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Reflections on Grounded in Clay Opening Weekend


It is mid-morning Friday in Santa Fe: sun blaring and the air is thin, I often think that we are so close to the sky that maybe I could touch the clouds myself. At the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture (MIAC), white tents are erected in the courtyard, awaiting people to commune beneath them. There is a sea of tables with white linens spread across them, but they are too clean and crisp in my opinion. Instead, what they need are a few food stains and spilled drinks atop them. If they could be splattered with the reverberations from people’s dinner conversations and laughter, that would be even better.

In many ways, the act of gathering over food reminds me of what this exhibition itself represents. To me, each piece of pottery is immaculate in its cracks and organic forms and worn-down pigments; more than that, I wonder about the life of the pot and whose grandmother or grandfather might once have shaped it, held it, loved it. The voice (or, rather voices) of the exhibition feels warm and genuine, like sitting down for a home-cooked meal with loved ones.

While I myself am not Pueblo, I feel grateful to take part in the events of the special evening ahead. Tonight is the community opening of Grounded in Clay and members of the Pueblo Pottery Collective have come together to celebrate. As we set up for the event, I feel excitement (and a deep exhalation—finally the day is here) clinging to the air.

Former IARC director and Pueblo Pottery Collective member Brian Vallo (Acoma) gives a blessing within the gallery space. Photo by Terrance Clifford, courtesy the Vilcek Foundation.

After receiving blessings from both Brian Vallo (Acoma Pueblo) and Mark Mitchell (Tesuque Pueblo), it is time to feast. The Sky City Buffalo and Ram Dancers (Acoma Pueblo) move in sync at the center of the tent and the sound of their rattles emanate. While they dance, many of us look on while others begin to assemble in line for the buffet-style spread. I fill my plate with Jemez enchiladas, beans, and Pueblo cookies. As I sit down to eat, I feel happy: noise and laughter fill the tents; chile stains and Indian tea spill on to tablecloths.

The Sky City Buffalo/Ram Dance Group (Acoma) perform during the evening. Photo by Terrance Clifford, courtesy the Vilcek Foundation.

Curators and guests feast and participate in a throw during the community opening. Photo by Terrance Clifford, courtesy the Vilcek Foundation.

Grounded in Clay: The Spirit of Pueblo Pottery is community-curated by the Native communities that it represents. I myself came aboard the IARC staff near the tail-end of the project. However, I was quickly in awe at the level of community organizing as well as commitment, knowledge and—often, vulnerability—displayed by individual members of the Collective throughout the process.

Over the course of its opening weekend, Grounded in Clay bore witness to visitor upon visitor. The public opening on Sunday was buzzing with activity: curator speaker panels, live music performances, traditional dances and of course—artmaking. For those who were not able to attend, there is still much to look forward to. Just like the resilience of Pueblo pottery itself, Grounded in Clay will not soon fade away.

Throughout its run in Santa Fe, the Pueblo Pottery Collective and other members of the Pueblo community will facilitate exhibition-themed programs, such as clay workshops and poetry readings, that are open to the public. In particular, on the first Sunday of each month, folks can bring themselves and their families to MIAC to engage more deeply with the pottery. My wish is for all folks to come view the exhibition, meet the curators and, hopefully, get to experience the same warmth and reverence for Pueblo pottery and culture that I myself have been privileged with. For dates and times, see the listings below:

All events take place at the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture

Sunday, November 6, 2022, 10:30am-3:30pm
Grounded in Clay Film Day at MIAC’s O’Keeffe Theater 

Sunday, December 4, 2022, 1-3pm
Conversation on family legacy with Michael Namingha (Hopi, Ohkway Owingeh), Arlo Namingha (Tewa/Hopi) and Dan Namingha (Tewa/Hopi)

Sunday, January 8, 2023, 1-3, 1-3pm
San Felipe Pottery pop-up exhibit and pottery demonstration with Ray Garcia (San Felipe) and Ricardo Ortiz (San Felipe)

Sunday, February 5, 2023, 1-3pm
Catalog and poetry readings with Max Early (Laguna Pueblo) and Evone “Snowflake” Martinez (San Ildefonso and Cochiti Pueblo)


2023 Native Arts Speaker Series at MIAC’s O’Keeffe Theater
Grounded in Clay: The Spirit of Pueblo Pottery


Friday, March 24, 2023, 1-2pm
From Me to You: A Conversation with Pottery with Tara Gatewood (Isleta, Diné)


Friday, March 31, 2023, 1-2:30pm
Earth, Wind, Fire, Water: Pueblo Pottery and the Environment with Dr. Matthew Martinez (Ohkay Owingeh), Jason Garcia (Santa Clara), and Dr. Christina M. Castro (Jemez)


Friday, April 7, 2023, 1-3pm
Untold Pueblo Stories: Hidden Histories and the Pueblo Diaspora with Diego Medina (Tiwa-Piro-Manso), Albert Alvidrez (Ysleta del Sur), and Jerry Dunbar (Ysleta del Sur)


Friday April 14, 2023, 1-3pm
Conversation and Pottery Making: An Afternoon with Clarence Cruz and Samuel Villarreal Catanach with Clarence Cruz (Ohkay Owingeh) and Samuel Villarreal Catanach (Pojoaque)