Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Clay Available Again For Southwest Native American Indian Art

Fern Sanchez's Southwest Native American Indian family has been making pots out of the pure clay found in the hills above Picuris Pueblo in New Mexico for five generations. Sanchez learned the Southwest Native American Indian art pot making craft from her mother and grandmother. She has since taught the skills to both her own daughter and her grandson. But for decades the clay has been technically off limits for the Picuris tribe. The Oglebay Norton mining company filed for bankruptcy last year and the Picuris Pueblo reached a settlement for ownership of the land. "Now we're able to go out there without being harassed and again create the pottery," Sanchez said. However, clay pits that have supplied Picuris' pottery for generations are scarred by decades of mica mining. "It was devastating to go up there," Sanchez said. "When I first thought about it, I thought it would be just a big hole in the mountain. But it was really bad­-like an open wound." Ogelbay mined the rock for construction materials and cosmetics. For the Picuris, the mica-rich clay produces pottery that is easier to fire, more durable, and that adds a unique flavor to food when used for cooking. There is now a plan to stabilize the entire site, protect cultural resources and wildlife habitat, and create a land use other than mining. And of course, the Sanchez family can continue to make Southwest Native American Indian art pottery as they have been doing for generations.

For details on Native American Indian art from the Southwest's counterparts in the Pacific Northwest, see Northwest Native American Indian Art.

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