Written by Kelly Magleby, our second grand recipient!I have been making Anasazi pottery replicas and teaching at primitive skills gatherings for 5 years now. To make this style of pottery I dig the clay myself, hand build the pots, make the paint myself from plants found in the wild, I use yucca leaves as paintbrushes and I wood fire the pottery in an Anasazi style trench kiln.

Anasazi Pottery Project

The idea for this project has been growing in my mind for several years now. It is an outward expression of what started me on this pathway from the beginning which was an understanding that the anasazi found everything they needed in the surrounding land tomake their pottery. Not only did they survive, but they thrived. Not only did they make functional pottery but they made their pottery beautiful works of art. I have always loved mimicking their pottery shapes and designs, but I know that without going through the same process in the field I will fall short of the best understanding of how they did it. So this is my project plan… To go into the wild and gather all the materials needed including clay, water, temper, clay slip, plants for paint, yucca and firewood.  I will process these materials in the field using only materials found in the area, make several pots, paint them, fire them and use them/cook with them. All of this within 7-10 days. I want to document each step of the process in detail with video and photos. My hope is that by doing this I can bring back some of the valuable knowledge that has been lost about how the Anasazi made their pottery and also show others the process in detail from start to finish.

The Anasazi were pottery masters. They honed their craft over hundreds of years and passed their knowledge on through the generations. I suspect that this knowledge and the passing on of it to the next generation was considered sacred and that it honored their ancestors much like stories, traditions, and skills like basketry and weaving are passed down within tribes today.

I notice how pottery making in some areas seems to be contagious and spreads to all people within a family or a village and on to the next generation. Nampeyo and her descendants- Maria Martinez, and the pottery of San Ildefonzo Pueblo and the village of Mata Ortiz are examples of this. The knowledge and the mastery of their craft grows over time as each potter adds their unique discoveries.

Anasazi Pottery Project2

What happened to the Anasazi Indians is a mystery. Archeologists tell us that they abandoned their dwellings and migrated or “disappeared “around 1350ad. What a tragedy that all that knowledge about pottery making and other valuable survival skills disappeared with them after so many generations!

Like other ancient cultures, what we do know about the Anasazi is from studying what they left behind… their homes, other structures and day to day objects were expertly crafted, be it woven sandals, stone knives or colorful pottery. We can only make an educated guess about how things were made and what they were used for but this is where experimental archaeology plays a great role! I know I can come to a better understanding of their pottery by following in their footsteps and trying in every way to make pottery how they made it, using only materials gathered in the area.

Although Ive made pottery in the field many times, I normally use a number of man-made objects like a steel knife, buckets, plastic bags, gloves and shovels. For the project I will not have any of these things. There is much more to be discovered if I take this extreme approach.

I believe that this project touches upon many fields of interest such as ceramics, primitive pottery, archaeology, native American history, native cultures and land use, art history, ancestral skills, living more in tune with the earth, etc. I would love to show that pottery making is literally available to everyone. I want to inspire a love for our wild lands and a desire to protect them.  I would also love for this project to encourage more support for our primitive skills community and experimental archaeology.

Primitive Foundation www.primitivefound.org has agreed to fund my project and the editing of the video footage as well as provide another outlet of exposure for the finished project. I am so grateful for this opportunity and for their support!

– Kelly Magleby


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