From Earth to Object


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Clay is dug in the foothills near Santa Clara Pueblo. Different veins of clay are used depending on the size and shapes that will created. Sand which is volcanic ash, is dug from veins near Santa Clara Pueblo.


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The clay is crushed then soaked to form a slurry. It is sifted wet through wire cloth to remove undissolved clay, rocks and roots. The sand is crushed and sifted dry thru wire cloth. The sand and clay are mixed together on a tarp; different proportions of clay to sand are used depending on the size of the pots to be created.

First Look

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Each artist allows the mixed clay and sand to sit until it reaches the desired texture. It is then stored in plastic bags until use. Each pot, large or small, begins as a shallow disk. It is stretched out and smoothed. The artist looks for air pockets. If these pockets are undiscovered, they will cause the pot to crack and even explode during firing.


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To add a coil, a lump of clay is carefully beaten by hand to remove air pockets. The coil is then formed by hand. The coil is pinched on to the disk of damp clay. Coils are pinched inside and out. If the coil is too long, it is broken off where it overlaps itself. "I like to use wide tongue depressors to smooth the outside", says Youngblood. Shaped gourds and wooden spoons are then used to smooth and stretch the inside.


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"When I make pots, I make 5-15 at a time. They cure for about 30 days in an enclosed cabinet, then are allowed to dry exposed to room atmosphere. Drying time varies due to size and weather conditions. After complete drying, I sand the pots to shape and smooth the surface".

Initial Design

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If the piece is to be carved, the design is penciled on the surface. The design is carved out using fixed carving tools and screw drivers. A final sanding is done to smooth the surface and smooth the edges. The dust is wiped from the pot and the carving is smoothed with water and a brush.


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Smooth stones and slipped clay are used to burnish the surface of the pot. Black pots require a rust colored clay while red pots need a blood red colored clay. To achieve the tan color, only water is applied to the pots' surface. Several layers of slip are applied to the surface of the pot. The pot is then burnished with a stone. Many potters use stones passed down through generations of potters.

Almost Ready

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More slip is applied on the burnished surface. The area is reburnished. A thin layer of bacon grease is applied then the area is burnished until dry and glassy in finish.


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A metal milk crate is placed on 4 metal cans and the pot is placed inside. A metal support and stove pipe tin is placed on top. Then split cedar is set ablaze under the pot.

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Wood is slowly added to the fire above and below. The pot is engulfed in flame.

What will it be?

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"Wood slabs are stacked on the outside of the crate. As they burn, I check the pot. I look for the soot adhering to the pot to burn off. When the soot burns off, if the pot is red or red and tan, the wood is pulled away. The pot is then allowed to cool".

If the pot is to be black, powdered horse manure (dry) is used to cover the fire and cut off the oxygen, this is a reduction firing. After about 30 minutes the pot is uncovered and allowed to cool.


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Three examples of Nathan's work.

Photo Credits Murrae Haynes || 1-2

Mary Fredenburgh || 3-15

Anne S. Youngblood || 16-30

Nathan Youngblood || 31-33

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