Clay: Sculpting Bridges to Time, Place, and Culture
One of the beautiful things in life is that everywhere you look, there’s a story behind what you see. We want to share with you the story behind the first Pueblo pottery design mug in series two of our popular collection that places Pueblo designs in the hands of thousands of people around the world in their daily lives.
This café-style ceramic mug is a replica of a single beautiful micaceous-clay pot handcrafted by award-winning artist Martha Romero of Nambé Pueblo, who’s been making pottery full time for seven years. Martha made pottery as a little girl alongside her mother at Nambé, setting the practice aside as the complexities of adolescence and adult life took precedence. After retiring from her career years later, Martha answered the call of the clay. “I always had it in my heart to go back to it,” she says. “As soon as I retired, I went back to it.”
Martha explains that relearning the process was a challenge, but also a heartwarming journey of reconnecting to her craft, her mother, and their tradition. “It was a huge struggle because my mom is no longer here, and she’s the one that made pottery that I could rely on more to help me get started,” she says, adding how she remembers her mom talking about collecting clay, but never went along with her. “I kind of struggled to know what I was looking for in my own environment.” Martha credits support from people at the Poeh Cultural Center and Museum in Pojoaque with helping to reacquaint her with the knowledge and skills of her childhood.
For the original mug, Martha utilized hand-gathered micaceous clay and traditional coiling methods to create a beautiful work of functional art. She burnished the entire pot with her polishing stone prior to pit-firing it outdoors, giving it a natural balanced pattern throughout. The simplicity of the vessel reflects the tradition of utilitarian pottery Nambé is known for, where the natural shimmer of mica shines through in place of applied decoration.
Even with several years of having her hands back in the clay bringing to life the shapes felt in her heart, there were challenges to creating the exact dimensions of the Starbucks-style mug – including the two-week time frame for completion. Different batches of clay shrink at different rates, making trial and error a necessity. One mug was too small, and one too large. Another cracked during firing, but number four was a success.
We asked Martha what her reaction might be when she sees her designs in the hands of people while she’s out and about: “I’m definitely going to have to talk to them about it, tell them the source of micaceous is utilitarian. One of the things I love about selling pottery is educating people about it, and how we make it, and what we used to use it for.”
Martha not only educates a wide variety of people on the history of micaceous clay pottery and how to use it for cooking today, but also passes the knowledge and methods on to Pueblo youth so that they may continue the craft and traditions of their heritage.
“I think one of the reasons it sits so fondly in my heart is because I want to teach the kids in our Pueblo to do it. I want it to keep on going, and I got involved in a group – an art group – back on our pueblo that meets on the weekends, and we try to teach the kids that come in because I think that for me, it was always there for me, but I couldn’t really come back to it ‘til later on, and that’s my hope that even if they don’t take it all up right now, maybe they’ll come back to it.”
It is by carrying on our traditions, and actively including our youth in them, that #WeShallContinue.
Additional background on the Pueblo pottery design mugs:
In January 2015, five Pueblo potters, Erik Fender (San Ildefonso), Elizabeth Medina (Zia), Frederica Antonio (Acoma), Patricia Lowden (Acoma), and Robin Teller (Isleta), were commissioned by Shumakolowa Native Arts to create traditional Pueblo pottery in the form of a contemporary coffee mug, which could be replicated.
The popularity of the mugs prompted the commission of a second series of Pueblo Pottery Mugs, this time with designs by Martha Romero (Nambé), Carlos Laate (Zuni), Denise Chavarria (Santa Clara), Helen Bird (Santo Domingo), and a collaboration from Lisa Holt (Cochiti) and Harlan Reano (Santo Domingo).
Series two debuted with Martha Romero’s design just before Christmas 2017, with the others being released at intervals through mid-February 2018. Series three debuts in October 2018 with mugs from Juanita Fragua (Jemez), Clarence Cruz (Ohkay Owingeh), Natalie Sandia (Jemez), Myron Sarracino (Laguna), and Hubert Candelario (San Felipe). The goal is to eventually have potters from each of New Mexico’s 19 Pueblos produce a mug design representing their Pueblo.
The originals for series one through three are on display at Shumakolowa, located inside the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. All of the participating artists receive royalties for each mug sold, with proceeds also supporting the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center and the 19 Pueblos of New Mexico.