I grew up thinking pottery was something that my family made, but I never learned. It was something for grownups to do in a lofty, mythical process that I never really understood. When thinking of pottery, though, one thing always stood out in my mind: I loved the colors. The blue-grey of the clay would dry to a pale, earth tone closer to sand or mud. Then, through a fiery transformation, a clay pot would emerge from the ashes with rainbows of black, white, and coppery brown. These memories were, and still are, part of what I identify with our people as Catawba.
Later, I learned that my great-great grandmother would make pottery regularly through a family affair. My grandmother and great uncles would help with the pieces while my great-great-grandfather would help with the fire. I wish I could have been there when they were making pieces all the time. Her mother, Fannie Harris, would sell the pieces to help sustain their family. In some ways, you could argue that I am here in part because of Catawba pottery.
Catawba pottery has evolved. It started as a way for our people to store grains, cook stews and foods, and keep valuable, precious resources safe. There was an element of survival in the very nature of creating what is now considered precious artifacts of local indigenous culture. If you had a way to store food, you could more easily sustain yourself and your people for longer periods of time – say, through the winter. Or, as in my great-great grandmother’s time, you could support your family by selling pieces to people “in town” who would collect them. This transition from making pottery to survive to making pottery to sell started an evolution from functional work to artisanal art form.
Just like Catawba pottery has evolved, so has our other works. There are many of us who enjoy drawing, painting, taking photos, writing, and otherwise sharing our walks of life through artistic mediums. These things are also art that should be appreciated as contemporary Catawba art. Our work contributes to our society both on and off of the reservation in a variety of different ways. It reminds those around us that we – as Catawba people – are still here.
There are two audiences for purveyors of indigenous art: those who are in our community and those who aren’t. Those within our community understand what it means to make art as a Catawba person. As an example, gifting a piece of pottery to someone carries a different weight when they understand the full scope and sacred nature of what’s gone into making it. We can also never forget that those that do not understand this are important too because they allow us to share our lives and our culture with others.
To come together on this as we have in years gone by, the Catawba Art Collective has been created. For now, it’s simply a group on Facebook to discuss current artistic goings-on around the Nation and between our artists, but we hope it can grow into something more that will support traditional and contemporary artists together. Perhaps we can connect Catawba photographers with Catawba potters who can help them show their pieces to the world how they wish to share them. Perhaps Catawba painters can be paired with Catawba models to create pieces to sell documenting our people and history in a gallery anywhere in the world. The possibilities are truly endless for what we can do when we work together.
Working together, we can grow as artists and support each other with sharing and selling our work. Together, we can continue creating art that shares who we are as Catawba people and support our culture and heritage for generations to come.