This essay is one of 70 by mostly Pueblo people—artists, writers, historians, scientists, and political leaders—collected for "Grounded in Clay: The Spirit of Pueblo Pottery," an exhibition that runs through May 29, 2023, at the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture. For an insider's look at the exhibit, read "Pueblo Pottery Exhibit Breaks the Mold," by Kate Nelson.
THIS PIECE IS A BEAUTIFUL male storyteller made by my mother, Maxine Toya, from Jemez Pueblo. When I watch her create, the techniques she uses always blow my mind. Each part of this stunning piece is perfection. First, my mother hand-coils the storyteller’s body, then she molds the drum before she sculpts each child individually, and finally she attaches the children to the male figure.
It usually takes my mother anywhere from five to seven days to make a piece like this. After a slow drying process, she carefully sands the storyteller and the children with fine sandpaper to refine their details and prepare them for painting. Starting with the drum, she then stone-polishes the piece with a red clay slip and a petrified river stone. I love watching her when she begins painting a storyteller, because it becomes her canvas and she is so in tune with each detail she paints.
With each brushstroke, my mother always creates something different, and there have been times when I cannot wait to see what she comes up with. Her painting skills are phenomenal; you can see this by observing the intricate designs on the storyteller’s ribbon shirt. She then paints the drum and the children, all with amazing designs.
When my mother is painting her meticulous fine lines, I am astonished by how easy she makes it look, especially because she paints freehand, meaning that she does not sketch on the clay with a pencil. The reason I chose this piece—besides the fact that the maker is my mom and I am biased—is my mother’s ability to create such wonderful clay sculptures that display her skill and her desire for precision.