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Large-format look at Native American pottery takes subject to higher level

CORRECTION: The name of the author at the signing has been corrected.

The standard approach to displaying Native American pottery in large-format books is to do just that: The singular focus is on the pottery.

Now comes a large-format book that takes that subject from the ordinary to the extraordinary. Authored by Charles S. King, it is titled “Spoken Through Clay, Native Pottery of the Southwest, The Eric S. Dobkin Collection.”

The book is breathtaking, because it seamlessly fuses many related artistic elements – Addison Doty’s stunning color photographs of Native American pottery that shift the vessels into a virtual three-dimensional world; the voices of important past and present Native American artists, largely pueblo, who have created the pots in the collection; Navajo photographer Will Wilson’s images of the living potters using an “old-fashioned, large-format camera and the historic wet-plate collodion process;” the almost 300 pots themselves from Dobkin’s impressive private collection; King’s informative preface and essay, and his talent in organizing these elements into whole cloth; and the high quality of the paper the book was printed on.

Dobkin, a New York resident, said in a phone interview that he’s been collecting pottery for about 19 years but “what I’ve gotten out of collecting has really been the relationships I’ve created with the artists. … I care about what they’re doing, about their lives, but most important I understand the severe difficulty of creating things like this.” He wrote a foreword.

Jody Naranjo, a Santa Clara Pueblo potter, is quoted in the book as expressing the wonder of the pottery-making process. “It’s amazing that you can make these beautiful, magical pieces out of the dirt,” Naranjo says. “I love gathering clay. I find myself out in the hills in different spots look for different colors and consistencies in clay.”

Another Santa Clara potter in the book is Nancy Youngblood, who has enjoyed the “camaraderie with the family” in making pots. “We would also help each other, give advice on whether it looked good, or say what you thought of a design. We would critique each other and be honest about it,” Youngblood says.

King said in an interview that the book’s concept was his. “I came up with the idea of artists speaking about their own pottery, their own lives. I wanted an art-book format,” he said.

“The captions of the photos of the vessels are usually the artist speaking about his or her work. “You can go anywhere in the book and read that caption. If you’re more interested, read the artists’ biographies. And if you’re really interested, read my preface. In that way, it’s a backwards book.”

King, owner of King Galleries, which represents many Native potters, has been a judge at such prestigious Indian art events as Indian Market and the Gallup Ceremonials.

Peter Held, a ceramicist, art curator and author, also wrote an essay for the book.

Charles S. King signs copies of “Spoken Through Clay” at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 15, at the Antique American Indian Art Show, El Museo Cultural de Santa Fe, 555 Camino de la Familia. Erik S. Dobkin signs at 1 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 16, at the same show. Both signings are free with show admission. King, Dobkin and potter Nathan Youngblood, who is featured in the book, give a short presentation and sign copies of the book 8:30-10:30 a.m. Friday, Aug. 18, at the Museum Hill Café, 710 Camino Lejo, Santa Fe; $35 includes breakfast and museum admission.
King and Dobkin also sign copies of the book 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 19, at the SWAIA Indian Market Merchandise Tent on the Santa Fe Plaza.
Museum of New Mexico Press is the publisher.