Exploring the Theme of ‘Long Ago’ with Acclaimed Artist Myron Sarracino
Myron Sarracino, an award-winning Native American pottery artist, has been actively handcrafting pottery since 1984. Born in the village of Seama on Laguna Pueblo in 1967, the artist learned pottery-making from his grandmothers and famed potter Gladys Paquin.
Myron has dedicated himself to the study of ancient Pueblo pottery designs, which inspire him to create unique design variations. The result is pottery that displays an ancient aesthetic with modern refinements. He is particularly known for his swirl designs inspired by the migration trails. “My swirls are the life trails as we emerge into this world, the water, the mountains, the earth, the air, and show how the water flows from the mountains and Mother Earth.” said Myron.
The ancestral elements of Myron’s pottery goes beyond just design — there is frequently a physical presence, too. The artist incorporates old potsherds into his clay. “I go out where there are old ruins near my house and pick buckets of sherds, and those are all pounded up and ground fine on the rock,” explained Myron.
“All my life I’ve been studying the pottery I’ve seen at ruins, or broken, big pieces of pots I’ve found, and take pictures or jot down the design on a piece of paper,” said Myron. “I was taught by my grandmothers in Laguna. There are always four directions on the pot and I leave a spirit opening, a door, like my grandmothers taught me, so a good spirit can enter the pot and give many blessings. The door also allows the spirit to leave the pot to offer more blessings.”
“The spirit opening has another purpose too. One of my grandmothers told me the spirit opening ensures your artistic inspiration returns to you,” explained Myron. “You know, your vision and inspiration to do another one, or keep doing it, it is right there, it’s open. I never close a pattern because I want my design inspiration to flow from me when I look at a pot. The design inspiration appears in my mind and I know exactly what I want to create — the shape, the pattern, everything just comes to me.”
“That said, sometimes the clay has a mind of her own and she doesn't want to come out,” laughed Myron. “There are times when I just can't build a pot and so I put it away for a couple of days. My grandma always said, ‘It’s not you, it's the clay mother that wants rest.’ Myron loves working with hand-sourced clay and said, “The clay, it’s alive. The movement, you feel it, and you know it's alive.”
In 2015, the Indian Pueblo Store began commissioning Pueblo potters to create traditional Pueblo pottery in the form of a contemporary coffee mug. The popularity of the mugs prompted the commission of three series of Pueblo Pottery Mugs by several Pueblo potters. The original mugs for series one, two and three are on display at the Indian Pueblo Store at 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.
Myron was enthusiastic about participating in the celebrated Pueblo Pottery Mug project. “I saw the other mugs out in different shops all over the place,” he says, “and then when I was asked, I just felt like ‘All right! I’m gonna try this!’ I was just excited about trying something new.”
“Getting it so perfect into the size, the dimensions that they wanted, that was a little challenging,” Myron admits, “‘because usually cups I make are round with a handle.” Despite the challenging nature of the task, he got it perfect on only the second try — a detail he credits to using volcanic ash as a tempering material for the mug instead of his usual ground potsherds. The clay experiences less shrinkage with the ash, making the final size more predictable.
Myron said the design for his mug came easily. “Although most of my work is prehistoric recreations of potsherds I see, I wanted to show Laguna designs on the mug, a traditional pattern from Laguna. It just came to me to use a rainbow.”
“I feel that the ancestors are happy. Our ancient peoples are pleased I'm keeping this knowledge and tradition alive. The patterns they used to use, the migration trails, the way I see in the pot and its designs, I'm keeping it all alive and that's what I'm looking to do for as long as I can. Myron smiled, “My heart is full knowing my pottery is all over the world sharing the story of Laguna Pueblo culture.”