A thirty-year retrospective of work by one of the most innovative and accomplished living potters, Painted Perfection features more than 100 of the Hopi-Tewa master’s finest works, selected from museums and private collections throughout the nation. Included are vessels by her mother, Rachel Namingha; grandmother, Annie Healing; great-grandmother, Nampeyo; and the exceptional young artists to whom Quotskuyva has been a mentor.
The following is an excerpt from 120-page, full color exhibition catalog, written by Martha Hopkins Struever and edited by Jonathan Batkin and Cheri Falkenstien-Doyle, Painted Perfection: The Pottery of Dextra Quotskuyva, is available in the Case Trading Post.
Dextra Quotskuyva (1928) is one of the most influential Native American potters of the past half-century. she learned her masterful handling of clay through her distinguished family, which has excelled in the art for more than 125 years. Each of her painted designs is unique, and each is executed flawlessly. Painted Perfection is the first major retrospective exhibition devoted to this master, who was named an Arizona Living Treasure in 1994.
For Dextra it is important to abide by age-old Hopi-Tewa traditions in constructing her vessels. She utilizes several local sources to obtain raw clays that fire yellow, orange, pink, red, and maroon depending upon their iron, manganese, and titanium oxide content. To shape and finish her pots, Dextra uses implements that have been employed by her pottery-making ancestors for centuries: gourds sectioned and rounded for scraping, sandstone for smoothing, river pebbles for polishing, and trimmed strips of yucca for painting.
Dextra is among the last potters to build her own puki. This shallow, bowl-like device acts as a form on which she starts a vessel, and it supports the vessel during the coiling and shaping processes. To make a puki, Dextra compresses wood ashes mixed with water into a basin, which for several generations often has been a metal pan.
Dextra gathers Rocky Mountain beeplant and tansy mustard to prepare some of her paints. She boils the plants, strains the resulting syrup-like decoction, and then dries it by wrapping it in cornhusks, allowing it to age for a year or more. Bits of the hardened vegetal material are broken off and diluted with water in a depression in her palette, or “paint stone.” She then makes her dark brown paint by rubbing hematite in the solution. Dextra gathers chunks of hematite while walking in the countryside; she calls them “Dextra’s gold.” Other paints are merely clays reduced to appropriate consistency. Dextra and Rachel made frequent trips to the abandoned Hopi site of Awatovi. There they gathered kaolin, which added white to Dextra’s palette; this clay has been used for centuries to whitewash Hopi household walls.
Dextra fires vessels in her yard using dried sheep dung as fuel, just as generations of Pueblo potters have done. She is a master of the firing process and has experimented with coal, which was used by prehistoric Hopi potters to achieve higher firing temperatures. Her first firing was coal diffused the paint and produced a porcelain-like vessel, which rings sharply when tapped.
Many contemporary potters use sheets of metal to prevent contact between their pots and the firing fuel, but Dextra molds and fired clay slabs, which she positions carefully over the vessels. She also uses broken pots for this purpose, but it is difficult to salvage the larger, curved pieces she needs. Dextra fires only one or two pots at a time, reducing the risk of damage to their surfaces, should one vessel accidentally touch another.
The full color exhibition catalog, Painted Perfection: The Pottery of Dextra Quotskuyva is available in the Case Trading Post.