The rough & the smooth

Pot­ter Brenda Hill

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO - POT­TER BRENDA HILL

My grandpa, Stan Hill — he was a bone carver. Mo­hawk. He al­ways taught me that if I’m go­ing to make art, we have a his­tory. We have im­agery, leg­ends, all of this stuff to draw from. But he also told me to make it my own,” said Brenda Hill (Tus­carora/ Choctaw), a pot­ter from San­born, New York, near Ni­a­gara Falls. As part of We Are the Seeds’ Honor Women Art Share Pro­ject, she will be giv­ing live demon­stra­tions at her booth of the hand-build­ing process.

“It can take sev­eral days to ac­tu­ally build a pot, so I might bring pieces with me that are at dif­fer­ent stages,” she said. “I love demon­strat­ing at shows be­cause peo­ple re­ally learn what goes into mak­ing a piece. If you just sit there with your stuff, some peo­ple don’t un­der­stand — and kids love to watch,” she said. Hill builds all of her white­ware pots by hand, blending coils un­til the walls are thin, smooth, and sym­met­ri­cal. “This cre­ates a vi­able piece so that when you fire it, it doesn’t crack, and it doesn’t break later on in life.”

Hill has been a pro­fes­sional artist for more than two decades, and for many years she taught craft and the his­tory of Hau­denosaunee pot­tery at var­i­ous schools and com­mu­nity cen­ters. “‘Hau­denosaunee’ is our word for Iro­quois — well, Iro­quois is ac­tu­ally is a French word to de­scribe the Six Na­tions,” she said. Hill has been in­stru­men­tal in re­viv­ing this pot­tery, which she said was halted for a long time be­cause of an in­flux of Euro­pean cook­ware. “Hau­denosaunee pot­tery has this glob­u­lar form with a wide open­ing and a rim that is very dis­tinc­tive with de­sign. Some­times I use that shape, and some­times I want to chal­lenge my­self to hold dif­fer­ent shapes. De­sign im­agery plays into my shapes, or I do a row of wampum beads be­neath the rim, and the hu­man body plays into the shapes as well.”

The rim of the pot is where pot­ters ex­press their in­di­vid­u­al­ity most strongly, usu­ally with lin­eal de­signs pressed with sticks or shells, she said. “Scor­ing was a re­ally early style of dec­o­rat­ing the rim, and that’s ba­si­cally what I do with mine. I kind of pay homage to that early style and then I bring in my own life ex­pe­ri­ences. I say to folks that life is rough around the edges, and it doesn’t al­ways work out for us, but some parts can be smooth and peace­ful.”

Pre­par­ing for We Are the Seeds has been Hill’s first big pro­ject since un­der­go­ing surgery to re­move two her­ni­ated discs in her neck and hav­ing cer­vi­cal im­plants. Her in­juries were the re­sult of repet­i­tive stress. “I’m past the worst part of it, slowly re­cov­er­ing. It’s crunch time now, right be­fore mar­ket, but it’s been good get­ting back to work. I have a few other lit­tle ail­ments here and there. This is the life of a pot­ter.”

Hill was last in Santa Fe for SWAIA In­dian Mar­ket in 2013 and is ea­ger to re­con­nect at Seeds with old friends. She will see col­lege class­mates from her days at the In­sti­tute for Amer­i­can In­dian Arts in the 1990s, artists she knows from hav­ing shown work at mar­kets around the coun­try — a scene she called the Na­tive

I LOVE DEMON­STRAT­ING AT SHOWS BE­CAUSE PEO­PLE RE­ALLY LEARN WHAT GOES INTO MAK­ING A PIECE. IF YOU JUST SIT THERE WITH YOUR STUFF, SOME PEO­PLE DON’T UN­DER­STAND — AND KIDS LOVE TO WATCH.

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