Michael chose the following for the Grounded in Clay exhibit:
When I first encountered this piece, I knew it had to be my grandmother Dextra’s pottery. I remember seeing a much larger version of it on the cover of a book. I was initially drawn to the painted fragments of pottery, which are pieced together like a very complicated collage. Each little painted sherd tells a story through symbolism. It made me think of my great-great-great-grandmother Nampeyo, who assembled fragments of Hopi pottery from the ancient village of Sikyatki to apply to her own pottery designs.
To me, it seems that my grandmother is pictorially telling that story, but also telling the story of our culture. I have questions about this piece that I would like to ask my grandmother. Where did she get her clay from? What do these fragments represent? Which fragment did she paint first? Did she work in a particular direction?
Alas, my grandmother passed away in 2019. I last saw her the summer before she passed, and she told us a story of the Tewa people that her mother had told her when she was a young girl. I used a recorder to document her storytelling, and I am glad I did. I had planned on making a trip to see her and record some more stories, but I never made it; we forget about the impermanence of people. Storytelling and passing on those stories are so important. We need to take advantage of our relationships with our elders while they are here.
In looking at this piece, I began to think of times spent with my grandmother when I was growing up. I remember a summer when we made pieces of pottery together. I was too young to realize how important that time was—our hands both tending to the clay, and the scent of wet earth. I have a memory of her hands covered in that light coating of dried clay. Now when I see work by my grandmother Dextra, I start to look for clues that may connect to my own artistic practice.