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Artists bring memories to White Rock pots

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Artists bring memories to White Rock pots

By Arin McKenna

When the Los Alamos Art in Public Places Advisory Board was considering a public art project for White Rock that involved replicas of Puebloan pottery, they contacted the Pueblo of San Ildefonso to see if artists would be willing to participate. Ten artists agreed to work on the project.
Former APPB president Steve Foltyn spearheaded the project, researching designs, communicating with the artists and overcoming various hurdles along the way.
One of the artists created preliminary sketches of Puebloan pottery designs. Those were integrated with historic pottery designs that Foltyn had researched. The finalized designs were presented to the artists, who decided collectively which six replicas would be created.
The designs the artists chose present a spectrum of San Ildefonso pottery ranging from an Ancestral Puebloan cooking pot, circa 1200–1550 A.D., to an early 20th century design by renowned San Ildefonso potter Maria Martinez and her son Popovi Da.
The other recreations include a 1400–1550 olla (oy-yah, a jar used for carrying water) and three replicating pots created by some of the Pueblo’s premier potters. Those include a black-on-red piece by Tonita Roybal, a polychrome pot by Martina and Florentino Montoya and one of Martinez’ black-on-black plates. The pedestal for the plate had to be redesigned, so that will be installed on the west side of the visitor center later this summer.
The 1,500-pound cement replicas of the were crafted by Bennie Duran in Albuquerque and transported to the Los Alamos Golf Course maintenance shed to be painted last winter.
The project was challenging. Most of the artists had never worked on a pot larger than 18 inches. The meticulous craftsmanship they devote to their traditional pottery had to be translated on a massive scale, to pots as tall as a grown man. As one of the artists, Frances Martinez, pointed out, “Once you start painting, you just have to go from there, and there’s no erasing.”
Martinez and her husband Marvin – who also participated in the project – both come from a long line of potters. Frances is from the Pueblo of Santa Clara. Marvin is Marie Martinez’ grandson. One of Roybal’s great granddaughters was also involved in the project.
The Martinez’ work as a team. Frances shapes and burnishes their pots, and frequently fills in the designs Marvin paints on them. But they and the other artists involved had never collaborated on a large project before, and were uncertain of how it would work out.
They need not have worried. “I felt we couldn’t have done it as great as it came out without each and every one of us there, because we all together collaborated on putting a design together, which was something really different,” Frances said.
“And each one of us there had a significant story or a way of putting what they felt from their heart onto these pieces. And it was really rewarding, and it brought back memories of our grandparents talking and telling us stories. And just doing it, you could hear different songs that they used to sing or hum while they were working. All in all, it had really a good feeling.”
Both Frances and Marvin talked about how everything they’ve learned from family members and friends goes into their pottery, and influenced their work on the White Rock pots.
Marvin was raised by his grandparents, Adam and Santana Martinez, and Frances was raised by her grandparents as well.
“You hold that in your heart and you take it all in and you use it wherever you can. So I think it’s really something special,” Marvin said.
“I think by being raised by our grandparents, we were very fortunate to get to hear a lot of the old stories and be hands on with how our grandparents did things,” Frances said.
“When you were doing this line, you would hear them speaking, like, ‘Do it this way,’ being guided yet, somehow. It just went so smoothly – everything.”
Marvin elaborated on what the project meant to the artists.
“Each of us 10 artists, we know our backgrounds, our ancestors that did pottery, paintings…One family could have been known for their black on red. One could have been known for polychrome. One could have been known for their red pottery. One could have just been known for the black on black,” Marvin said.
“They have their own stories, too. It was nice to hear it. And I think, all in all, we acknowledged that, and together we combined that in the paintings and what we did. The outcome is right there.
” Besides personal stories, every artist brought a wealth of knowledge about the various designs. They know from their personal history what a pot would have been used for, which era it was used in and also which families and artists were known for various designs.
“So, all in all, as potters and as native peoples, we know when we see a pottery, we know pretty much which era and what it was used for,” Marvin said. “And then again, what families were known for that type of work.”
The Martinez’ frequently care for their grandchildren, and a couple of times the children went along when the couple worked on the pots. Eight-year-old Hannah asked if she could help.
“So I gave her the paintbrush and helped her do a couple of the feathers (on the Maria Martinez’ black-on-black plate). So that was very special,” Frances said.
“So when she sees that plate hanging, she’s going to know forever that she actually helped paint on that pot just a little bit. So that was very exciting for me to know that.
“And our other co-artists, it leaves that role for them to see that their family did this. And it was all exciting.”
The Martinez’ are pleased with both the successful collaboration and the end result.
“I think the 10 of us that were there, it was very special, because not too many times do you get people doing it together and working with each other. So I felt it was a very special time for each and every one of us,” Francis said.
Marvin concluded, “It was an honor to be part of this project, to show those pots and the work that was entailed.” Five of the six pots are already installed along NM 4 in White Rock. The final one is expected to be installed later this summer.