Page 14 - IACA Journal, Spring 2012

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Indian Arts and Crafts Association
Education Fund (IACA-EF) Presi-
dent Pahponee is a dynamic, multi-
talented woman. As we are gearing
up to make the Education Fund into
a powerful force for supporting Indian
arts and artists, galleries and whole-
salers, educators and collectors, Pah-
ponee not only brings her own vast
experience, knowledge and perception,
she also wants all the members to be
a part of this process. Under her lead-
ership, a new dialogue has begun to
discuss the direction that the IACA-
EF should take. While her pivotal
role in this process is key, Pahponee
also continues to create the beautiful
pottery for which she is known.
Below are excerpts from a paper based on an in-
terview with contemporary Kickapoo potter Pahponee, and written by Karen
“While doing research on contemporary Native American women artists, I came
across several examples of Pahponee’s work in Native American galleries. ...Her
pottery is consistently individualized; the appearance of one piece makes an ex-
treme departure from that of another. Her work contains aspects of pottery from
cultures all over the world, both ancient and contemporary. One technique may
be repeated on a group of three or four pots, only to drastically change to some-
thing which appears completely different and unrelated. Despite such variations,
her work has a distinct stylistic signature which is immediately recognizable. ...
Pahponee is a member of the Kansas Kickapoo tribe. Her paternal ancestral back-
ground is Kickapoo and Potawatomi. She is also German and English, with some
Powhattan and Cherokee descent on her mother’s side. ...She was given her name,
which means “Snow Woman,” by tribal elders when she was 21 years old.
...When Pahponee began to research the pottery traditions of her native culture,
she discovered that very little pottery work had been done over the last century.
She explains, “The women made pottery for purposes that would be primarily
utilitarian and ceremonial… but that happened many years ago.”
...Pahponee discovered that not a single person on her reservation worked with
clay. She spoke with family members and elders in her tribe, and she visited
museums to find some guidance in her new journey to create Kickapoo pottery.
In the end, very little information could be found. ...
Pahponee, having no particular mentor to guide her, is self taught. Her interest
in art from all over the world has motivated her to draw upon multiple sources,
from ancient cultures to contemporary artworks, for inspiration. Other sources
of inspiration are shapes found in nature. “I really like form; I like to look at the
shape of things. I get a lot of inspiration from nature, like how plants are shaped,
leaf shapes, even fruits and vegetables. The shape of a blueberry is really neat, or
the shape of an acorn. They have these beautiful forms to me.” ...
Texture is another prominent aspect of Pahponee’s work. Some pots appear like
a contemporary version of early corded pottery. Some textures also resemble the
incising, cross-hatching, and stamping also found in ancient Woodland period
In some cases she uses design motifs to create the texture variations on her pots.
Low-relief images of animals and foliage come together to create a sense of move-
ment and natural chaos. The forms completely fill the surface of the pot, com-
posing a definite foreground and background.
Pahponee has experimented with many traditional and nontraditional methods
of pottery making. She uses imported materials, as well as those gathered locally....
She makes Woodland outdoor fired pots, but also kiln fired pots. “If I had been
trained classically by another member of my tribe, I really think I would feel a
certain amount of pressure to make sure that I emulated a style of pottery that
my people are known for....”
Among her list of experiments are her “Primitive Fired” pots. The clay is exca-
vated by hand, coil-built, and outdoor fired with buffalo dung. “It’s a long slow
fire process and the pot, literally, is touched by the flame and the smoke. Clay is
a lot like skin. The carbon is absorbed into the pores of the pot. It becomes
trapped, you might say. And that is what makes the random patterns or the var-
iegation throughout the pot....”
The collective features of red clay, black scorch marks, incised or sculpted images,
and a nontraditionally shaped vessel combine to create a work of art which con-
ceptually exists in two different ages. Like much of her work, the Woodland fired
pots contain an interesting balance between the old and the new.
Pahponee’s pottery skills have evolved over time.... Her work shows independence
and a fearless ability to change from one direction to its extreme opposite. An
example of this can be found in her white clay pots. They are kiln fired and
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