Apache potter teaches class on pottery making

Susanne Jerome/Apache Moccasin In the old days there were no electric kilns, and the Apache didn’t build clay ovens. They used a fire.

Marlowe Cassadore, director of the San Carlos Apache Cultural Center hosted potter, Sheldon Nunez-Valardy, a Jicarilla Apache from New Mexico to teach a week-long class in pottery making. 

Nunez-Velardy brought some micaceous clay from a special place in New Mexico. The clay is full of tiny flakes of mica which made it shine. All week his class of would-be potters coiled their pots and then smoothed and polished them under his eye until they shown, round and stylish and ready to be fired.

In the old days there were no electric kilns, and the Apache didn’t build clay ovens. They used a fire. According to Velardy they used to heat the pots gradually up to about 500 degrees by putting them around a campfire and rotating them while they were heating. He said that he had tried the process once to see if it would work, and it did, but it took forever.

Today they stacked the pots on trays and heated them in the Peridot Head Start’s oven.  On Friday morning they put the pots in the oven for three hours, moving the temperature up from 200 to 500 degrees.  When they removed them at 1 p.m., they had been at 500 degrees for an hour.  Now they were pre-treated and could be fired without cracking.

They put a grate over the coals of a fire they had been preparing and stacked the pots face down on it. It was hot work at one in the afternoon. 

After the pots were stacked there was a flurry of activity as the potters quickly leaned slim sticks of kindling against the grate and against the pots on the grate. Finally, they put kindling all over the top of the carefully constructed pile of pots.  As they put the pieces of wood in place, the kindling was catching fire from the fire under the grate, so they had to step lively.  In a few minutes the blaze had completely consumed the wood and had fired the pots.  Many pots had black marks on them from the blaze, but as Nunez-Velardy  explained, those were not flaws but characteristics of the pots.

During the fire Tony Belvado kept watch with a hose as the fire showed some ambition to spread from its pit, and he drowned the fire thoroughly after the pots had been carefully removed using a hooked metal pole.

In the last week, people had been building wickiups, and the next weeks will feature lessons in making moccasins and basket weaving.


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