Brandon Adriano Ortiz

Taos Pueblo

Curator Brandon Adriano Ortiz (Taos) is a fan of mud in all forms, a brother, a friend, and a son. He is also a micaceous Pueblo potter and an architecture student.


Tribal Affiliations:

Artwork Affiliations:

Brandon chose the following for the Grounded in Clay exhibit:

Picuris food bowl

Picuris food bowl
c. 1880
Micaceous clay
5½ x 11 in. (14 x 27.9 cm)
Collection School for Advanced Research


This bowl’s carbon-saturated walls are ingrained with memories of meals prepared within and of words and worlds hovering around the vessel. Its body is dressed with the markings of experiences surrounding it. With a humble gesture of four symbolic nubs, placed at quarterly intervals just below its rim, the bowl challenges the separation of art and tool. An embodiment of both its purpose and its people, this vessel has a resilience matched only by that of the community from which it came.

A middle place, designated by lines stretching from the center of the vessel to the four protrusions, recognizes mutual inheritance between space and place throughout time. The bowl’s physical appearance is a record of relations made tangible by clay, water, and fire. With each firing, the golden walls of this micaceous clay vessel have been blackened with the essence of organic life. Carbon carries thoughts, emotions, and actions around the fire. Inside the bowl, white mineral deposits, facilitated by water, serve as evidence of creation and inheritance from the land—a slow force of spatial communication expressed in geological conflict. With each use of the vessel, water carries a product of erosion back to the coalescent whole.

Their lines demarcating center, the four protrusions are a call to remain in harmony; each nub creates space for a covered hand to cling, protecting both the contents of the bowl and the cook. The vessel’s beauty lies not solely in artistic expression, but also in utility. The manifestation of adornment is a means of information, recollection, and mobilization; it exists outside itself and between forces made tangible to the user through wear—a connection point to our origins, which surround it, and to the physical forces that affect it.

When the value of a vessel became correlated with technical perfection in specified styles, pottery forms moved away from community and yielded to the pressures of a capitalist market. The commodification of pottery as artwork drastically altered the relationship between communities and the clay. Before the separation of technical perfection and utility in micaceous pottery, physical distance between Pueblo communities aided the development of different artistic styles and created the conditions for innovation based on community needs. This vessel speaks of these forces and of a community’s connection to its surroundings through use, rather than its control over the environment.

Heavy with the remembrance of past use, this vessel’s weighted tactility calls outward for contact while reassuring users of its ability. Contemporary cookware and artwork typically degrade with use, but each meal, stain, or scratch adds to the structure of a micaceous pot. The marks on the exterior of the vessel are testimony to its narrative function, which parallels that of its community. Seasoned, the northern Pueblos have been made resilient through experience. The traditions of functional pottery face challenges new in media but not in scope; each decision made real in our environment pushes the community forward into the future better prepared.