Posts Tagged 'Native American ceramics'

Artist Interview: Chase Kahwinhut Earles

After recently acquiring a piece of Caddo pottery by Chase Kahwinhut Earles, we reached out to the artist at his home in Oklahoma to hear about his practice and process. Listen to his introductory message and read his Q&A conversation with Dr. Michelle Rich,The Ellen and Harry S. Parker III Assistant Curator of the Arts of the Americas at the DMA.

Chase: Kuha-ahat [Hello]. Kumbahkeehah Kahwinhut [My name is Kahwinhut]. Hello my name is Chase Kahwinhut Earles, and I’m a member of the Caddo Nation. I make traditional pottery and also contemporary pieces incorporating modern interpretations of our culture.

Chase Kahwinhut Earles, 2019. Photo by Travis Caperton, University of Oklahoma

Michelle: Can you describe the process by which you make your pottery?

Chase: I make pottery the ancestral, or traditional, Caddo way. I dig the clay myself from the banks of different rivers, mostly the Red River between Texas and Oklahoma. I process it to dry it and break it down into usable material. I collect and crush freshwater mussel shell to mix with the clay as a temper, which helps strengthen it so the vessels survive through the pit-firing process. All of my pieces are hand built using the coil method. I don’t use a wheel. After a piece dries, I burnish it with smooth stones to make it shiny. There’s no glaze. Then I pit fire the vessels. The final step is to engrave the design into the carbonized surface of the pots.

Photo by Travis Caperton, University of Oklahoma

Michelle: Pit firing is very different from kiln firing. Will you talk about that a little bit?

Chase: I fire my pots in a traditional pit fire. This is different than the modern kiln, which slowly heats the pottery until it gets to high temperatures. Our pit firing is started by stacking sticks and lighting an open ground fire. First, we heat the pottery near the fire to drive out moisture, and then they go right into the fire. I’ll add more wood, and the larger fire will get to a high enough temperature to vitrify the clay. You can see the pots start glowing! Sometimes things can go wrong, and if a pot gets overfired it will become fragile or might even spawl or crack. Large pieces, such as the Alligator Gar, can be fired in sections or with multiple fires.

Michelle: What inspired you to make Caddo pottery?

Chase: My parents took us to the Southwest when we were young. I loved and was inspired by the beautiful Pueblo pottery and wanted to make those beautiful pots. And I did learn how, but realized there was something not right about that, and I came to understand the difference between cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation. That pointed me in the right direction—to look at my own tribe. I mean, why wouldn’t I have? But I didn’t expect to find anything. Lo and behold, we have one of the biggest pottery traditions in the country, but not many people know about it! Then my purpose was obvious. I dove in, obsessively learning everything about our tribe, our pottery tradition, and our techniques. Jeri Redcorn, a Caddo elder who revived Caddo pottery, helped me get started.

Photo by Travis Caperton, University of Oklahoma

Michelle: The words “contemporary” and “traditional” carry a lot of weight when describing Indigenous arts made in a customary fashion. Where do you situate your work?

Chase: The question of contemporary and traditional is complicated with Native American art, where these words are used to describe the difference between something that’s made in a modern manner or something that’s made exactly how we’ve made things forever. My work up to this point has been primarily trying to save our ancestral and traditional ways of making pottery, so it’s a very ancient style, method, and technique. The present-day definition of “contemporary” is that you’re a living artist. So, in fact, we can be contemporary and traditional at the same time—I’m a living artist producing fine art. But I thought it was important to learn and reestablish our ancestral way in order to have a base to move forward, evolve our work, contribute to Caddo culture, and develop a modern narrative.

Chase Kahwinhut Earles, Batah Kuhuh Alligator Gar Fish Effigy Bottle, 2018, Caddo, ceramic, Dallas Museum of Art, The Otis and Velma Davis Dozier Fund, 2020.9

Michelle: What does it mean to you to have the DMA acquire your work?

Chase: It means the world to me. When I set out to make pottery and art, specifically our tribal art, it was clear that not many people knew about the Caddo, even though we were once a huge, great society. And no one knew about the pottery, and the tradition kind of got forgotten. Having my work in institutions and museums like this is the ultimate goal—to share our beautiful artistic traditions with people and educate them about our identity, our culture, and our continued presence. So, on the scale of importance, it’s up there at the top!

Also, I can’t thank the DMA enough, especially for this opportunity. It goes a long way to educate people about the importance of Native American artwork in the context of American art. I applaud that effort and am very thankful for it.

Family Ties: Making Connections in Pueblo Pottery

In 2014, the DMA acquired a large collection of contemporary southwest Native American ceramics, the gift of Dr. and Mrs. Robert I. Kramer. The collection consists of works by over 65 contemporary artists, many of whom have been honored at prestigious art shows such as the Santa Fe Indian Market.

Many of these vessels were created by two artists—a potter and a painter—who worked together on the final design, form, and decoration. Pottery making is an engaging social activity for family members or close friends, and in many of the Pueblos, the legacy of fine pottery can be traced to an individual or a family. Maria Martinez of San Ildefonso and her family were instrumental in furthering the millennia-old tradition of pottery making during a time of cultural and artistic transition due to the newly established railroad in Santa Fe, which brought the tourist trade, manufactured goods, and a market economy to the Pueblos.

Maria Martinez and Julian Martinez, Black-on-black jar with geometric designs, c. 1920, Dallas Museum of Art, The Otis and Velma Davis Dozier Fund, 2014.26.3

Maria Martinez and Julian Martinez, Black-on-black jar with geometric designs, c. 1920, ceramic, Dallas Museum of Art, The Otis and Velma Davis Dozier Fund, 2014.26.3

Made in collaboration with her husband, this black-on-black jar with Julian’s expertly painted abstract and geometric designs was a typical form for Maria Martinez, illustrating her artistic departure from traditional forms. While reminiscent of larger ollas, this piece has a more elongated and gently sloping neck and a stouter base, producing a sharper shoulder. Its smaller size also made it more appealing to early 20th-century tourists and collectors, as it could be acquired at a lower price and was easier to transport. The nearly metallic sheen alludes to their son Popovi Da’s later innovation, a gunmetal finish he developed in the 1960s by increasing the firing time of the black-on-black method perfected by Maria and Julian.

Maria Martinez and Santana Martinez, Plate with avanyu design, 1943-1956, Dallas Museum of Art, Foundation for the Arts Collection, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Duncan E. Boeckman, 1987.343.FA

Maria Martinez and Santana Martinez, Plate with avanyu design, 1943-1956, ceramic, Dallas Museum of Art, Foundation for the Arts Collection, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Duncan E. Boeckman, 1987.343.FA

If you’ve visited the Native American Gallery on Level 4, you might have seen other exceptional works by the Martinez family. This plate made by Maria and her daughter-in-law Santana highlights the avanyu design created in the early 20th century by Julian Martinez. It was based on depictions occurring on rock art near springs and on ancient vessels. The avanyu is a water deity who, if angered, can cause floods, droughts, landslides, or earthquakes. Representing a thunderstorm and surrounded by clouds, this horned serpent has an undulating body and a tongue reminiscent of a lightning bolt.

Marvin and Frances Martinez, Black-on-black bowl with feather motif, late 20th century, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Dr. and Mrs. Robert I. Kramer, 2014.43.63, not currently on view

Marvin and Frances Martinez, Black-on-black bowl with feather motif, late 20th century, ceramic, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Dr. and Mrs. Robert I. Kramer, 2014.43.63 (not currently on view)

This small pot from the Kramer collection further demonstrates familial collaborations and traditional forms. It was made by the husband and wife team of Marvin and Frances Martinez. Marvin is the grandson of Adam and Santana Martinez and the great-grandson of Maria and Julian. The bowl exhibits the signature black-on-black style for which Maria and her family are so well known and bears a stylized butterfly design and the familiar feather pattern drawn from ancient Mimbres vessels in the early 20th century.

The DMA has a comparable Mimbres vessel with a radiating feather pattern currently on view:

Mogollon (Mimbres) Culture, Bowl with geometric composition and design of radiating feathers, c. 1000-1150, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Elizabeth and Duncan Boeckman, 2011.45

Mogollon (Mimbres) culture, Bowl with geometric composition and design of radiating feathers, c. 1000-1150, ceramic and slip paints, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Elizabeth and Duncan Boeckman, 2011.45

Across the gallery from the Mimbres bowl is another example of the radiating feather motif, a plate made by Maria and her son Popovi Da in the 1960s:

Maria Martinez and Popovi Da, Plate with radiating feather design, 1960s, Dallas Museum of Art, Foundation for the Arts Collection, anonymous gift, 1987.342.FA

Maria Martinez and Popovi Da, Plate with radiating feather design, 1960s, ceramic, Dallas Museum of Art, Foundation for the Arts Collection, anonymous gift, 1987.342.FA

Maria began collaborating with her son in 1956. Popovi Da was an artist in his own right, adding many creative innovations to the Martinez family tradition such as a dual-toned black-and-sienna finish and the use of turquoise.

The DMA is fortunate to have the opportunity to make these fun and fascinating connections between families of artists.

 Amanda Kramp is the McDermott Graduate Intern for Ancient American Art at the DMA.


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