Taos Pueblo's Pam Lujan-Hauer offers demonstrations, displays

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FARMINGTON — Southwestern Pueblo pottery is synonymous with the culture and image of New Mexico, and a presentation planned next weekend in downtown Farmington will provide a rare glimpse into how it is created, as well as a detailed look at its long and storied history here.

Award-winning potter Pam Lujan-Hauer of Taos Pueblo will deliver a Chautauqua presentation on Southwestern Pueblo pottery at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Museum of Navajo Art and Culture, 301 W. Main St. Lujan-Hauer's presentation will cover the history of the art form, which she dates to 200 A.D., along with stories of her own introduction to the medium, demonstrations of her work and displays of the raw materials she uses.

Lujan-Hauer was only 6 years old when two of her great-aunts, Josephine Ortiz and Anita Lujan, both accomplished potters, took her under their collective artistic wing.

"They would let me have a little bit of clay, and I would pinch out a pot or an animal, and they'd fire it for me," Lujan-Hauer recalled last week during a telephone interview from her home in Albuquerque.

She described becoming hooked on pottery almost instantly, particularly the transformative process it requires. Later, she would go on to study Pueblo pottery at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe.

"Yeah, I was definitely drawn to it," she said. "I enjoyed it right away. I think about how the fire changes the clay so it'll never turn to sticky mud again. It's permanent, it's utilitarian and it's beautiful."

Lujan-Hauer's appearance here is funded by the New Mexico Humanities Council, and she has delivered the presentation many times across the state. She said she is always delighted when she sees younger would-be potters take an interest in her work, though she cautions that learning to create authentic Pueblo pottery is a painstaking, exacting process that requires a deep, years-long commitment.

One of the elements that separates Pueblo pottery from other styles of pottery, she said, is the clay itself. Indigenous peoples have been harvesting clay for pottery from the middle Rio Grande Valley for hundreds upon hundreds of years, and each pueblo has its own distinctive recipe that has been passed down over dozens of generations, she noted.

But in recent years, that practice became threatened by commercial mining of the clay, Lujan-Hauer said. She cited a lawsuit the Picuris Pueblo filed approximately 20 years ago against the mining company Oglebay Norton to try to regain possession of a patch of ground rich in micaceous clay that Picuris potters had been using as a materials source for their work for centuries.

In 2005, their efforts paid off when the pueblo regained control of the land. But that hasn't stopped similar threats from emerging since then, Lujan-Hauer said, as the distinctive micaceous clay — which gives much Pueblo pottery its trademark shimmer — is highly coveted.

"Most traditional potters are secretive about where they get their clay," she said.

More: Navajo Museum of Art and Culture set for June 8 opening

Lujan-Hauer's presentation is part of a series of events the Farmington Museum system has planned in the near future that relate to Native arts and culture, according to assistant educator Danielle Greyeyes. A moccasin-making class taught by Eliseo Curley is scheduled for Feb. 16 at the Museum of Navajo Art and Culture, while a Navajo cooking class will be offered Feb. 23 at the Farmington Museum at Gateway Park. Interest in both classes was so high that registration reached capacity almost immediately, Greyeyes said, adding that a second Navajo cooking class will be scheduled for later in the year, perhaps in November.

She said a four-session weaving class will begin at the Farmington Museum in the middle of March. Class organizers plan to build their own looms, and the class will be led by master Navajo weaver Roy Kady. A class on sash belt making also is planned for later in the year.

Greyeyes said the classes are part of an effort by the museum administration to promote the offerings at the Museum of Navajo Art and Culture, a satellite operation of the Farmington Museum system that opened in June. She said the museum extended an invitation to Lujan-Hauer to speak this weekend because her presentation features a hands-on learning element that the museum is trying to encourage with the other events it has planned.

"We're focusing on learning how to do it rather than just seeing somebody do it," Greyeyes said.

Admission to Lujan Hauer's presentation is free. Call 505-566-2291 for more information.

Mike Easterling is the night editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610.

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