POTTERY
BACK TO HOME PAGE BACK BACK TO LEARNING LONGHOUSE

Creating from clay is another rediscovered art form for Haudenosaunee. Once clay pots were essential cooking and storage containers, but they were quickly replaced by the copper, brass, and iron kettles traded to the Haudenosaunee by Europeans These kettles were so accepted by them that the skills to mine and prepare clay and to fashion by coiling were lost. Even the knowledge of whether the geometric designs had special meanings or if artisans had personal patterns was forgotten Today, however, a few Haudenosaunee have revived the traditional art of pottery making. Their pottery however, is not mere form. Like painters, potters use the clay body as a canvas. Some potters have expanded the medium into sculptures.
Usually clay sculptors depict human figures representing artistic visions of Haudenosaunee concerns today such as pollution of the environment or even the society. The Haudenosaunee artist is sophisticated and sensitive; cognizant of the wrongs his people have suffered, and subtly critical of his people’s response to outside intrusions.

The first concerted effort came from a few dedicated women and men at the Six Nations Reserve in Canada in the late 1960s. The late Elda and Oliver Smith along with Sylvia Smith, Dee Martin, and Karen Williams began to create a form of pottery which became known as Mohawk Pottery. While using an electric wheel and kiln, they produced pots which were
Haudenosaunee in design yet modern in function. These artisans developed a brown wash which resembled the colors of the ancient pots and studied the geometric design elements to decorate their pots. In time they also began to use the clay as a canvas, incising into the clay, designs which symbolically represented events in their history or meaningful values such as a tree of peace or clan animal. Others such as Darlene Smith, have now joined this original studio known as Kanyengeh Pottery and a few potters have developed their own style of creating in clay. Kanyengeh Pottery has now closed, but a few potters continue on their own. Today, the son of Elda and Oliver Smith, Steve and his wife Leigh, have a successful studio at Six Nations. Their pots are in many ways their canvas for delicate carvings and incising of images of nature and symbols of the Haudenosaunee.
The Haudenosaunee artists augment the words of the storyteller and historian by making visual what is verbal. They express pride in their people, strength in the unity of the Confederacy, an understanding of the sensitivity and cognizance of the natural and spiritual world, anguish at the pollution of the earth, and a great sense of fortitude and optimism for the future.