Voices in Clay: Pueblo Pottery from the Edna M. Kelly Collection

By Griffin-Pierce, Trudy | Western Folklore, Spring 2002 | Go to article overview

Voices in Clay: Pueblo Pottery from the Edna M. Kelly Collection


Griffin-Pierce, Trudy, Western Folklore


Voices in Clay: Pueblo Pottery from the Edna M. Kelly Collection. By Bruce Bernstein and J. J. Brody. (Oxford, OH: Miami University Art Museum, 2001. Pp. 115, foreword, acknowledgments, introduction, illustrations, map, photographs, bibliography. $49.95 cloth, $24.95 paper)

The ancestors of today's Pueblo people began to make pottery about 2000 years ago, and by 600 C.E. they had begun to paint designs on their serving and storage vessels. Over time, as climatic fluctuations triggered massive resettlements, these people from the Colorado plateau of the northern Southwest spread out, establishing the Hopi Pueblos of Arizona, the Zuni and Acoma Pueblos of Western New Mexico, and the Pueblos of the middle Rio Grande valley. Developing mutually unintelligible languages and different cultures, Pueblo people also created distinctive styles of painted pottery that became emblematic of their regions and villages.

The Voices in clay exhibition of 116 works of Pueblo ceramics from the Edna M. Kelly collection at the Miami University Art Museum ran from August, 2001 to January, 2002. This catalog of the exhibition is not only a descriptive record of a superb Pueblo pottery collection, but, even more significantly, it is a dialogue among three outstanding contemporary Pueblo potters and three curators. While scholars J. J. Brody, Tony Chavarria, and Bruce Bernstein contribute historical and cultural context, the potters bring another dimension to the pots, which "are considered to be offspring of the potters" who created them as well as "beings with lives and minds of their own" (p. 9).

Through the participation of an all-male panel of potters and curators in what is traditionally a woman's art form, this remarkable catalog brings out an overlooked aspect of Pueblo culture: adaptation and constant change. Especially in contrast to the more dramatic changes in Navajo culture, Pueblo culture is usually perceived by outsiders to be a continuation of "a way of life that goes back hundreds of years" (p. 10). Tony Chavarria of Santa Clara Pueblo identifies this "ability to adapt . . . to anything, to outside influences . . . in their environment, internal or external" as "the real strength [of the Pueblo people]" (p. 10).

Curator Bruce Bernstein observes that this choice of male participants "gave the session a decidedly Outside the Pueblo world' flavor" (p. 9), but it also emphasizes the truth of Tony Chavarria's words about the Pueblo ability to change and adapt in response to outside influences. …

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