Horizon at Sandy Point

Monday, October 26, 2015

A little horsehair pot ... and the message on a turtle

My potter friend had warned me that the pots made by the native people in Arizona would be far too expensive to buy.  I still kept an eye out - you never know when you might be lucky.

We were leaving the Grand Canyon Park passing alongside another minor canyon of the Little Colorado river. Travelling on the plateau, the gorge looked just as deep - perhaps not so wide - deep and craggy. Then I saw a site that looked familiar - a little market. There were not many vendors in the line of small shacks but their products caught my eye:  dreamcatchers, jewelry, and pots.
Horsehair pottery

Horsehair leaves marks like some archaic writing
The artist's name is scratched into the bottom: Stan Sheppard Jr, Dine-Navajo

The first thing that caught my eye was the little pot, maybe three inches high. white clay with a random crazy pattern in black. Horsehair pottery, I was told. The clay is hand milled, a fine white clay that is rolled and coiled and smoothed by hand; fired and then polished not glazed. Hair from the mane and tail of a horse is embedded before firing. The hair burns away leaving black scratches that look like scribbles of some archaic writing. Sometimes sugar is used to create spots. Inside my pot looks like a star-filled sky - in reverse.

Sugar grains scattered on the bottom create the marks inside the pot.

I had already put my hand on the pot when the turtle caught my eye. I know the legend of Turtle Island - the continent of America - sitting on the back of Turtle Mother (Earth). And what is that resting on? Another larger turtle. The analogy is elegantly simple, seductive and so expressive. We are all riding the backs of turtles - and turtles upon turtles across the Milky Way.

Ever since she did her first study of turtles in Tobago, or even before, my daughter collects turtles. So this one was for her. The basic turtle shape looks like a mould. I've seen the basic shape in a green colour. This one was the same white as the horsehair pot, but the patterns etched on the back were mesmerising. Who could read the age old message? A message of aspiration, hope, concentric circles upwardly mobile. Wow, I thought, someone etched and coloured this in the ways that were handed down through generations.

The meanings of the patterns are explained

More explanations: what the turtle means; what the colours mean

The patterns are echoes of the Grand Canyon - all the layers and colours descending. Or is it that they are ascending? Precisely level, layers rising upon layers, rising to the mesa and the open sky. Turtles are soaring through the night sky. And the message on this single turtle is the same: not grinding down to the ground, but instead rising through ordered levels, to an area of openness and clarity.

Message on a turtle: feathers for flight; mountains and valleys; the staircase of life

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