Ehren Kee Natay
Kewa/Santo Domingo Pueblo, Diné/Navajo
Curator Ehren Kee Natay (Kewa/Santo Domingo Pueblo, Diné/Navajo) is a multidisciplinary artist residing in his hometown of Santa Fe. His principal creative medium is music, and he has been playing percussion since the age of ten. At age twenty-five, he began taking classes in polychrome pottery under the guidance of teacher Shawn Tafoya at the Poeh Cultural Center, Pueblo of Pojoaque. His latest work combines media to create multisensory art experiences.
Ehren chose the following for the Grounded in Clay exhibit:
Shawn Tafoya and Grandmother Clay
This piece was made by my pottery teacher, mentor, and friend, Shawn Tafoya. I enrolled in Shawn’s pottery class at the Poeh Cultural Center, Pueblo of Pojoaque, in 2011. I still remember my first day of class and learning to work with clay in the traditional way through observation and imitation. I watched Shawn, a big man at more than 6 feet (1.8 m) tall, take the clay into his hands and gently pound it between his palms back and forth, over and over. The way he handled the clay seemed familiar to me. It reminded me of when I would watch my grandmothers and aunties make fry bread or tortillas. There was an innate merging of the heart and mind that seemed automatic and confident. I perceived a higher intelligence at work, as if Shawn’s hands themselves were listening to the clay and responding to it in a way that allowed it to become what it was always destined to be. Within minutes, Shawn created a perfectly symmetrical little pinch pot. I still have that piece to this day, and it is how I recognized this sculpted figure as Shawn’s work. This figurine is holding a pot that is the exact same dimension as my pinch pot shaped by Shawn’s oversized thumb!
When I asked him about the meaning behind this piece, Shawn replied, “I don’t remember making that!” This figurine is quite an unusual piece for him, considering that he is well known for making large dough bowls with intricate polychrome design work. I imagine that this is one of those pieces for which Shawn simply listened to the clay as it took shape. Perhaps the clay was also listening in on him? With its own intelligence, it may have recognized Shawn’s connection to his mother, aunties, and grandmas, and aspired to the figure of a resilient Pueblo woman, strong and nurturing as she cradles her precious dough bowl, which is used for making bread for her community and family. She, too, is reverberating the rhythm in her hands as she merges heart and mind, gently pounding her dough back and forth, back and forth.