Born in 1958, Charmae Shields-Natseway is a member of the Yellow Corn Clan of Acoma Pueblo. She says she has been working with clay since 1976. She comes from a distinguished family of Acoma potters that includes her mother Ethel Shields and her grandmother Dolores Sanchez. From them she learned the fundamentals of constructing pottery using the ancient method of hand coiling and pinching that has been passed down among Pueblo potters for generations. "My mother has been making pottery most of her life," she says. "I started back in seventy-six when we moved back here from Tucson. I needed a way to be self-employed and I needed money, so my mother taught me."
Long-known for her exquisite seed pots, Charmae is also renowned for her unique forms of lidded/plugged pottery shaped as cylinders, pyramids, boxes and flasks of superb quality. "I just got tired of seeing the same shapes over and over," she says. "A few years ago I made seed pots in a flat, circular form. Now I see them all over the place, so I stopped making them."
She gathers her natural clays and slips from within the bounds of Acoma Pueblo. After pulverizing the clumps of clay to a fine powder, sifting the clay for pebbles and impurities and then processing with water and other natural pigments into a fine workable medium, she begins to hand coil her vessels. When the vessels are dry, she sands them to remove any excess and to give the raw pottery a smooth finish that she will decorate with precise designs accented with colors derived from local plants and ground minerals.
"I try to always do the best work I can," she says, "and it's a challenge to be the best. Sometimes I feel there is not enough opportunity for up and coming artists. I think they're having a harder time than we did a few years ago. But, it's always good to see new artists coming up with new styles and taking different directions."
When asked if she considers her work to be traditional or contemporary Charmae responds, "I've gotten a lot of my ideas from prehistoric pottery, like the Mimbres designs, and from older Acoma pottery. Also from my grandmother's pots. I've made canteens, bowls, bean pots, ladles and plates for ceremonial use. Those are traditional. But my designs are sometimes traditional and sometimes contemporary. Sometimes, too, I make pots that have designs which at first look similar, but if you look real close, you can tell differences. I suppose it comes from using similar design elements over the years. After awhile, it's, like, hard-wired in your brain."
A bit later she says, "They say that the clay is where we come from. I consider my work a part of me. I feel good when someone buys one of my pieces who is really going to appreciate it. But, when we do sell it, we give a part of ourselves away."
Charmae is married to Thomas Natseway, the award winning Laguna miniature artist. She signs her pottery as: "Charmae Shields Natseway, Acoma, N.M.", followed by a corn stalk denoting her family clan.