions that would otherwise decline. Similar in both process and materials, the wares produced by these groups at first glance appear to resemble

those of the Kichwa and the Shiwiar. Yet subtle nuances of form and painted imagery, along with the application of different sap-coating materials, define the unique production of each group. For example, forms of figures are more common on Kichwas pottery, while the application of a milky-white tree sap can be seen more often on Shuar and Achuar forms. From the simple, childlike line drawings on the ceramic forms of the Zapara to the varying foot bases on bowls from Achuar villages, cultural differences are explored within otherwise similar forms. Lastly, there are the Huaorani, a small group of fewer than 1,000 inhabitants who within the past sixty years have largely transitioned from a violent, semi-nomadic group to one living peacefully in permanent settlements. In an earlier time, the nomadic lifestyle of the Huaorani made pottery production difficult, if not impossible. When pottery was made at all, it was only for utility and was quickly produced as needed at each new location, then discarded. Consequently, the use of decorated pottery was not part of the Huaorani tradition. Now, however, the Huaorani remain settled in more permanent villages and produce more ceramics. Because of the group's nomadic heritage, Huaorani pottery is often crude by comparison to other indigenous groups who have worked in clay for many generations. Forms are delicate, often having a tall, narrow bowl shape with little or no surface decoration. Their pottery is smoke-fired, leaving dark surface coloration on otherwise brown-gray clay. The Huaorani continue a tradition of using serving utensils made of gourds, with pottery often being used only for cooking or for ceremonial or funerary purposes. In addition, making pottery for sale or trade has not impacted the Huaorani greatly. This is due to the limited production, the relatively undecorated surface of the pottery (compared to that produced by other cultures, such as the Kichwa), and the remoteness of the Huaorani communities. While the Huaorani have now adopted pottery-making into their lives, their past continues to be reflected in such practices as hunting with blowguns and spears, wearing little clothing, and using various forms of body decoration. The ceramics of the upper Amazon basin of Ecuador continue to serve as markers for cultural identification of those who inhabit this region. Ceramists seek new venues for selling while often continuing to make wares that provide for the needs of their communities. The changing landscape in the rainforest has brought new challenges for the indigenous people, and with this have come new opportunities that must be realized if these peoples hope to sustain the traditions of their past. Cultures worldwide continually evolve, a fact that is not unique to the people of the rainforest. This natural evolution provides an opportunity for new traditions to be born while older ones are adapted. In the end, no culture is well served by becoming a human zoo, where outsiders 11

enjoy the past and those immediately affected remain marginalized. While the daily use of handmade pottery is in decline, there is hope that new markets outside the village will sustain and nurture the making of traditional ceramics in a new age. Increased appreciation from foreigners for the ceramics of the region, along with recognition of the forces that challenge its survival, allows for optimism that pottery-making will not fade. There is hope that new artisans and styles will continue to emerge as the indigenous cultures of the Ecuadorian Amazon embrace the challenges of the twenty-first century.


Huaorani potter

forming a pot. BELOW :

Andoa potter forming

a large tinaja.


1 The term indigenous (in Spanish, los indĂ­genas) here refers to a particular group of people native to a region; in this case, the people of the Amazon. 2 Chicha is a common beverage of the Amazon; it is a fermented drink made from the boiled and masticated yuca root. 3 Oriente is a term used to describe the Amazon region of Ecuador due to its far eastward proximity to the rest of Ecuador. 4 The spelling of Kichwa this way is used by the indigenous people, compared to Quichua, which has its roots in the Spanish language. 5 Huaorani is sometimes spelled Waorani.



Shiwiar chicha pots. Kichwa chicha pots and blue plastic barrel. FOLLOWING SREAD :





Estela Dagua creating a large face pot. Aluminum and plastic wares in a jungle market.




Mucawa design motifs. Cross section of a fired Mucawa.




Mucawa with abstract design. Exterior detail of Mucawa shown above.




Achuar potter firing a mucawa while cleaning tree sap for final coating. Andoa mucawas and tools.



Finding by Rose Bean Simpson

Oh, so your family does clay, huh? For how long? Oh … you know, about fifteen hundred years. Give or take. I grew up at Santa Clara Pueblo, surrounded by people who work in clay. When I was a child I met a girl whose mother was the manager for Sonic, a local fast-food restaurant. I was in total shock. I thought everyone’s mom spent her days digging, forming, sanding, and polishing clay, then filling the air with the sweet smell of burning cow dung while firing that clay. I thought my mom was exceptionally strange because she bought her clay, made people out of it, lowered them nerve-rackingly into her electric kiln, and then consequently had freak-outs about “switches.” But Sonic?!? Whoa. I wasn’t just surrounded by clay. Earth in all its glory was everywhere: dried into bricks to build the live-in vessel that was the house and formed into trenches to provide the foundation, protection, and nourishment for the seeds that would later become our food – corn, beans, chile, and squash. It wasn’t just one of the four elements; it was my context. When I could barely walk, my mom put my brother and me in a pit of water and dirt, and let us splash and splat in it long enough that, through play, the mix would become mud, the bonding solution for the adobe bricks that were being transformed into our safety, our home. When one has no alternative perspective, one cannot have any understanding of just how exceptional a specific experience is. Desiring something more from my dusty life, I went on a search for perspective, and the best vehicle for that became education. I went to the big city, Albuquerque, and, along with spray 30

Rose B. Simpson is the daughter of renowned clay sculptor Roxanne Swentzell and works from her home in Santa Clara Pueblo, New Mexico. Shown internationally, her work is housed in museum and private collections. In 2011, Simpson received an MFA in ceramics from the Rhode Island School of Design. 73 State Road 581 Espanola, NM 87532

Source ABOVE :

Intellectual Conversation,

2009. Ceramic, metal chain and hardware. Installation, 4.5 x 3 x 15 ft. Photograph by Robert McGinnis

paint, flamenco dance, printmaking, and poetry, I found ceramic solidarity at the University of New Mexico. I moved on to the Institute of American Indian Arts, where I found people of tribes I had never heard of, tribes that fished, carved, and wove and were only just building a new relationship with clay. But that wasn’t enough. I began to feel as though clay had become my default setting. I felt almost like a victim of its ease of application and ghettoized by its cultural implications – and at the same time, that clay was just too expansive and all-encompassing an answer. The exponentially greater questions I needed to ask of clay and my community weren’t being identified. I needed more. So I applied to grad school at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). Hello, negative thirty. In the American southwest, where the cultural connection to clay is assumed, you can mostly start at zero and build your own identity or your artistic message on the foundation of the larger cultural or social understanding. Sometimes someone here doesn’t get a reference, so I’m used to having to do about ten percent catch-up work. In Rhode Island, this wasn’t even an option. If I had tried to explain my cultural context at every single critique, in every single paper, at every slight reference, my head would have exploded, and I might have wasted my graduate school experience. While outside of my comfort zone I examined this negative thirty and found that I wanted to identify a familiar or standard “zero” that could exist for the entirety of humanity. How could I reach people from any walk of life? What is our common human relation, our common 31

human empathic response? I found myself conceptually right back in the soundproof adobe solidity of home. I found that the RISD ceramics-graduate question was “Why clay?” And the answer, for me, was so direct, so simple, so vast. I had been raised in a belief system that is based on an understanding of our human relationship to context, maybe even our co-dependency with, or vulnerability to, place, earth, this nest we built on our home planet. Earth is our closest relation; therefore, the easiest to relate to. Maintaining a relationship with this cultural, spiritual, and environmental macrocosm, however, is key; a constant reminder of our innate need to keep in touch with something bigger than ourselves. This thing, this vessel of creative energy, holds, supports, feeds, and inspires us. It is here to remind us of where we come from, if we just listen with our hands, our feet, our intellect, and our intuition, with every possible sensory intake. We become a community of macro-organisms, a co-dependent independent, creating again and again in order to know ourselves as belonging to somewhere. We are all brothers and sisters in this same collective, on this same journey, and we know each other’s hearts intimately. This is the thing to which we are all indigenous. So now I sit down in my studio, I close my eyes, and I feel. And as I begin to construct a mental image from whatever directive I have been given, I don’t just default to clay as my creating material, I choose it. And now, after all the exploring I’ve done, I’ve figured out why. Clay really is an easy connection and therefore, both the safest and most daring way for me to confront some of the most resistant aspects of our human condition. I returned to Santa Clara. To the kids of Santa Clara potters, I may be another total weirdo, stretched by space perspective, by massive crunches in my thinking and experience, but really, I’m just among the next generation of believers.



Reach, 2010.

Ceramic, metal. 64 x 58 x 40 in. Photograph by Addison Doty LEFT :

Dual, 2013. Ceramic,

leather, plaster, found objects. 27 x 36 x 7 in. Photograph by Karl Duncan OPPOSITE PAGE LEFT :

Forgiveness, 2012. Ceramic, paper, mixed media, found objects. 37 x 18 x 14 in. OPPOSITE PAGE TOP RIGHT :

Eve, 2012. Ceramic on board, tile, wire, plaster, acrylic. 35 x 27 x 5 in. Photograph by Addison Doty OPPOSITE PAGE BOTTOM RIGHT :

To Be Pueblo, 2010. (detail of installation, 45 x 32 x 7 in.) Ceramic tile on board, mud plaster, steel rod. Installation, 12 x 12 x 16 ft.


by Adam Posnak Adam Posnak grew up in Macon, Georgia. He currently resides in the White River Valley of the Boston Mountains in Arkansas, with his wife, Jeannie Hulen and their two remarkable kids. 360 McKnight Avenue West Fork, AR 72774 OPPOSITE PAGE TOP :

Pot for

Yoruba Egungun, primary ancestral spirits, 2012. Earthenware, 15 x 13 x 13 in. OPPOSITE PAGE BELOW :


for Yoruba Abiku, a potentially dangerous class of ancestral spirit, 2012. Earthenware, 15 x 13 x 13 in. Photographs by Lydia Clark PAGES 60, 61:

Wall painting, Abiku

shrine, Benin, West Africa. Photograph by Awo Fáladé Òsúntólá

African and African-Pan-American religious-cultural systems make use of an array of ceramic vessels and objects. Within these cultures, special pots are understood to literally house divinity and are receptacles for detailed and painstaking spiritual offerings. In some cases the pots reside in lavish altar cabinets, surrounded by fine fabrics, statuary, wood carvings, and beaded items. In other contexts, they lie in repose on earthen floors, bathed in rum-mist, cigar smoke, candlelight, and shadow. They are sung to, drummed to, beseeched and prayed to. It has been the greatest challenge and most humbling experience of my artistic career to participate in the making of these pots. In hopes of paying tribute to the cultures and individuals who have allowed me to make pieces for them, schooled me in the faiths, and provided so much inspiration for my personal work, I offer this article. Additionally, I hope it presents a broadened vision of the potential roles for functional pots. Growing up in the southeastern United States, I became aware at a young age of the AfricanAmerican practices of folk-healing and -harming, variously known as hoodoo, conjure, and rootwork. I frequented a hoodoo store masquerading as a joke shop, with a few sorry card tricks and whoopee cushions gathering dust in the display cases. As a young “whiteboy” I received some strange looks, but it didn’t take a detective to discern that there was something secret and compelling happening behind the beaded curtain, from which the smells of incense and candle wax emitted. This was my introduction to African spiritual practices that had been transported to the New World as a result of the cataclysmic trauma of transatlantic slavery. My curiosity sparked, I have spent more than half of my life investigating, researching, and eventually participating in various manifestations of African religion as they reemerged in the Americas. It is only more recently that I have made pottery for use within these faiths. In order to gain an understanding of this use of pottery, it is necessary to point out some of the basic characteristics shared by the various cultural practices concerned. Throughout the Americas, wherever African culture took root (which is almost everywhere), certain neo-African or African-Atlantic religions came into being. The majority of the Africans forcibly brought across the Atlantic were citizens of west and west-central Africa, and many of the people in the enslaving cultures, especially those in the Caribbean and Latin America, were Catholic. A hybridized form of religion and cultural practice was created, particularly in the Caribbean, Central America, and South America, but also in a few North American locations such as southern Louisiana and the Sea Islands of South Carolina and Georgia. In most instances a core of west and central African cosmology was augmented and embellished by, if not merged with, Catholicism. The resulting religious forms were many and distinct, including Vodou in Haiti; Lucumi (often known as Santeria) in Cuba; Shango-Baptist in Trinidad; Candomble, Umbanda, and Quimbanda in Brazil; Obeah in Jamaica and Trinidad; and Palo Mayombe in Cuba. It is extremely important to note that each of these religions represents a unique and complete cultural system, and that they resemble one another only in general terms. These various religions could be compared to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, which are all “traditions of The Book” but are quite distinct from one another.

ToServe the



The common cosmology of the African religions in the Americas includes a singular but remote God, served by a contingent of spirits or lesser deities, who function as intermediaries with human beings. It is these spiritual beings (known as Lwa in Vodou, Orisha in Lucumi and Candomble, and Mpungo in Palo Mayombe) with whom human beings deal on a daily basis, God being far too remote and busy to be concerned with the everyday lives of individuals. These lesser divinities are often identified with a specific aspect of nature (for instance the Orisha Yemaya, who is associated with the oceans, and Siete Rayos, the Mpungo of fire and lightning). It is quite apparent how believers of this conception of the universe, with a Creator God served by a bevy of lesser divine beings, have drawn parallels with the Catholic cosmology, namely God and the saints. In addition to this basic understanding of the cosmos, most of these religions share practices, including drumming, singing, prayer, and dance, as essential modes of devotion, as well as a belief in spiritual possession (universally understood to be beneficent and desirable). All these religions have their own distinct, complex, and specialized understanding of such concepts as the human soul, guidance through divination, the afterlife, and initiation. It should be reiterated in no uncertain terms that these religions are distinct and independent from one another, and any shared characteristics must be understood to be general in nature. However, in all these faiths crafted objects play an indispensable role, as important as song, rhythm, and dance. Key material components include intricately beaded necklaces and bead-encrusted sculptural objects, wooden statuary and vessels, drums and other instruments, various cloth objects (including in some cases very ornate initiatory garb), drawn sigils (invocational designs), and pottery. Vessels in general, and clay pots specifically, are utilized in a way that can be confusing to a cultural outsider. Upon initial viewing, one might be tempted to conclude that the vessels and pots (and their contents, which I will address below) are themselves objects of worship. This interpretation led early cultural-studies scholars to apply the concept of the fetish, whereby (allegedly) an inanimate object is elevated to divine status. This is a fundamental misinterpretation. In fact, the vessels used in African and African-American sacred practice are provided as temporary seats or housing for the divine essence; in other words the pot is not itself sacred, but rather it contains the spiritual force. Kept within an open or lidded clay pot, metal cauldron, or wooden jar are sacred materials: plant, animal, and statuary considered to be appealing to, emblematic of, and nourishing for a specific divine entity. The vessel is a temporary abode for a spirit, or more accurately, for a small facet of an


AT L A N T I C R E L I G I O N S 59

unfathomably vast spiritual essence. The style, size, and material of these vessels vary widely, ranging from a colossal Palo Mayombe iron cauldron, filled with material including dirt, iron objects, sticks, rocks, and bones and weighing hundreds of pounds, to a minute halved and dried gourd holding a few stones, to a plain terra-cotta pot or a baroque porcelain soup tureen. Typically, an initiate may own one vessel dedicated to a single spiritual force, while a senior priest may possess many of these sacred pots representing a complete pantheon. Though I have made pots for practitioners of African Ifa-Orisha and Brazilian Candomble and have a Haitian Voodou project currently under consideration, the majority of my work for these practices has been commissioned by practitioners of the two primary African-Cuban religions, the west African Yoruba-derived Lucumi and the central African-derived Palo Mayombe, or simply Palo. Lucumi and Palo Mayombe have distinct aesthetic currents, the former being lavish, elaborate, and refined, and the latter being earthy, rugged, and visceral. Long ago the sacred items of Lucumi’s Orisha were kept in hollow gourds, and later plain clay pots were the chosen vessels. Eventually it became the accepted norm for imported mass-produced porcelain, primarily soup tureens known as soperas and lidded jars called tinajas, to be used as Orisha vessels, and this is the nearly universal choice in contemporary practice. This usage represents a sort of aesthetic resistance, in which the proponents of a much-maligned and underground culture usurp the accoutrements that are the very signifiers of value and status among their cultural oppressors. The Palo Mayombe faith makes use of all sizes of metal cauldrons and cooking pots, as well as plain or decorated clay pots. For the most part, the vessels of Palo are unadorned or simply decorated with sacred linear symbols known as firmas. In many cases a multitude of vessels may be arranged within a shrine-building, accompanied by all manner of statuary, painted images or cloth hangings on the walls, animal products, and beaded objects. There is a general appreciation of crafted objects, and this inspires some practitioners to seek out handmade work, whether beadwork, woodwork, or ceramics. One of the greatest pleasures of doing this work has been the chance to make series of ritual vessels for a number of individuals. One of my most comprehensive projects to date was to make a set of pots for the personal pantheon of priest Awo Fáladé Òsúntólá, who has received initiations in both Haiti and Benin. Over the course of producing a number of significant pieces, I was able to have a lengthy exchange with him, and he explained to me in detail the significance of the deity for whom each piece was intended, as well as providing me with personal photographs of both traditional pots and ritual practices in Benin. I became interested in these traditions well before I was involved in pottery. For a long while, this interest was kept completely separate from my pottery pursuits, and I did not make any attempt to introduce one to the other, even while being encouraged in graduate school to immerse myself in meaningful source material. Since I began making pottery in undergraduate school in the early nineties, my aesthetic was more-or-less Mingei, by way of Minnesota and Georgia. When I finally decided in 2009 to try my hand at making pots for African-Atlantic traditions, I was not immediately comfortable with certain stylistic and aesthetic conventions. For instance, mermaids are emblematic of the arch-Orisha Yemaya, and I did not fancy myself a potter who would under any circumstances put mermaids on pots! There continues to exist a degree of push and pull in making pots for religious use; sometimes I am resistant to certain cultural tastes, and at other times I try to introduce stylistic or formal ideas that are not well 62



Pot for Yoruba/Lucumi

Sakpata or Babalu Aye, deity of smallpox and pestilence, 2012. White indentations recall small pox scars; hole in lid allows the insertion of the ritual “broom” with which Sakpata sweeps his power across the earth. Earthenware, 14 x 16 x 16 in. Photograph by Lydia Clark PREVIOUS PAGES LEFT TOP :


pot, Yoruba/Lucumi sacred twins, 2013. Unglazed earthenware, statuary, earth, outer bowl 18 in. Lidded jars 5 x 5 x 5 in. by Adam Posnak, statuary and other clay vessels from West Africa. Photograph by Awo Fáladé Òsúntólá LEFT CENTER :

Osun pot offering

arrangement, Yoruba/Lucumi deity of fresh water, 2013. Lidded pot 12 in. partially covered in center of frame, glazed earthenware, fruit, vegetables, drink, beadwork, statuary, floral arrangement, red parrot feathers. Photograph by Awo Fáladé Òsúntólá LEFT BOTTOM :

Osumare pot(s),

Yoruba serpent deity, 2013. Unglazed earthenware, beads, shells, iron work, earth, bowl 15 in. Photograph by Awo Fáladé Òsúntólá RIGHT :

St. Barbara plate, 2013.

Earthenware, 14 in. Photograph by Lydia Clark


received. Ultimately I have decided that any resulting frustration is insignificant compared to the value of the experience. In addressing my personal position in relation to these practitioners and communities, it is important to state that there is a fairly wide range of involvement possible in any of the faiths concerned. It is certainly permissible to be a casual participant; however, access to certain symbolic and ritual knowledge and experience is closely guarded, and there comes a point at which one is either “in” or “out.” Full participation is only granted when an individual makes the personal commitment, is given permission, and accepts the responsibility conferred by ritual initiation. During the course of my time making pottery for ritual use, my status has evolved from interested outsider to semi-participant to full initiate. I found it important from the perspectives of both potter and traditional participant to follow this gradual course. On the one hand, though clearly a cultural outsider in terms of my upbringing, I came to the traditions with at least a minimal skill to offer. On the other hand, I’m hopeful that this unique experience allows me to bring something back to the contemporary pottery community: an expanded vision of the potential of functional pots and the inspiration gained from vibrant, though largely unknown, cultures. Along the way, two individuals have been particularly instrumental in my development as a maker of religious vessels, one a folklorist and priest of Palo Mayombe and the other both an art historian and Lucumi initiate. Possessing the dual perspectives of academic and priest, each of them has been an indispensable gateway into his religious community. Though I continue to consider the making of sacred pottery separate from my personal work, the two types of work have certainly influenced one another. I have received tremendous inspiration from the visual culture related to African and African-Caribbean practice. From the painted walls of a Haitian Humfor (Vodou temple), to the sacred sigils of Cuban Palo Mayombe, to the work of contemporary Cuban-American artist extraordinaire Jose Bedia (a Palo initiate), I have found a wealth of inspiring symbolic and visual information. I have had the great fortune to be allowed to visit various shrines and temples of different traditions, including Vodou temples in Little Haiti, Miami; Lucumi Iles (religious houses) in Texas and Louisiana; Palo houses in Texas, Florida, and Pennsylvania; and the Oyotunji Village in South Carolina, where a traditional Yoruba society has been completely reconstructed. Making pottery for use in a dynamic and living spiritual context has given me a new perspective on the concept of function. These pots are considered to be housing for deity, and as such are focal points for devotion and receptacles for spiritual offerings. In the Lucumi religion, rich, complex, lush displays are constructed from the finest fabric, draped layer upon layer in the corner of a room, and the sacred vessels are seated in their midst. The pots are adorned with heavy and ornate multistrand hand-beaded necklaces. In the Palo Mayombe tradition, the vessels are often kept in small buildings of their own, where they are sat with and sung to for hours on end, the generated spiritual heat being tempered by cooling drafts of cigar smoke and mouth-blown mists of rum and dry white wine. This is hardly the life usually associated with functional pottery, but the experience of participating in these traditions has profoundly influenced the pottery I make for everyday use. I’ve been very fortunate to learn about and be allowed to participate in these traditions, due to the kindness and indulgence of the priests and practitioners that I have been privileged to know. It has been an intense and humbling experience to make these pots, and I hope they can stand as a tribute to both the people and the spiritual forces for which they are made. Relatively speaking, this is a new endeavor, but one that I hope continues and evolves throughout my pottery-making life.


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F R I E N D S O F S T U D I O P O T T E R as of June 1, 2013 Our supporters help make each issue of THE STUDIO POTTER a reality through their generosity. Richard Aerni Stephen Alpert Anonymous Peg Astarita Posey Bacopoulos Bailey Potter Equipment Steve and Trish Barnes Elizabeth Barringer and John Clark Minor and Mollie Barringer Delphine Barringer-Mills Bruce Barry Constance Baugh D. Hayne Bayless Susan Beecher Fumiko Beppu David Beumee Sandra Blain Susan Bogen Mary Bowron Michael Boylen Cynthia Bringle Robert Briscoe Peter Brondz Sue Browdy Sandy Brown Janet Burkholder Sarah Burns Larry Carnes Aurore Chabot Barbro Chapman Michael Chappell Mark Chatterley Ted Chereskin Vincent Clemente Elizabeth Cohen Mark Coppos Louise Cort Mark Cortright Solveig Cox Thomas Coyne Bob Craig Kevin Crowell Susan Crowell

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Vol 41 No 2 Summer 2013  

The Summer 2013 issue of Studio potter features sixteen articles on the theme INDEGENOUS. The web version compliments the print with additio...

Vol 41 No 2 Summer 2013  

The Summer 2013 issue of Studio potter features sixteen articles on the theme INDEGENOUS. The web version compliments the print with additio...