Pueblo Indian Pottery IRIS Prints
For nearly fifteen centuries the southwestern part of the United States has been the home of stone-age people living in thousands of tiny villages called pueblos. These settlements range from isolated houses of perhaps half a dozen rooms to teeming towns with as many as two or three thousand inhabitants.
They have lived in remote canyons or on top of flat mesas and have spoken many different languages. Yet the ruins of their ancient homes and the modern villages that survive to this day show that these peaceful and hardy people share many traits in common: the way they build their squared-off flat-top houses; their industrious pursuit of farming, hunting, and more recently, employment in the nearby cities; and especially the hauntingly beautiful articles that they fashion from the earth and plants. With the raw materials and inspiration furnished by the sacred spirits of nature, they weave and embroider, they make baskets, and they create wonderful and sacred vessels of decorated and fired clay.
Rarely have the stone-age civilizations of the world created pottery more beautiful than that of the southwestern Pueblo Indians. Seldom has the intent been more earnest, the labors more carefully controlled, the artistry more stunning. Never has the spiritual wholeness of mountains, villages, people, and crafts been more complete.
For this folio, the artist has employed the technological marvels of modern science and industry with the infinite care required in the handling of paper and inks to produce a lasting tribute to the remarkable achievements of our southwest Indian potters. He has captured the earthy textures of clay, slip, and pigments of vessels fashioned by the traditional methods handed down through countless generations. He has chosen examples that exhibit bold and powerful simplicity and others that show the most joyous exuberance of rhythm and color.
To appreciate the accomplishments illustrated in the pictures, the viewer's mind must be transported to sun-baked beds of clay where the earth gives forth the basic materials that are dug with thanksgiving and reverence, then follow the process of cleaning the clay, mixing in the tempering material, forming the vessel by hand, boiling plant leaves or grinding dark rocks to make the pigments, creating the exquisite designs, and finally invoking the fire spirits to harden the body of the vessel and set the colors. All is done by hand, with no potter's wheel and no kiln other than that formed by the slabs of fuel.
With no other written language, the ancient Indians recorded their messages to posterity and to the spirits through the patterns carved on nearby cliffs and rocks, through songs and chants passed from the respected elders to each new generation, and in the patterns they painted onto the surfaces of their pottery vessels. Each subtle nuance of meaning carries its own symbols. Today the Indians write in European phrases, yet the ancient symbology persists with a freshness and deepness of meaning that astonishes the careful observer. Each figure carries a message. Even the seemingly insignificant details have rich significance: a tiny break in a line, the presence of little dots, the rhythmic turn of an embellishment. Some patterns (like feather symbols) persist for centuries; others (like garlands of foliage) suddenly emerge as a manifestation of creative genius and innovative imagination.
Individual artistic superstars occur in every culture. We can see their presence in Pueblo Indian pottery made since the inception of this art form: the famous Mimbres bowls with their marvelous depictions of people, mammals, fish, and insects in a remarkable burst of new ideas in the 1100's; the Sikyatki golden" vessels from sixteenth-century Hopi villages; the burst of new flow and rhythm of designs in the late 1800's; and the genius of a particular potter like Maria Martinez in the years surrounding 1920.
The pictures in this folio have been created to form an essential bridge between the earthy clay pots and the images that grace the sheets of paper. The artist has produced depictions with all the detailed accuracy of photographs, but also with the vision of soul that comes from his careful attention to light, shading, color, and visual strength. The viewer can detect every subtle feature of design structure, color variations, surface abrasion, stone-polishing streaks, and fine-scale crazing as clearly as if the pot itself were there on the table. The pictures also treat the viewer to a stunning artistic impact with their in-your-face" size and boldness of reproduction, which wears well in repeated viewing. The style has the dramatic strength of a Rachmaninoff piano concerto, combined with the delicacy of a Scarlatti sonata. How are these traits accomplished? The lighting is circumferentially nearly flat, but emphasizes the surface contours in vertical profile. Roundness is then achieved by the most subtle incorporation of reflected spots of light at appropriate positions. The intensity of the black pigments is enhanced, while the red, yellow, and orange hues are shifted in their spectral structure to emphasize the brownish components. The succession of inks is controlled in every aspect to produce the overlying layers of color. Even the paper itself has been chosen according to exacting standards of construction and finish. These are the technological aspects of the production of these marvelous images.
The artistic aspects reside in the exacting standards of perfection, as judged by the uncompromising eye of the artist. They lie also in the choice of examples, by which he creates both coherence and tension in the exhibition of various combinations of the pictures.
Yes, the presence of Jack Silverman in these images is immediately evident to anyone who has looked closely at his serigraphic images of Pueblo and Navajo textiles. A strong similarity in style and mood is present in the treatment of light and in the building of forms, whether these forms are the folds of a blanket or the contours of a pot. A closeness of style is also associated with the particular use of pigments in the simultaneous attainment of bold visual strength and accuracy of design.
The choice of examples is not meant to convey an anthropological balance of historical Pueblo Indian styles, but rather to exhibit a delicious sampling of spectacular Pueblo Indian artistic creativity. The focus on bird figures recognizes the sacred significance that these creatures have had for the Pueblo Indians for many centuries, a significance that incorporates elements of profound spiritual respect with the joyful exuberance for the freedom of flight of these messengers to the dwelling places of the gods. Complementing the bird depictions are geometric figures that range from bold simplicity to heights of complexity that seem impossible for human free-hand execution. The dates for these pots mostly cluster close to 1900, but a few extend from more than a century earlier to virtually the present.
The unique features of this folio are not unexpected from an artist like Jack Silverman. His life is built around exuberance and boldness, combined with a keen sense of the esthetic structure of man's interactions with nature. He flies free with the wind on his motorbikes, both on the highways of the southwest and in national races. He paints Indian textile and pottery designs onto the helmets that protect motorbike racers' heads from the consequences of crashes. He collects with wonderful taste the finest examples of creative works by both the Pueblo and Navajo Indians. Jack is a perfectionist in all his undertakings, expending infinite patience and diligence in his search for excellence. Indeed, the pictures in this folio attest to the superb accomplishments that can be achieved through the interaction of artistic talent, creative imagination, and painstaking attention to all aspects of the production.
--Francis H. Harlow, Los Alamos