During the years between buying my first Quimper pieces, and having a chance to find more, other passions developed.
Meeting my husband, Bill, of course: our love of poodles came soon after, and we became interested in another artistic and cultural specialty, American Indian pottery. We are especially fond of that of the Hopi Indians in Arizona, and of our neighbors, the Pueblo Peoples of New Mexico.
We like visiting the Hopi Villages high on the mesas north of Winslow. The people live very simply, in a beautiful but harsh environment, yet have a rich cultural tradition, not unlike the Bretons in the Bretagne of the past.
The Hopis are friendly and hospitable, and soon we had many friends whom we enjoy very much.
On First Mesa, the women make pottery, while on Second Mesa the craft is coiled basketry, and on Third Mesa they make baskets of wicker that are woven in a different way.
We were especially attracted to the pottery and soon started buying, and as we began to collect, our friends began to educate us in the methods they used.
The clay is dug from locales belonging by heritage to specific families, sometimes near the ruins of an ancient village which was built by their ancestors. The pottery is handmade by coiling, sanded, and then polished with a smooth pebble which has often been handed down from mother to daughter (or now sometimes to a son). It is a surprise to most people to learn that the shiny surface of this pottery is not a glaze, but the result of hours of smoothing and polishing with that pebble.
Then, if they choose, it may be embellished with designs. The colors of the designs are all minerals; rocks found in the area and ground with a grinding stone to a powder and then moistened with water to make a thick paint. A strip of yucca is used as a brush to to paint the designs.
Firing in an outdoor fire.
Some potters, use a slip of white clay over the natural clay pot before polishing. This is the specialty of one extended family. To me, it is almost miraculous that with these materials of the earth, and the simple firing with the pots carefully stacked and covered with dried sheep dung as fuel, they produce these exquisite works of art.
When we visited the Henriot faiencerie at Quimper, and the Faïenceries d'Art and Bourg-Joly in Malicorne, I saw basically the same process taking place: Soaking the clay, forming, and with the exception of the potters wheel and use of molds, all much the same. Glaze, of course, is much different, and they have the benefit of a controlled kiln, but still basically the same.
As impressed as I am with the skills of the French Faïence artists and seeing how they work, it has increased my respect for those Indian potters who do it all by hand, and after many hours of work, are at the mercy of a pot slipping in the fire, or the wind rising to blacken the pots with smoke. Many is the time we have gone with a friend to remove her pots from the cooled fire, only to see a beautiful bowl or pot in pieces.
It seems that people are more alike than they are different in the desire for not only utility, but also beauty in the expression of their culture..whether it be the gorse and bruyere, the costumes and coiffes of the Bretons...
or the thunderbird eagles and the water serpent, and the Kachinas and cloud steps of the Hopi.
It speaks to us of the people themselves, and we love it all.