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~ American Indian
Potters of the Southwest~
Please note that the biographical information provided below is from a variety of sources, including our own personal knowledge. Two notable sources include: American Indian Arts Series Volume 2, "Pueblo Indian Pottery, 750 Artist Biographies," and the AIAS Volume 4, "Southwestern Pueblo Pottery, 2000 Artist Biographies," both books from CIAC Press by Gregory Schaaf, Ph.D. with assistance by Angie Yan Schaaf. (See link below).
Bellson, Tammy - Zuni
(No photo available) Tammy was born October 14, 1966, to the Eagle clan. She has been making polychrome and black & white on redware jars, bowls, and miniatures since 1990. She learned her craft from her grandmother and her favorite designs are lizards. Her sister is Yvonne Nashboo, another Zuni maker of miniature pottery. She signs her work, "T.B." above "Zuni" or "Zuni NM".
Chilly, Nancy - Dine' (Navajo Nation)
A young couple, Jackson Yazzie and Nancy Chilly work together making traditional Navajo pottery, while their son, Zackery, plays nearby with his own little mound of mud. Relative newcomers to the art, they have been making traditional Navajo pottery full time for the past two years. Never the less they are making high quality and distinctly unique pots; and it won't be long before their names will be well known. Nancy signs her work, "NAC".
Jackson Yazzie and Nancy Chilly live on the Utah portion of the Navajo reservation, quite some distance from the area of the reservation where most Navajo potters dwell- close to the large clay beds. Jackson and Nancy go to the Cow Springs area in Arizona- as do most Navajo potters- to get their clay. They buy crushed lava in Farmington, New Mexico, to use as temper in their clay. And they search the trees of Ute Mountain area, by Towoac, Colorado, for the pinion gum from which to melt down for the pitch. So their pottery is truly representative of the famous Four Corners area, the only place in the United States where four state corners meet, and a synonymous geographical term with the Navajo reservation, the Navajo homeland basically covering this same area.
Jackson's older brother, Calvin, and Nancy's older sister, Roseann are married, and also make pottery. This is how Jackson and Nancy came to meet, and how they learned the art of Navajo pottery. After learning the procedure, they began experimenting until they came up with their own unique style, using a blend of traditional and contemporary techniques. Jackson usually originates the ideas after studying books, magazines, and other artist's work. Nancy "reforms" his ideas, making them compatible and lucid.
Working on about a dozen pieces at a time, they use their hands to form the clay against a bowl, and then put the two halves together, cutting out the top. In the old style, they use a corn cob to rough up the seam and seal it. After being smoothed, each pot is allowed to dry, then it is etched. Jackson and Nancy each do their own etching. Jackson does most of the cut outs, and usually portrays Yei be chei figures, supernatural helping and healing beings. Yeis in the partially human form portray deities of the Mountainway or Night Chant, traditional Navajo ceremonies. Jackson's uses a stylus to etch the figures into the clay pots. His figures are more circular in form and portray motion. Nancy usually portrays "lady yeis" as she calls them, or the female Yei figures, and her figures have a more straight line look. Her pictorials represent the Squaw Dance, the Fire Dance, or N'da- the Enemyway Ceremony.
After being etched, the pots are painted and fired, and then the pitch is applied. They simply pour liquid pitch inside and swirl it around to coat the interior, and then use wax paper to apply it to the outside of the pot, giving it a high sheen. They also use textile designs, eagle feathers, rainbows, rain, and lightning, all sacred and important signs of life to the Navajo people. They sign their work with their initials, NAC or JDY, written on a slant.
The couple works about nine hours a day, five or six days a week. Nancy laughs over the idea of spending every day working. "We need to take a break!" she says. After all, they are young, and besides, they need to go places to market their work. They enjoy mountain biking and playing volleyball or basketball with extended family members. They also attend traditional Navajo ceremonies, like the Squaw Dance, or Yei be chei Ceremonies; always as observers, not participants. Attending these events helps them get new ideas for their pots.
"Our pottery is different from anyone else's," Nancy insists. "We make it in the traditional way, and put cultural designs on it. It is our way of preserving our Navajo heritage."
Homer, Erma Jean Kalestewa - Zuni
Erma is the daughter of Jack and Quanita Kalestewa. Her grandmother, Nellie Bica (Quanita's mother), is perhpas the most famous Zuni potter and was well-known for her effigy figures of owls. Erma's sisters are potters Roweena Lemention and Connie Yatsayte. The family is highly regarded for their traditional pottery and are noted for firing their pottery outside. She collaborates with her husband Fabian Homer and sometimes with Nellie Bica. Erma signs her work, "EKH Zuni".
Manygoats, Betty - Dine' (Navajo Nation)
Her art is well known to collectors, she has been published, and she is an award winning pottery maker, but in contrast Betty Manygoats leads a simple life in the remote reaches of the Navajo reservation. She doesn't attend art shows, she doesn't speak English, and the most important reason she began making pots was to help support her family of nine daughters and one son. Twenty years ago this mother was inspired to add horned toads to the outside of her pottery and it was, and still is, a winning idea. From a small vessel with one or two horned toads, to a vase nearly three feet in height with horned toads crawling all over it, to an occasional creative diversion of bowls with effigies of animals or people, Betty has achieved her prominence through her creativity and altruistic motives. In defense of her family's livelihood Betty Manygoats keeps it a secret - where they obtain the materials they use in their pots. But in every other way this talented woman is generous and kind, always willing to help others.
Betty has never had any formal schooling, but was taught at home by her father. Growing up she learned how to weave rugs, do beadwork, and some silversmithing. She was 25 years old when she first learned how to make pitch pots from her paternal grandmother, Grace Barlow. Before long she was teaching Navajo pottery at the Tuba City High School. But her most important students have been her children, and she still supervises their efforts, encouraging them in the art.
The traditional Navajo wedding vase - with a top handle spanning two spouts-is Betty's favorite piece to make, but she is not limited in her scope of imagination or abilities. She uses the widest range of motifs on her pottery of any current potter, and has occasionally painted the figures, adding detail. She did not always sign her pots, but when she has it is with her initials: BM or BBM. On occasion, she has signed her work with her name printed in full, "BETTY MANYGOATS", as well as in cursive signature style, "Betty B Manygoats".
It is challenging to make symmetrical vases. It is also messy and a labor intensive work. But the materials are readily available and it requires few tools. In fact, Betty presses a bobby pin into the clay to create the scales of the horned toad.
Betty makes up to a ten pieces at a time, all spread out on her kitchen table. She works on them most of the day, and enjoys the creativity involved. She wants her customers to like her pottery and to this end she does study other pottery makers' work for new ideas. But her distinctive pottery is uniquely hers and so she mostly stays with that which has brought her recognition.
Betty went against Navajo teachings when she first put horned toads on her vases. Traditional Navajos believe it best to avoid the horned toad, believing that "messing" with him brings bad luck. Betty is a Christian and doesn't take much stock in the traditional superstitions. Her husband also went against tradition when he helped make pottery, "woman's work" that no virile man would consider doing. But they both were striving for higher ideals: that of being able to financially provide for their large family. And in being able to raise a fine family, through hard work and cultivated talents, the Manygoats have had very good luck.
Manygoats, Elizabeth - Dine' (Navajo Nation)
Elizabeth is one of Betty's daughters and is a very skilled potter hand building and firing her pieces by traditional methods. Along with traditional Navajo pottery styles that she decorates with appliquéd horned toads, ears of corn, and prickly pear cactus, she also creates pictorial scenes of Navajo life for what are called "lifestyle" pots, much like the woven designs on Reservation Pictorial rugs. The figures and design elements she uses are appliquéd and glazed in lifelike colors. Elizabeth Manygoats is from Tonalea, AZ. She signs her work, "EM" with "Dine' " and also as "E. Manygoats" in cursive letters, and sometimes dates her pots with the year they were made. Pictured with Elizabeth is her son.
Manygoats, Rita - Dine' (Navajo Nation)
Another of Betty's daughters, Rita also a most talented pottery maker who hand builds and fires her pieces by traditional methods. Though taught by her mother, Rita has developed her own particular style of pottery. Her pots feature appliquéd effigies of the horned toad and ears of corn, and some are done with "lifestyle" pictures, usually on the traditional Navajo ceremonial wedding vase, but on ollas and other items, as well. Rita signs her work, "RM", also "R. Manygoats" in cursive signature style sometimes adding, "-Navajo-".
Manygoats, Rose - Dine' (Navajo Nation)
Rose is a third daughter of Betty who like her sisters, Elizabeth and Rita, hand builds and fires her pieces by traditional methods. She also employs appliquéd effigies of the horned toad and ears of corn on her work. Rose signs her work, "Rose Manygoats" in cursive signature style sometimes adding the year the pot was made.
Nashboo, Yvonne - Zuni
(No photo available) Yvonne Nashboo is from Zuni Pueblo. Born in 1975, to the Eagle clan and actively hand making pottery since 1995, Yvonne sometimes collaborates with Brian Tsethlikai. Both favor decorating their pots with designs of lizards and salamanders. She primarily makes polychrome polished redware effigy pots, seed bowls, vases, and miniatures. Yvonne is the sister of Tammy Bellson, also a Zuni potter. Both are the daughters of Eva & William Nashboo. Yvonne credits Phil Hughte and her sister Tammy with teaching her pottery making. Yvonne signs her work, "Y.N." above "Zuni".
Reano, Dean - Santo Domingo/Dakota/Winnebago/Omaha
(No photo available) Dean was born December 22, 1956, and has been handmaking pottery since 1981. He makes miniature black-on-white and polychrome plates, bowls, and jars. He especially likes doing Mimbres animal figures, but also does great geometric designs. He is married to Divine Routzen Reano. Dean signs his work, "Dean Reano," or "D. Reano" in both cases with the "D" and "R" overlapping. He usually includes the year as, " '03" or "2003".
Reano, Divine Routzen - Acoma
(No photo available) Divine was born on February 13, 1959, the daughter of James & Mae Routzen, and has been handmaking Mimbres Revival black-on-white and traditional polychrome jars, plates, bowls, and miniatures since 1983. She favors Mimbres animal figures, especially bear, deer, and quail, and also does many geometric designs. Divine usually signs her work, "Acoma" above "D.Reano", and may or may not include the year.
Routzen, (Joe) Bear - Acoma
(No photo available) The Acoma potter makes miniature polychrome jars and bowls. He signs his work, " 'B R' ."
Shields, Ethel - Acoma, Yellow Corn Clan
(No photo available) This accomplished Acoma potter was born September 17, 1926 and has been making pottery since 1938 and continues to do so. She has made traditional polychrome and Mimbres rivival jars, bowls, effigy pots, effigy canteens, storytellers (1978-present), Nativity figures, Christmas ornaments and miniatures. Ethel ttended Albuquerque Indian School and credits her mother as the one who taught her to make pottery. She's been exhibiting at Indian Market in Santa Fe for over 25 years and has been recognized with many awards from that show. Her work is included in the collections of the Heard Museum in Phoenix, AZ, the Wheelright Museum in Albuquerque, NM, and of the actress Lindsay Wagner. Ethel lived in Tucson for about 12 years but returned to Acoma Pueblo some years ago. Ethel is particlarly well-known for her storytellers and her Nativity sets. Her husband is Dan Shields (jeweler) and they have eight children including Charmae Natseway, a well-respected potter with many awards who sometimes collaborates with her husband, Thomas Natseway (Laguna Pueblo); Chris Shields and Jack (powwow dancer) and they have two daughters-in-law, Judy Shields and Verde Mae Shields, potters, each of whom has won awards at Indian Market.
Tsethlikai, Brian - Zuni
(No photo available) Born in 1978, to the Parrot clan, Brian has been actively making pottery since 1995, and sometimes collaborates with Yvonne Nashboo (see above). Yvonne Nashboo (see above). Both favor designs with lizards and salamanders. He makes polychrome polished redware effigy pots, seed bowls, vases, and miniatures. Brian signs his work, "B.T.".
Yatsattie, Eileen - Zuni
(No photo available) Actively handmaking pottery since the early 1980's, Eileen was encouraged by Josephine Nahohai to begin using traditional clays and paints around 1985. Her work which includes polychrome jars, cornmeal bowls, frog pots and miniatures is highly collectible. Her favorite designs are frogs, tadpoles, terraced clouds, and rain. She also makes pots for religious use such as during Shalako, the Zuni ceremony held in December. She has served as the director for the Zuni Arts & Crafts co-op and shares her knowledge of pottery making with others. Eileen is the founder and director of the Creative Arts Program of Zuni. Eileen signs her work, "Eileen Yatsattie Zuni, N.M. U.S.A.".
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