Growing up in Santa Clara Pueblo, in a family whose connection to the clay goes back generations, pottery has always been a part of my life. I was introduced to the art form as a child, making my first formal attempts at claywork under the guidance of my mother and grandmother.
Working exclusively in the ancient traditional Pueblo technique of coil-building, they shaped bowls, vases and plates from clay they had gathered from the hillsides near the village and processed themselves. Nearby, I sculpted animal figurines and nativity scenes from the moist clay, always welcoming the gentle hands that occasionally reached down to direct or redirect my efforts. These lessons solidified my own connection to the clay, and gave me the skills I needed to move into coil work.
Within a few years I was working alongside my mother and grandmother, making pottery from clay that I was now helping to gather and process. Drawing from the spiritual symbolism and nature-oriented design aesthetics of Tewa culture, we carved the shapes of kiva steps, bear paws, feathers, rain clouds, water serpents and lightning bolts into the surface of the vessels and used smooth stones to polish them to a shiny, mirror-like finish. We waited for a calm, wind-free morning to fire them outdoors in flames kindled by thin, fragrant sticks of red cedar, watching the timing down to the second in hopes of keeping our long-labored creations from succumbing to this always-risky phase of the pottery-making process. Learning directly from these two extraordinary artists was truly a gift, and they remain among my strongest influences even now.