MY JOURNEY INTO CADDO POTTERY
For the larger part of my life I was raised away from my Caddo heritage and culture, mostly because of the effectiveness of the allotment doctrine, assimilation, and racism that worked too well on my parents and their parents before them. My journey into the world of Native American Art because of my inspiration to create our tribe's pottery, would also become my re-education and rediscovery of my culture, from it's earliest origins to it's modern history.
I soon found and reached out to the only Caddo member that was still creating our Caddo pottery, Jereldine Redcorn. Furthermore, she was the sole person responsible for reviving our old traditions into the new. What I would come to find out is that the last known Caddo pottery produced unbroken from our ancient past, was by a Whitebead family around 1908. Upon reaching out to Jeri I found she was very generous and excited about helping me get started. It then became my goal to help the Caddo tribe further our restoration of our ancient pottery culture.
As a child my family would take me on vacations to the Southwest: New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado, almost every year during the summer for school break. We visited places like Old Town, New Mexico, Santa Fe, New Mexico, Durango, Colorado, Mesa Verde, Colorado, Sedona, Arizona, Tlaquepaque, Arizona and many other places. I grew fond of the culture of the Southwest, particularly as it pertained to art. I was an artist growing up, drawing and painting feverishly partly for myself, but partly to please my teachers of art. My art was definitely influenced by the Southwest's style, which was definitely influenced by its culture and history surrounding the Native Americans and Pueblo Indians. I remember going on trips making notes of what would be cool to try to reproduce or create when I got home. It was inspiring, but reproduce is the key word here.
Later on in life, after getting married, we went on a vacation to the Southwest along the same familiar routes and I realized that I loved the sculpture and the pottery. I started really taking a look at the Pueblo pottery and the stylized sculpture from the independent artists that displayed their work in the many galleries. Again, I started taking notes and making scribbles of things I would love to create when I got home. Though I never realized any of those ideas, I was definitely inspired. Could I have started creating something immediately I surely would have. Life seems to have other ideas for you. It's not necessarily that I never got around to it; it's more like there were more pressing matters or financial things to work out before I could start "playing in the mud." I discovered early on that art is a luxury, so it's the last to come and the first to go. I might like to strive to make it more than that, for me.
I had not created any art, drawing, painting, sculpture or otherwise since college. It had been almost 10 years now. I felt like I had lost touch with any inspiration to create art. I questioned why there was no inspiration anymore, no desire to create any art. I liked building things, but artistic expression, it was not there anymore. Finally I was able to go on another vacation to the Southwest, and I was inspired even more. We had just moved out onto our own property with 2 acres of land with a creek and trees, and I felt it was a great place to start working on my art. Looking back it was pure coincidence that we moved to the perfect place to support creating pre-contact method Caddo pottery and pitfiring them the old way. I made note of every pot I came across, Acoma, Zuni, Ildefonso, and many others. I asked many questions and started researching the way to create these works of art by myself, for my very own. I looked into how they made the clay. I looked into how they formed the pots. I looked into how they decorated them, and how they painted them with boiled beeweed. I researched how they burnished the pots to a fine polish. I researched how they fired the pots using semi-traditional methods of pit and smoke firing. There were so many questions, I started learning quickly from many different resources. I bought some clay, and some Rocky Mountain beeweed, and gathered wood. I wanted to start right away.
Well. I never started. Something plagued me. I could not bring myself to make a space for my pottery and actually start sculpting something, anything. It wasn't important to me. It didn't matter very much. I didn't know why. After being so inspired, I didn't know why I was so indifferent now. It was always one thing or another. Just ways to pass the time and ignore that nagging in me that wanted to start my art back up again and create something special. Well that was just it. It would have been cool to make Pueblo Indian pots. Cool. Pretty. But not special. As a matter of fact, I thought to myself, they would merely be "knock-offs" of real pueblo Indian artists. Replicas. I'm not a Pueblo Indian. It would be an insult to the Pueblo tribes. It would be like robbing the awesome history and culture they possess and the great and meaningful works of art that are their voice and their record that will preserve forever their people. Their identity. That was it. That was the problem. I realized I had no voice. I felt I had no reason to create art. I then felt that to create art you had to have a meaning and a voice. It had to be something important to put forth the time and effort that would be required otherwise it would feel empty.
So I posed the question to myself, did our Caddo tribe make pottery? I am Caddo. Creating pottery would only have meaning to me personally if it was Caddo pottery. I thought to myself, I wonder if we ever made pottery, surely we did, it seems like most ancient or older societies made some form of pottery. I thought briefly, even if we did, because I've never heard of it, it had to be crude, minuscule, unskilled, insignificant, or surely it wouldn't be rich in depth, style, form, or historic significance. Nothing like the pueblos, I thought. but I still wanted to know. So I started researching...
I had no idea. The truth was the complete opposite. I had no idea what the Caddo people created and were known for creating. How would I have known? I felt like there was no way of knowing about this because I grew up at a young age unattached to my culture or tribe. However, another truth is that hardly any Caddos know about the wealth of their pottery tradition and heritage. Apparently we created an enormous breadth of finely skilled pottery. I instantly wondered if they taught all the Caddo people this, or anyone at all. Apparently there are many many museums with collections of ancient Caddo pottery. Apparently there are collectors with detailed knowledge of verifying authentic Caddo pottery. Jeri told me there are museums in Europe with our ancestor's pottery, furthermore she recently had a gallery showing in Germany. The ancient pottery was traded during colonization of North America. Apparently the pottery of the Caddo homelands was some of the most refined and sought after pottery in all of the land at the peak of their civilization. I wondered where all this skill went, and if anyone was left that knew how to create it. I wondered where all our culture and the history surrounding it went, and if it was lost. I searched and studied and soaked up all the knowledge I could about our tribe's prehistory and pottery culture. I soon realized that it would be a difficult journey digging up and deciphering and comparing notes and figuring out what was old knowledge and what was new. But being that we are in the age of the internet, I googled Caddo pottery and the first person to pop up was Jereldine Redcorn! Once I found her and was able to meet with her and learn of all the things she had done to revive the Caddo pottery tradition, I knew I had found my calling and my voice.I was a Caddo Indian and I was going to help revive the traditions and history of Caddo Pottery so that it could be carried on and not lost.For the first time in my life I felt like I really had a reason to create art, and a voice behind which to inspire it. This would be something real, and something meaningful. One of the things I have learned having started creating pottery especially in the pre-contact methods is that requires a lot of patience. Something I really didn't have beforehand. Also something I learned is about the world of Native American art. There are a lot of debates and mixed feelings about ethical and cultural topics. As I continue on down the road with the goal of helping bring our once grand pottery tradition back into the light, I have realized like never before the patience I will have to have regarding these issues. I have also learned the difference between being a cultural ambassador to your tribe as it pertains to education, archaeology, revival, and being an individual artist in the fine arts world. They are two very different things. Much like having one foot in the white world and one in our Native world, I feel like I have one foot in the world of our tribe's cultural accuracy and identity, and the other in the very confusing, tumultuous, debated, and oft times selfish world of Fine Art, specifically as it pertains to Native American Art.
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