Aristina Sanchez is proud of the final pottery piece she created during the pottery-making class.
The Art of Traditional Pottery-Making at SRPMIC Continues Today
By June Shorthair
Au-Authm Action News

During July, Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community member Ron Carlos of the Cultural Resources Department offered a pottery-making class to Community members. On July 25, all the participants fired their pots as the final step in the class.

The pottery-making class is limited to 10 people because of the care and resources needed to finish a pottery piece.

The class teaches the traditional form of making pottery and requires each participant to commit to attending every session. Students must invest the time to finish, because once a pottery piece is started, you cannot stop in the middle of forming a pottery piece because you will need to start over. Clay dries and harden, therefore it will crack if one tries to continue to work on a piece that has set for a time.

It is very important to attend each class, because, as Carlos stated, “It is hard to catch up if you miss a class.” Most of the time, by the end of each pottery-making class, which takes about four weekends of participation, there are five or more people who complete the class and have created one-of-a-kind pottery pieces.

Traditional pottery-making is a craft that is intensive, systematic in its processes, and very enlightening for those who participate. Tori Paukgana expressed, “I thought it was going to be easy … but, once we began, [we realized] it does take a lot of time and patience …. It was well worth it.”

At SRPMIC, the clay for the pottery class is gathered from natural sources within the Community, which, according to Carlos, is a far cry from what others are doing at this time. Many people in the general public and in art classes use commercial clays and paints to make pottery. Also, he noted that some Native American tribes have begun to utilize similar commercial products in part or in all of their pottery.

The traditional pottery-making process taught by the Cultural Resources Department uses homemade clay, which takes days to gather, and process and includes the last step, which is to fire (bake) the pottery pieces. Carlos gathers natural clay from the area, which is hand-dug for each class. Every student must hand-process their own clay to make their pottery. All students used natural pigments gathered by Carlos to paint their pottery—there are no commercial products used in the making of O’odham and Piipaash pottery taught by Carlos.

The last step in finalizing a pottery piece is incorporating an open fire using mesquite wood that is specially constructed to engulf the metal container, in which all finished pottery pieces are placed. It is at this point when participants will know if their pottery will survive the firing process produce a magnificent piece of pottery, or if it will crumble into a rubble of pottery shards.

Carlos has been making pottery for more than 20 years, and during this time he has mentored other potters and given his time to teach the youth of the Community. In addition, he has offered his expertise to various museums and cultural venues to expose others to his craft of pottery-making.

It is evident he enjoys sharing his craft with others.

As class participant Aristina Sanchez worked toward polishing and finishing her pottery piece, she shared, “Taking the class has been very [fulfilling]. It is relaxing for me to work on my pottery. This time is my ‘me time.’ I like how my pottery came out!”

Besides Carlos there are two known pottery makers who continue the craft in the Community: Jacob Butler and August Wood. The continuation of this craft and art form is something that will be determined. Carlos adds, “I have been doing this a long time. Many people have taken the pottery classes, but few take it on because it is intense and for many people ‘life gets in the way.’”

Previous students who have completed the class appear to have much to offer to the Community. The craft of traditional pottery-making learned from Carlos is something each participant is entrusted with, to hopefully continue themselves or encourage other Community members to learn. The common belief of many tribal nations, including SRPMIC, is that classes such as these will create interest in some Community members to continue and maintain the art of O’odham and Piipaash pottery-making.

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