Pueblo Pottery Maine

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On the ClayHound Trail
by Tim Liguori

Back in the early 70s when Monique was in Half Moon Bay High School (California), she hung out with a crowd that enjoyed making pottery on the wheel. Her school offered classes and the students were so involved with it that they began taking night classes from over the hill in Burlingame. High school kids - willingly giving up their free time to expand their knowledge and abilities. Ah, the good ole days. In fact, one of her best friends from school started his own pottery business: making complete dinner sets and custom pieces in his Half Moon Bay shop.

Shortly after she graduated, we hooked up together and began our relationship. Her pottery experiences were left behind in high school but remained in her heart. Twelve years after we were married, during our second desert trip, she came out of a trading post in Patagonia, Arizona, with a 4-inch Maricopa bowl in her hands. This was my first  exposure to traditional pottery and to Monique's hidden love of clay. As we continued our exploration of the Southwest, Monique told me what she knew about Native American pottery and added that she would like to get a piece of Pueblo black ware some day. The next day we were doing laundry in another town and during a window shopping walk, we saw a lovely Santa Clara black wedding vase with an incised bear paw design. It was a beautiful and inspirational piece… but the shop was closed.

It just so happened that one of our latter destinations of the trip was to Monument Valley. And what did we find across from the motel there? Gouldings Trading Post! Before we checked in, we found ourselves browsing through the shop. And there it was: a black Santa Clara melon bowl by Angela Baca. The price was set at $100, but we had never bought a piece of art that cost that much. Monique was reluctant; but I was determined to see both that bowl in her hands and her smile. I did a Rodney Dangerfield tug to my collar and laid down the money.

Now we had two pieces in hand and broke the $100 barrier. But when we got home, more definition was given to Monique's desires. She had another aspiration which she  was hesitant to declare. When I finally pried it out of her, I found a new goal in our life. She thought it would be neat to collect a piece from each of the 20 Pueblos. So did I – and that was it. My short exposure to traditional pottery was all it took for me to get hooked.

Three things happened after that. We started making plans for next year's trip, started searching Northern California for places that sold traditional Native American pottery and read everything we could get our hands on about it. To our luck, one of the first books we found was John Barry’s “American Indian Pottery”. This piece of literature has been our main inspiration throughout our quest. It explores all tradition pottery in the USA – not just the Pueblos.

The next trip would start in Taos and work its way through all the Pueblos, south and then west to Hopi. In the mean time, we discovered some good local shops to find pottery. And back in 1986, prices were still in the dirt (pun intended).

Between the vacations, we shopped locally and picked up 13 pieces from 7 other Pueblos. And then, during the “pottery trip”, we snagged 31 pieces from 9 more Pueblos and 2 Desert (non-Pueblo) sites – it was a great trip! After that vacation to the end of the 1987, we picked up an additional 25 pieces locally, but added only one more Pueblo, another Desert location and our first Eastern piece (Cherokee).

By this time, we had collected at least one piece from 19 of the 20 Pueblos with the only one left being Sandia. It would take until 2002 to find our Sandia piece; but in the meantime we continued obtaining pieces at a slower rate. Between 1988 and 1993 we added 32 more pieces to the collection. After that, no pottery was purchased for over five years.

And then it happened: EBAY. What used to take years of traveling from one garage sale to another now came right into our living rooms via the Internet. 88 out of the last 124 pieces came from EBAY. And what didn’t come from EBAY came mostly from contacts found over the Internet.

 And another thing happened to us: the Southwestern Pottery: Anasazi to Zuni book by Hayes and Blom. It was a wonderfully inspirational book that reinvigorated and remotivated our collecting desire. A collector can’t have enough reference books (“When the going gets tough, the tough get reference books!”). If I were to recommend, I’d still recommend John Barry’s book American Indian Pottery and the Hayes and Blom book as the best starting points.

And yet another thing happened. In 2002, we found out about a potter from Sandia – John Montoya. As a result, we searched and searched for pieces from him, but either missed out or bowed out due to cost. So one day I decided to try to contact him directly. After a couple of strike outs, I was fortunate enough to call a place where his former girl friend worked. “Sure I can contact him”, she said. The excitement grew. When I contacted him a couple of days later, he said, “Sure I’ll make a piece!”

Monique always mentioned that it would be neat to commission a piece one day. Now we were doing it. What a thrill! After the waiting period, we were blessed with a very cool Sandia owl effigy. Very cool! John does excellent work.

Since then we have commissioned from 12 other potters, with 8 of them being from Eastern tribes and nations. It’s a real thrill to open a box that contains a piece of pottery that you have never seen before. We’ve never been disappointed.

 So from the beginning of our collection until the introduction of Ebay, we found 113 pieces from 19 Pueblos, 6 Desert and one Eastern location. And since 1998, we completed our spectrum collection and added 124 more pieces.

We aren’t rich. In fact, it took us 22 years before we were in a position to buy our first house. So our taste of pottery has never been expensive. And some of our neatest pieces have come at very low prices. It helped that we were attracted to some that were crudely made. When it comes to “traditionally made” pottery, crude can be OK. A primitive San Felipe bird effigy for $16.50 is considered part of our “treasures”. We never paid over $300 during our first 14 years of collecting (mostly under $100) and have never gone over $400 for any single piece.

There is a magic associated with collecting traditional pottery. The skill of the art can consume us with admiration and respect. Once you understand the process and have held your first piece in your hand, you’ll know if you will be collecting more or not. You’ll find yourself searching for books on the subject and locations to shop. And each time you add a piece to your collection, the whole collection sings to you. You’ll start browsing each of your previous acquisitions and reflecting on the history associated with them – the history of how you found it and the history before it was purchased. In the collecting world, this is called its “provenance”.

Back to John Barry’s book – the one that initially inspired us. He gave a considerable amount of information about all the known traditional pottery sites in  the USA, including Eastern pottery. Even though most of the reference books only deal with Southwest pottery, we kept getting inspired by the non-Pueblo pottery mentioned in John’s book. The pictures of a Cherokee bird effigy and Catawba pieces kept the fire alive until we could locate our own. And once EBAY started and once the ability to commission was discovered, we were able to expand our collection to the complete list in John’s book… and more.

We’ve now collected traditional pottery from all 20 Pueblos, 10 Desert (non-Pueblo) locations and 9 Eastern locations – and continue to search for other sites. And each piece is a treasure to us. It hasn’t been easy but it is definitely fun. You’ll find yourselves seeking pottery like a hunter – going to popular shops and back-roads locations. Some of you may even alter your lifestyle. As a result of our attraction to this type of pottery, we bought 15 acres and a primitive cabin near Taos (land was cheap) – so when we take a vacation, we can also spend some time searching for pottery along the way. And the only thing that will stop our quest is room – no room, that is. We’re running out of it!

We enjoy our own collection so much that we’ve created a virtual scrapbook. You are all invited to witness the fruits of our quest at www.clayhound.us. It should be recognized that in this hobby, we aren’t just collecting, but are helping to preserve part of American history and are sharing in the hard work of someone’s life. So join in on the fun! It just takes one piece to get started and three to make a collection. After that, who knows how big it can get!

John Barry, American Indian Pottery, ISBN: 0-89689-0198, January 1981, Publisher: Krause Publications (Out of print and available through Half.com )

Allen Hayes & John Blom, Southwestern Pottery: Anasazi to Zuni, ISBN: 0873586565
Format: Paperback, 200pp, Pub. Date: October 1996 Publisher: Northland Publishing AZ

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