For the last 39 years, Zia Pueblo traditional potter Ruby Panana has made stunning bowls and vases by hand. She is a fourth-generation potter, and like her mother, famed potter Seferina Pino Bell, Panana gathers clay from the earth and crafts pottery at a table, rather than using a wheel. She shared a few tips for new potters.
If collecting clay, clean it thoroughly. “When I dig it out of the ground, there are crystals mixed in with the clay,” Panana says. “You have to clean all of that out, because otherwise it tends to make the pottery pit.” She recommends buying a screen at an art supply store. “Some people use silk curtains,” she says.
Polish in three steps. Panana uses two kinds of sandpaper. “I use rough-grit sanding paper to get started on smoothing. Then I use the real fine sanding paper to finish smoothing it out so I can start polishing it.” The polishing phase also involves smoothing clay slip on the outside, using a river stone.
Be open to fresh lessons. Crafting traditional Zia pottery is the work of a lifetime for Panana. For people new to ceramics, she says, “You kind of learn as you go.”
Find Ruby Panana’s work at Andrea Fisher Fine Pottery, in Santa Fe.