Pamunkey Pottery School | The Art Scene

Pamunkey Pottery School | The Art Scene


It’s a good one this time.
Is it working better for you? Yeah.
Good. I’m doing it thicker. But you can still…
Work it? You can, and I’m not going
to do. It’s your pot. You can take
and just rip this off and then just, and put another
little coil in there. Just do it. Just do it. Every time you make another one you find yourself
getting better and better and you learn
how the clay works. My name is Debra Martin. And I live on the Pamunkey
Indian Reservation. And it is just outside
of King William County, because actually we are a
sovereign nation unto ourselves. And there is proof that actually
we’ve lived here for over 10,000 years
and some say more than that. And when you look around at all
the pottery shards that you find and all the arrowheads, just all the different
little pieces of our history that is here, you know that we have been here
for ages and ages and ages. My name is Jennifer Dixon. I’ve been living
on the reservation for over three years now. However my family has lived here
for many generations. I grew up with my grandmother making the traditional
coil pottery. I spent many years
in this museum with her and with the elders
of the community making pottery and seeing how the clay
was dug from the river. My name is
Allyn Cook Swarts. I’m a Pamunkey tribal member.
I live here. I’m also the tribal
administrator for the tribe. I go through my yard and I’m
constantly picking up artifacts, pottery artifacts
along the river, along the whole reservation. We’re standing right here
at the Pamunkey Indian Museum. So if you take a look
here everything that you can think of,
pottery is a part of this. The Pamunkey Indians used
the pottery for storage, whether it be for grains,
for water, for cooking. Some of the pots were made
more conical in shape because that way they could sit
in the fire easier. As times goes by of course they
end up being not so utilitarian. It’s now become an art form, but this was necessary
for the Pamunkey people to actually survive. This is where
the magic begins. This is where the ladies sat
to make their pottery. Everyone had a different seat.
My mom sat right over here. And everyone had
a different seat and all of them worked together. They came here at nine
in the morning and left at three
in the afternoon. They made their pottery
and they sold it. But that was a big money
maker for them. They worked all year for that. It was a very active
place to be, the ladies would make
their pottery there. They would sit there and they
would, I want to say gossip. And they did,
they’d gossiped about what was going on down here
on the reservation. And this was in the early 30s and times were tight
for everybody then. So the state ended up
providing the financing for building a pottery school. And in that pottery school
though also they had a teacher there that taught how to make
their pottery fast by making molds
of their favorite pots. The Pamunkey women
would make pottery to sell to Jamestown,
to Williamsburg Pottery, to display here
in the Pamunkey Museum. My great grandmother
was a potter, used the Pamunkey Pottery Guild and she always told me
growing up that one day she was going to teach me how, but as I got older
she was less able to do it. For the pottery school today
we don’t use it that much now. It has sort of fallen to disuse. And that was the sad thing
that we lost so many potters. I had this fear of it
being a lost art, because I remember
there were some years I didn’t come down here,
my grandparents were gone, and I came down here one day
to the museum store that we have and there wasn’t hardly
anything in there. And I was so sad. So when I got back down here
it was like, yes, I want to get
my hands in this clay. And I love it. And I love, I’m teaching a class
here today on the reservation, to get some of the younger
people involved in making pots. I do it all the time. So now how do I correct this? Don’t worry about it. It’s okay.
It’s just clay. I really wanted to learn
from my great grandmother and after her passing it
was really hard for me to even think about
doing pottery again. So when this opportunity
arose I was asked to try to put together
a pottery class just for, you know,
Pamunkey people to learn. And I, I jumped on it. I knew this was my chance
to get back into it. Well, first we start off
with learning the history of why we do it
and how it’s done. Then we start off
with making a walnut size ball to then pressing it
and then rolling out the coil and then building each layer
and melding the pieces together, one step at a time. Really for me it’s letting
the clay speak for itself, not trying to force it,
not trying to make it perfect. That it’s not meant
to be perfect. It’s supposed to be natural
and have its own shape and you’re just molding it. The clay that has been used
through the years, and I still use it too, is from the banks of the
Pamunkey River that we live on. The river is such an important
part of our people. It was travel for us
for thousands of years. Any place you dig down,
at least a foot, you’re going to find clay. And I have to put this
one more row on here. I think it’s so important as part
of being a Pamunkey woman to be able to pass down
through future generations. So we try to keep it going
and it’s almost like you feel the spirit of your ancestors
still there, doing the same things, gossiping
and talking about things and what’s going
on in your life. It’s a constant reminder
of where I am, where we’ve been. I don’t want it to be lost. It’s so easy to lose
what you don’t practice. If we don’t
continue learning then it doesn’t get passed
onto our children. I remembered how much
it meant to me to sit and have time with my
grandmother and those things. And learn our traditions
and our culture. When I’ve heard people, oh, there’s still Indians
here in Virginia? Well, yes, there is.
We’ve never left. We’ve always been here.
We’re still here. It’s important. It’s very important
to be a part of that and the generations from way
back to your ancestors that are still going on today. We didn’t lose that.

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