Melissa chose the following for the Grounded in Clay exhibit:
This pot is by my great-grandmother Luteria Atencio.¹ I was ecstatic to find one of her pieces in the SAR collection. It is hard to describe the feeling you get when you are able to hold, touch, smell, and breathe in something that was created by a family member who is no longer here but to whom you were very close. The best description I can give is that it is a feeling of home.
One of my earliest childhood memories is of my dad and great-grandmother sitting around the kitchen table, working on pottery. I was sitting on Saya’s² lap, watching my daddy at work. I remember her breaking off little pieces of clay and putting them in my tiny hands. She then placed her hands over mine and patiently rolled the clay into different shapes. At the time, she was in her early eighties and was losing her eyesight. I remember her using her sense of touch to feel the shape and thickness of a pot, rather than relying on her vision. She then handed me a toothpick to scratch designs into the soft clay. When I told this story to my daughter, Jo Povi Romero, she remarked that, when I make pottery, I am often watching TV or talking to people, and that I too use my sense of touch
to feel the shape and thickness of my pots. To this day, the smell of the wet clay or of rain hitting the earth reminds me of Saya.
For a time, my family and I were fortunate to live in my father’s childhood home on the plaza in Ohkay Owingeh. When my children were little, they enjoyed going outside and searching around the property for pottery sherds that would reveal themselves after the rain. I love that my children have the same connection to potsherds as had their great-great-grandmother. This connection has permeated each generation.
In the 1930s, Saya, along with seven other Ohkay Owingeh tribal members, took similar potsherds and used them for a tribal revitalization of historical Ohkay Owingeh pottery designs and techniques. They used sherds of Potsuwi’i incised-ware (1450–1500) as their inspiration. The pot I chose has the same Potsuwi’i incised designs that Luteria came to be known for during her lifetime. I look at her pieces, take inspiration from them, and incorporate them—their shapes, designs, textures, materials—into my own contemporary pottery. It is often said that the clay is alive, and you must listen to it; listen to what it wants to become and learn from it. I truly believe this, but I also believe that our ancestors are with us, guiding us while we are working. I hope that my children and in turn their children will look to their relatives on both sides of our family for inspiration when it comes to their artwork.
¹ Luteria Atencio was a renowned pottery revivalist from Ohkay Owingeh.
² Saya is Tewa for “grandmother.”