Christine McHorse

Navajo
Christine McHorse, Navajo potter
 

Christine Nofchissey was born in December, 1948, and grew up mostly in the Clifton-Morenci area of Arizona. Her father was a heavy equipment operator in the open pit copper mines there. Proud to be 100% Navajo, she spent most of her early summers herding sheep with her grandmother near Ganado on the Navajo Nation. She graduated from Santa Fe's Institute of American Indian Arts in 1968 and three years later, married Joel McHorse, a silversmith from Taos Pueblo (Joel's father was an Irish-Texan cowboy, hence the name).

Christine says she learned most of her pottery making techniques from Joel's grandmother, Lena Archuleta. Typical Taos pottery is simple and elegant with few decorative elements beyond the surface of micaceous clay. The tiny flecks of mica infuse the clay and act as temper when the clay is fired. When she does add design, her designs are drawn from the rich pantheon of Navajo tradition.

Christine grew up Navajo, then married into Taos Pueblo and now lives among Anglos in Santa Fe. She feels that none of the three cultures has much influence over how she works: she creates whatever she feels the clay suggesting that she create. The freedom of expression that comes with that extends even to the process whereby she fires her pots. Some pots are fired the Navajo way, in a pit outdoors, then coated in pinon pitch. Others are fired indoors in a kiln. Still others are fired in a kiln, then refired outdoors to produce the interaction between fire and pinon pitch that she feels the fire clouds on a particular piece demand. Always, she approaches her art with the depth of Navajo spirituality and Earth-connection infused in her during those long summers spent on the Navajo Reservation with her grandmother.

Christine's resume lists pages of honors and awards she's won and exhibitions she's participated in over the years, beginning with her first submission to the SWAIA Santa Fe Indian Market in 1984. She earned at least one blue ribbon almost every year she went to the Santa Fe Market. In 1992 she went to Santa Fe with only 2 pots, entered them in 2 different categories, earned 2 blue ribbons, returned to her booth and a waiting line of would-be buyers, and was headed back home by mid-morning of the first day, sold out.

She doesn't participate in Indian Market any more, she's graduated to the world stage and is shown in exhibitions and galleries from Santa Fe to New York to Canada and Germany. As she has said, "The ribbons and things are just bonuses. What I like is the opportunity to work without restraint."

While Christine may not participate in Santa Fe's Indian Market any more, she has participated for several years now in the "Best of the Best Show" at Andrea Fisher Fine Pottery, a show which opens just before Indian Market officially begins.


100 West San Francisco Street, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501
(505) 986-1234 - www.andreafisherpottery.com - All Rights Reserved

 
 

Navajo Nation

A view in Monument Valley
A view in Monument Valley

Historical and archaeological evidence points to the Navajo people entering the Southwest around 1400 AD. Their oral history still contains stories of that migration as the journey began in eastern Alaska and northwestern Canada centuries after their ancestors made the journey across the Bering Land Bridge from central Asia about 10,000 years ago. They were primarily hunter-gatherers until they came into contact with the Pueblo peoples and learned the basics of survival in this drier climate. Navajo oral history points to a long relationship between the Navajo and the Puebloans as they learned from and traded with each other.

When the Spanish first arrived, the Navajo occupied much of the area between the San Francisco Peaks (in Arizona), Hesperus Mountain and Blanca Peak (in Colorado) and Mount Taylor (in New Mexico). Spanish records indicate the Navajo traded bison meat, hides and stone to the Puebloans in exchange for maize and woven cotton goods. It was the Spanish who brought sheep to the New World and the Navajo took to sheep-herding quickly with sheep becoming a form of currency and sign of wealth.

When the Americans arrived in 1846, things began to change. The first fifteen years were marked by broken treaties and increasing raids and animosities on both sides. Finally, Brigadier General James H. Carleton ordered Colonel Kit Carson to round up the Navajo and transport them to Bosque Redondo in eastern New Mexico for internment. Carson succeeded only by engaging in a scorched earth campaign in which his troops swept through Navajo country killing anyone carrying a weapon and destroying any crops, livestock and dwellings they found. Facing starvation and death, the last band of Navajo surrendered at Canyon de Chelly.

Carson's campaign then led straight into "the Long Walk" to Bosque Redondo, a 300-mile trek during which at least 10% of the people died along the way. At Bosque Redondo they discovered the government had not allocated an adequate supply of water, livestock, provisions or firewood to support the 4,000-5,000 people interned there. The Army also did little to protect the Navajo from raids by other tribes or by Anglo citizens. The failure was such that the Federal government and the Navajo negotiated a treaty that allowed the people to return to a reservation that was only a shadow of their former territory little more than a couple years after they had left. However, succeeding years have seen additions to the reservation until today it is the largest Native American Reservation in the 48 contiguous states.

Large deposits of uranium were discovered on the Navajo Nation after World War II but the mining that followed ignored basic environmental protection for the workers, waterways and land. The Navajo have made claims of high rates of cancer and lung disease from the environmental contamination but the Federal government has yet to offer comprehensive compensation.

As a semi-nomadic tribe, the Navajo never made much pottery, preferring to use baskets for most storage purposes. They did produce a small amount of pottery for ceremonial uses. Once they were settled on a reservation, pottery began to make more sense. After 1950 Cow Springs brownware began to appear on the market. A trader named Bill Beaver was in Shonto back then, encouraging local potters to "make something different" and the market in the outside world responded positively to those different creations.

Rose Williams is considered the matriarch of modern Navajo pottery. She learned from Grace Barlow (her aunt) and passed her knowledge and experience on to her daughters and many others. Today, most Navajo pottery is heavy, thick-walled and coated with pine pitch (a sealer they also use on many of their baskets). Most Navajo pottery has little in the way of decoration but many pieces have a biyo' (a traditional decorative fillet) around the rim. Unlike Puebloan potters Navajo potters do not grind up old pot shards and use them for temper in creating new pottery. Their religion says those pot shards are filled with the spirits of their ancestors and forbids the reuse of the material. Similarly, Navajo religion limits Navajo potters to using primarily Navajo carpet designs in the decoration of their pots.

Navajo potters have also created a panoply of folk art, including unfired clay creations called "mud toys." Other Navajo potters, like Christine McHorse, have graduated into the mainstream of American Ceramic Art and easily compete among the finest ceramic artists on Earth.

Location map for the Navajo Nation

For more info:
at Wikipedia
at Wikipedia
official website


100 West San Francisco Street, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501
(505) 986-1234 - www.andreafisherpottery.com - All Rights Reserved

 
Blackmicaceoussculpturalpiece, Click or tap to see a larger version
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Christine McHorse, Navajo, Blackmicaceoussculpturalpiece
Christine McHorse
Navajo
$ CALL
xxnvh7020
Black micaceous sculptural piece
18 in H by 9 1/4 in Dia
Condition: Excellent
Signature: C McHorse 2017
Date Created: 2017

100 West San Francisco Street, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501
(505) 986-1234 - www.andreafisherpottery.com - All Rights Reserved

Micaceous Clay Pottery

Golden micaceous prayer jar with fire clouds

Angie Yazzie
Taos
Micaceous black sculptural piece

Christine McHorse
Navajo
A lidded golden micaceous bean pot

Clarence Cruz
San Juan/Ohkay Owingeh


Micaceous clay pots are the only truly functional Pueblo pottery still being made. Some special micaceous pots can be used directly on the stove or in the oven for cooking. Some are also excellent for food storage. Some people say the best beans and chili they ever tasted were cooked in a micaceous bean pot. Whether you use them for cooking or storage or as additions to your collection of fine art, micaceous clay pots are a beautiful result of centuries of Pueblo pottery making.

Between Taos and Picuris Pueblos is US Hill. Somewhere on US Hill is a mica mine that has been in use for centuries. Excavations of ancient ruins and historic homesteads across the Southwest have found utensils and cooking pots that were made of this clay hundreds of years ago.

Not long ago, though, the making of micaceous pottery was a dying art. There were a couple potters at Taos and at Picuris still making utilitarian pieces but that was it. Then Lonnie Vigil felt the call, returned to Nambe Pueblo from Washington DC and learned to make the pottery he became famous for. His success brought others into the micaceous art marketplace.

Micaceous pots have a beautiful shimmer that comes from the high mica content in the clay. Mica is a composite mineral of aluminum and/or magnesium and various silicates. The Pueblos were using large sheets of translucent mica to make windows prior to the Spaniards arriving. It was the Spanish who brought a technique for making glass. There are eight mica mining areas in northern New Mexico with 54 mines spread among them. Most micaceous clay used in the making of modern Pueblo pottery comes from several different mines near Taos Pueblo.

As we understand it, potters Robert Vigil and Clarence Cruz have said there are two basic kinds of micaceous clay that most potters use. The first kind is extremely micaceous with mica in thick sheets. While the clay and the mica it contains can be broken down to make pottery, that same clay has to be used to form the entire final product. It can be coiled and scraped but that final product will always be thicker, heavier and rougher on the surface. This is the preferred micaceous clay for making utilitarian pottery and utensils. It is essentially waterproof and conducts heat evenly.

The second kind is the preferred micaceous clay for most non-functional fine art pieces. It has less of a mica content with smaller embedded pieces of mica. It is more easily broken down by the potters and more easily made into a slip to cover a base made of other clay. Even as a slip, the mica serves to bond and strengthen everything it touches. The finished product can be thinner and have a smoother surface. As a slip, it can also be used to paint over other colors of clay for added effect. However, these micaceous pots may be a bit more water resistant than other Pueblo pottery but they are not utilitarian and will not survive utilitarian use.

While all micaceous clay from the area of Taos turns golden when fired, it can also be turned black by firing in an oxygen reduction atmosphere. Black fire clouds are also a common element on golden micaceous pottery.

Mica is a relatively common component of clay, it's just not as visible in most. Potters at Hopi, Zuni and Acoma have produced mica-flecked pottery in other colors using finely powdered mica flakes. Some potters at San Ildefonso, Santa Clara, Jemez and San Juan use micaceous slips to add sparkle to their pieces.

Potters from the Jicarilla Apache Nation collect their micaceous clay closer to home in the Jemez Mountains. The makeup of that clay is different and it fires to a less golden/orange color than does Taos clay. Some clay from the Picuris area fires less golden/orange, too. Christine McHorse, a Navajo potter who married into Taos Pueblo, uses various micaceous clays on her pieces depending on what the clay asks of her in the flow of her creating.

There is nothing in the makeup of a micaceous pot that would hinder a good sgraffito artist or light carver from doing her or his thing. There are some who have learned to successfully paint on a micaceous surface. The undecorated sparkly surface in concert with the beauty of simple shapes is a real testament to the artistry of the micaceous potter.


Double shouldered golden micaceous jar with a flared rim and fire clouds

Lonnie Vigil
Nambe
A micaceous black Corn Maiden figure wearing a tablita

Robert Vigil
Nambe
White seed pot with a sculpted Shifting Sands design surface with tiny flecks of mica and an inlaid stone

Preston Duwyenie
Hopi

100 West San Francisco Street, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501
(505) 986-1234 - www.andreafisherpottery.com - All Rights Reserved