All Good Clay Smells Like Rain

On March 3, 2011 my family was invited to attend an exhibition featuring the Adele Cheatham Collection of Maricopa Potters at the Pueblo Grande Museum in Phoenix. My grandmother Adele, (who has since passed away) would  take me as a child to the Maricopa settlements near the Estrella mountains South of Laveen on the Gila River Indian community  to buy pottery. As a small boy, I had the privilege to meet Ida Redbird (1892-1971), one of the most famous native potters. I remember being allowed to pick out several pieces for my own. I also remember being in awe of the native houses (Hogans) made of mud and wood and the quiet women who practiced the pottery-making process as it  had  been  for centuries. Each of the pieces were uniquely conceived and beautifully crafted.

The special clay for making pottery is dug from deposits in the ground, crushed, mixed with water, kneaded and cured.  The pot base is molded and the rest is built up from ropes of clay. The post are finished by smoothing and polishing. Firing takes place outside, using a metal container to minimize fire clouds, fueled by local woods, such as mesquite or cottonwood.

This glowing fire of coals was a live  exhibit to show the process. The Pee Posh (Piipaash) native Americans sang native songs and showed how to fire the pottery. Today the art is dying out with only a few artisans left to carry on the ancient practice.

One of the most amazing permanent exhibits at the Pueblo Grande Museum (pointed out by my daughter Ally) is the huge map that displays over a 1000 miles of canals that crisscrossed the Valley of the Sun dug by hand with prehistoric stone tools. The longest canal was 16 miles long leading from the Salt River. The deepest canals were 50 feet wide and larger than the current canals that are used in modern times by Salt River Project. The Hohokam were the only prehistoric group in North American to construct large irrigation networks to water their crops of corn, squash and beans.The red circles portray villages and communities that archeologists have unearthed and documented over the century.

My favorite story, is revealed  in the photo on the bottom right. Here on the display, was the community  that archeologists  today call Los Muertos. In the late 1870′s,  a team was sent out from the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC to study these ruins. What they found was thousands of skeletal  remains in this location. The archeologists 130 years ago named the site “El Ciudad del Muerto.”  (The City of the Dead)   In the early 1900′s, the site was leveled and farmed. Today, it is the executive estate homes called Circle G Ranches at Price and Warner Roads in South Tempe. (I have several friends that live there.)  From the beginning of construction in the 1970′s, there were rumors that many of the  homes were haunted. Most homeowners have no idea the ancient townsite that their homes were built on.

5 comments

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May 24, 2011 - 2:14 pm

Ron Carlos - I love the firing pic… Beautiful!
FYI: I was the potter doing the firing demo that night.

March 15, 2011 - 8:54 pm

cheatham - Dave,,it is like being there..so wonderful..thanks, mom

March 15, 2011 - 9:24 am

Nao - I love this post…the history, the photos…and the TITLE tells a story in itself! Thanks for sharing, Dave.

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