If you’re interested in pottery or traditional artistic mediums you might want to learn how the ancient Anasazi people made their beautiful hand-crafted pottery. Artist Kelly Magleby shows us the process of how she creates beautiful hand-made pottery with self-sourced clay from the earth. Camping out in Southern Utah’s backcountry with only a knife and a buckskin, she finds clay in nature and makes pottery from scratch, discovering the primitive techniques of the ancients.
Kelly Magleby had always been interested in the ancient Anasazi people and their unique pottery designs. She knew modern-day artisans were trying to replicate these designs, but only in appearance, by painting the patterns unique to the Anasazi on top of their pottery, but not going through the authentic Anasazi process of pottery making. Kelly wanted to make her pottery from scratch and truly experience the off-grid process of making Anasazi pottery, from beginning to end.
This meant doing as much research as she could beforehand, and then going completely off-grid for a time, living in the wilderness of Southern Utah’s backcountry with nothing but a knife and buckskin. By off-grid, we mean she had no cell phone, no electricity, no running water or toilet, and no food. She had to provide for herself, day in, day out, just as the original Anasazi tribes had and she had to make pottery while doing it. She wanted to totally and completely immerse herself in the rocky, desert landscape of Utah, the land the Anasazi had so deeply been a part of. She felt that if she did so, the ways of the land and of its ancient people would be revealed to her.
Through this off-grid immersion, Kelly discovered an authentic Anasazi pottery-making process that she still uses to this day, and her off-grid pottery is now available online. She seeks clay from the earth and river beds, soaks it and adds water, then allows it to settle. When it is finally at the right consistency to work with, she begins by using clay from the top layers and kneads it into shape. Often the clay will need to be tempered with another substance, like sand, for example. Sometimes, she will grind the shards of old pots or sandstone. She adds the temper to the clay and then begins to build her off-grid pots.
To create them, she uses two primary off-grid methods one is the “coil and scrape” method, beautifully depicted in this video, and the other is the slab method. While in the desert, she fashioned her own off-grid tools from found objects like stones and sticks, as well as using her knife. This is all very time-consuming, but well worth it because it is so close to the methods the Anasazi originally used. Today, most potters use wheels which speed the pottery-making process.
Pottery wheels are effective tools in their own right, but they are fairly recent when one considers the simple, ancient off-grid methods of the Anasazi. After she has built, treated, burnished, and painted the pots, Kelly then fires them in a trench kiln that is very similar to what the Anasazi would have used. In keeping with their ancient off-grid culture, she doesn’t use matches or a lighter to start her fire, but the primitive “hand drill and tinder” technique one that requires a great deal of skill and patience. The firing process can take from three to four hours and, as she says, it’s a very rewarding, albeit exhausting, process. You can try and make your own natural pottery using these methods or you can buy clay at an art supply store to make pottery or sculptures.
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