Award-winning Diné (Navajo) potter Harrison Begay, Jr. does amazing work. His skill lies in creating pots with interesting shapes that are deeply incised and polished. In addition to being a master polisher, Begay is highly skilled at ensuring that the cuts in his work are consistent throughout the piece. For those who don’t know about Pueblo pottery, Santa Clara pots are hand-coiled, incised with the designs, and then coated with a red clay slip (liquid clay). Just before the slip dries, the artist will take river stones to polish the pot. Pit-firing completes the process, which, in the case of Santa Clara pots, can result in the pot’s black or red color. It all depends on how long the pot is fired.
What makes Begay unique is that he learned traditional Santa Clara style while living in the pueblo, located just north of Santa Fe. Begay, who is considered to be one of the Native American pottery world’s innovators, mostly utilizes designs from Navajo culture. In addition to creating traditional red and black Santa Clara pots, Begay also is making a name for himself with distinctive brown-fired pots. The end result is all in the timing of the firing.
I always speak about the idea of “accessibility” of Native American artists and their art—a very special aspect of living in the American Southwest. With a true zest for life, Begay is very friendly and accessible. An interaction with him is a moment to be cherished for a lifetime.
This year at the 2011 Heard Museum Guild Indian Fair and Market, I had the opportunity to ask him about his process, his influences and how the economy has affected him and the Native American artist community at large. Watch my interview with this genuine and soft-spoken artist HERE: