Tradition of non tradition
Southwestern Pottery: Anasazi to Zuni, text by Allan and Carol Hayes with photos by John Blom
If you’re in the mood to buy a pot, but you’re bedazzled by the variety of available Indian wares in Santa Fe, check out the new, expanded edition of Southwestern Pottery: Anasazi to Zuni. Arguably the most comprehensive and easiest-to-use guide on the subject, it has 224 pages compared with the 200 pages of the original 1996 edition. “It’s completely rewritten and rephotographed,” said Carol Hayes, who produced the book with her husband, Allan Hayes, and photographer John Blom. “We have a lot more information than we did 20 years ago. Since we did the first book, there are more pueblos doing more pottery, for example at San Felipe and Pojoaque. I think the book has been encouraging to the potters, too. At the time we did the first one, there were books that concentrated on certain pueblos or potters but we felt there was not much about the pottery of southern Arizona. We were also irritated by the fact that quite often they would show pictures of someone making a pot but they wouldn’t bother to identify the artist.”
The Hayeses were in the middle of a road trip from their home in Sausalito to New Mexico when they spoke to Pasatiempo. “We always drive because we sell pottery. We do the Great Southwestern Antique Show in Albuquerque. We’re traveling right now with a hundred pots and a hundred books. Then we go up to Santa Fe to enjoy the other shows as tourists.”
She said the trio did the book in 1996 because there wasn’t a tome in print that was helpful to a beginning collector. Southwestern Pottery offers a dandy introduction to the pottery-producing cultures; to pottery wares, types, and shapes; and to the intricacies of clay and temper, along with painting and firing techniques. After a detailed buying guide, there are sections on a dozen types of prehistoric pottery, beginning with those of the Mogollon, Anasazi, Cibola and Mimbres, and Hohokam cultures, then more than two dozen sections covering modern pottery. These include Mata Ortiz in Mexico; and pottery from the cultures of the Mojave in Arizona and California; the Hopi, Maricopa, and O’odham in Arizona; and the Navajo in Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico; but the greater part of Southwestern Pottery treats work from New Mexico’s 19 pueblos. Every section shows a “still life” arrangement of pots on the right-hand page and a discussion on the left page. The final chapter covers tourist kitsch, implausible beasts, Zuni candlesticks, table lamps, singing frogs, and Isleta birds.
Some pueblos get one spread in the new book; an example is Nambé, and the photo and article includes three small jars made in the early 1990s by Lonnie Vigil, who is today known for his “huge, micaceous
pots that are very beautiful,” Carol Hayes said. “We also show several pieces by his nephew Robert Vigil, a potter we’ve always sort of championed. We’ve bought things from him all along and he’s doing very well.”
Santa Clara gets seven spreads, the last one titled “Surprises.” Among the ceramics displayed here are a 2011 Wonder Woman tile by Jason Garcia and a large, abstracted “grasshopper” couple by Nora NaranjoMorse. “One of the Santa Clara potters who is doing things that look unconventional told Al once that being nontraditional is the tradition at Santa Clara. But the firing techniques and all still hold true. Even the fancy potters do their own clay, because they have to be sure that it fires correctly.”
The reader-friendly volume broaches its topics in a conversational style. Presenting a picture of a “beatup old pitcher,” about 900 years old and classified as Wingate Black-on-red, the authors explain that the name refers to the old Fort Wingate military post near Gallup. Addressing the perplexing issue of identifying pottery types, they bring into the discussion a similar type called St. Johns Polychrome. “St. Johns is a bit south and west of Gallup, just across the Arizona state line, not far from Fort Wingate. It looks almost exactly like Wingate Black-on-red, except that it has white decoration on the outside of the vessel. Clear enough? Sure, except there’s a St. Johns Black-on-red with no white and a Wingate Polychrome with white on the outside.”
The new edition looks at some fairly rare and valuable pieces, but the authors’ conservative approach to pottery buying is still present. “The whole point of that was if you’re starting out and you don’t know what you’re buying, it’s very important not to spend too much on your purchases until you learn a few things. If you have lots of money and it doesn’t matter, you can have someone guide you, but mostly people are just learning, looking around and finding things at little auctions and thrift shops and on eBay.”
In the original book’s foreword, Alexander E. Anthony Jr. of Adobe Gallery said, “Al [Hayes] and John’s [Blom] claim that the 1990s represent a Golden Age has a basis in fact. Today’s pottery is more carefully made and designed than ever before because pottery manufacture has always followed the market and market standards right now are at an all-time high.” This continues to be true as pottery makers have focused on the collector market, developing their work more as artists, “which is a wonderful thing for the artists and their families,” Carol Hayes said. One of the westernmost markets presented in
Southwestern Pottery is the land of the Mojave. “We knew Betty Barrackman, who lived in Needles and passed away a few years ago, perhaps the last traditional potter there. She said so many young people don’t want to do it, because you have to go out in the desert with the rattlesnakes and everything and collect your clay. In places where they don’t want fire clouds [scorch marks], people use kilns, and it’s okay at the markets as long as it’s disclosed.”
Carol Hayes emphasized that it is important for buyers to research the different levels of authenticity. Some potters use commercial clay, some simply paint on precast pots, and quite a few use kilns rather than traditional firing. “You can buy a very expensive pot from a nonreputable dealer that’s not really handmade. It seems there is less and less of that, because people realize they can get better money for real pots.”
“Southwestern Pottery: Anasazi to Zuni,” revised edition, text by Allan and Carol Hayes with photographs by John Blom, was published this year by Taylor Trade Publishing.
Resin-coated vessel by potter Aleta Bitsi, 1992; images courtesy Taylor Trade Publishing