Patrick chose the following for the Grounded in Clay exhibit:
Leonidas Tapia: Tradition as Art
Created by Leonidas Tapia and accessioned into the SAR collection in 1970, this small bowl represents different Tewa pottery traditions in a single vessel. It was made using clays local to Ohkay Owingeh. Tapia left the wall of the vessel thick intentionally, and, while the clay was still soft and damp, carved and scraped it so as to create a textured surface. She then accentuated the three-dimensional effect by painting and outlining the carved designs. This heavily carved technique was a common Ohkay Owingeh practice, and here combines both polychrome and mica traditions.
“Polychrome” means that the pottery surface was painted with multiple clay colors. Tapia used the same tan clay to build her pot and to create a matte tan-colored slip. A slip is essentially a clay paint that is applied to the surface of the vessel. She also used red clay to create the matte red slip. This is the same red that, when polished, produces the glossy red pottery that is characteristic of Ohkay Owingeh. Tapia used white clay slip to outline carved areas and make them stand out.
Tapia took this common type of Ohkay Owingeh carved pottery a step further by introducing an additional color to the polychrome scheme. The addition of mica slip to parts of the surface creates a golden luster. Historically, the Tewa used micaceous clay to make utilitarian pottery, including cookware. However, by the time Tapia was creating her vessels, micaceous pottery was starting to emerge on the fine art scene as a recognized and accepted Pueblo ceramic art form.
Potters such as Tapia combined traditional clay materials, styles, and techniques in new ways. This bowl is full of contrasts, with its three-dimensional carved “canvas” displaying both polished and unpolished surfaces, and sparkly mica set off by areas of matte slip. This is a beautiful expression of Tewa art, blending tradition with artistic inspiration.
As someone who has made both San Juan red-on-tan and micaceous pottery, I appreciate the effort that went into creating this bowl, for a pot is not just a finished “thing” or a product you buy off a store shelf. It is also a process. From setting out into the landscape to gather materials; digging, then processing and kneading the clays; to forming them into coils; building them up to create the wall of a vessel; scraping and sanding them; and applying and polishing slips, it is a spiritual effort akin to creating new life. You experience anxiety when firing a pot, hoping that all your efforts, your time, your creative ability, all of yourself that you have invested into this clay being, will come to fruition, and that it will survive the firing and from it will be born something of beauty.