Published on September 16, 2012 by Amy
Pahponee has been working with clay since the 1980s. She is a descendant of the Kickapoo and Potawatomi Nations, originally from the Great Lakes. Her Kickapoo name translates into “Snow Woman.” Pahponee is a self taught clay artist who has learned the traditional methods of her Woodland culture as well as contemporary pottery techniques. She is proud to be reviving pottery making of the Great Lakes region, bringing exposure to an art form that has not been prevalent in the past century.
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Pahponee’s early inspiration to learn about pottery making came from a life changing experience. “I was taken to see a White Buffalo mother and her White calf,” she explains, “ White Buffalo are sacred to our Native people. It was an auspicious occasion to be in their presence.” After their meeting, Pahponee was haunted with an image of the White Buffalo coming out of a pot. “I would see this one specific pot and other beautiful pots in my mind and dreams. But I didn’t know how to make them.” Pahponee was driven to learn everything she could about pottery. Her husband Greg, a trained ceramist, encouraged and advised her with some of his technical knowledge. She also sought Native elders for any knowledge they could impart.
“It was a struggle to learn how to make the pots of my dreams real.” Pahponee spent years experimenting with hand dug and commercial clays and primitive outdoor dung as well as contemporary kiln firing. “The first several years were rough, until I began to develop a better understanding of the rhythm of earth, water, fire and air.” The extensive experimentation, study and research have resulted in a technical excellence in clay properties, tools, and in building and firing techniques. Whether hand coiling, hand throwing on the potter’s wheel, firing with dung or in the kiln, it takes an artist with discipline and skill to bring the work to life. Mastering pottery techniques has provided the platform for Pahponee to create a distinctive style of pottery that expresses her own personal style and innovative spirit.
“I have also learned that all clay is sacred and alive! Whether hand dug or purchased from another country,” Pahponee says, “working with clay is a sacred activity for me, involving a personal interaction between myself and the clay, and with, as we say in our ceremonies, ‘All My Relations’.” Her pottery continues to be inspired by her dreams, visions and personal life experiences, and is still being guided she says, by the White Buffalo. The shapes, colors and textures may vary, but they are always sophisticated and elegant, with clean lines and graceful shapes — some with fire clouds from outdoor firing, others that are sculptural with buffalos or different animals seeming to emerge from the clay, or others with the look of stone accented by petroglyphs or tiny dragonflies carved into the surface.
“When I work on my pots, the world falls away,” says Pahponee. “It’s almost like being in a dream. Sometimes I even feel like I’m with the white buffalo again.” Pottery reminds her of painting. “Each pot is like a blank canvas. Each one has its own story.” For example, when asked about her dragonfly pots, she says, “My People came from the Great Lakes; we are water-based peoples and the dragonfly is a water creature. It is Nature’s messenger, bringing messages from the Spirit World. They are good omens or a good sign. If one lands on you, it has a message for you.”
One afternoon while sitting by a pond she saw the water churning and then a cloud of baby dragonflies emerged from the pond. “I loved this sight. Dragonflies and other creatures that can transform from water to land creatures are very special to us. They represent the creative energy in Nature. Since then I’ve enjoyed adding dragonflies to my works.”
Today, Pahponee is one of the top Native American potters, with recognition from peers and awards from juried shows. Always experimenting with new techniques, pottery by Pahponee is still recognizably hers with a consistency in grace and beauty, and meticulous in shape and design.