Born of Fire

Contributed by Barbara Callahan*

To the uninformed, the Peabody Institute of Archaeology is just a building on  the Phillips Academy campus that houses old artifacts and sherds of pottery from long ago archaeological expeditions. They would be very mistaken! The Peabody provides incredible academic enrichment opportunities to the student body across all disciplines.

In a unique approach to education, the Peabody collections are used to demonstrate the practical applications of history, language, mathematics, science and sociology.  This year celebrates the fifth year the Peabody has arranged for pottery artists from the Pueblo of Jemez to come to campus to work with students.

In collaboration with Thayer Zaeder’s ceramics classes the potters spent the week working with 48 students teaching the ancient techniques of transforming clay into pottery. I had the rare opportunity to not only observe these artists work with the students, but to actually work with them myself. Maxine, Dominique and Mia worked with students individually on both shape and decorative painting to create unique pieces of art.

Image of Pueblo potters Dominique and Mia Toya working with a high school student.
Dominique Toya (left) and Mia Toya (right) work with a student.

Glazing is not used in Pueblo pottery. Any glossy surfaces are achieved by polishing the area with smooth stones. The process is delicate and time consuming and if you mess up, as one student found out, the Potters would show you how to fix the problem – sand it all off and start again!

Image of Pueblo potter Maxine Toya showing a student how to polish a red slipped pot.
Maxine Toya demonstrates how to polish the red slip.

Dominique, Mia and their mother, Maxine Toya come from a multi-generational family tradition of Pueblo Potters. Each is known for their unique style, Dominique for her mellon designs, Mia for her signature butterfly designs and Maxine for her animals and figures. Their work is highly collectible and sought after. Nancy Youngblood, another prominent Pueblo potter, has joined them the last three years. These four ladies are the “Super Stars” in the Native American world of ceramic art.

When speaking with the Potters, one theme stood out. They love bringing the ancient methods to this generation to instill a knowledge of their culture and heritage. They each spoke of how polite the Andover students were as well as the appreciation shown to them by each student for the opportunity to learn this ancient art form.

Image of pottery firing.
Students look on as Dominique tends the fire.

The culmination of each of their visits is the “firing.” They still use the ancient method of firing the pottery outdoors, which usually draws a large crowd. A huge bonfire is built to bake all the pieces the classes have created. The end result brings pride and a sense of accomplishment to both students and teachers alike.

Image of Pueblo potters with ceramics instructor and blog author.
From left to right: Maxine Toya, Thayer Zaeder, Mia Toya, Ward Weppa, Barbara Callahan, and Dominique Toya.
Image of soot covered vessels post firing.
Vessels as they emerge from the fire.

*Guest contributor Barbara Callahan is Secretary of the Peabody Advisory Committee. She and her husband Les Callahan (Phillips Academy Class of 1968) provided the generous support for the Pueblo Potters program in 2017 and 2018.

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