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Friday Feature: Love From the Earth, Love for the Water

Olivia Martinez Small Wedding Vase

After yesterday’s sudden cold gray skies speckled with snow, today dawned bright and beautiful. The sky is bright blue, studded with towering white thunderheads; the air, still cool but positively shimmering with glittering golden light. New water flows steadily into the pond, its depths still and blue, reflecting the green fronds of the willows with seemingly impossibly clarity.

It feels like a cosmic gift: love from the earth, love for the water.

In a week that we have devoted to themes of love and passion, of warmth and fire, there seemed this morning an obvious choice for today’s featured work, or rather, works, plural. A pair of vases by one of the Pueblo’s masters, wrought in fiery red-gold earth alight with mica’s shimmer, mixed with water, tempered by flame, set in the air — all to hold water in a traditional expression of the unity of love — are the perfect choice to wind down the week.

These are not a matched pair, nor even, really, a collection in miniature; rather, they are two separate works in similar but still-unique style and shape by a Pueblo potter who works in a distinctive style. Olivia Martinez has long been known for her miniatures, but less well-known is her facility with full-sized works. These two are classic examples of her work: bold and substantial, with a vintage-style texture, clean solid lines, and her trademark braided handles.

We begin with the smaller of the two, shown above, a work that is ever so slightly simpler than its larger counterpart. From its description in the Other Artists:  Pottery gallery here on the site:

Olivia Martinez (Taos Pueblo) infuses this traditional micaceous wedding vase with motifs of unity and love. The vase is made in the old way, hand-coiled, lightly polished, and fired to a subtle sheen. The bowl is slightly sculpted, a barely-definable ridge accenting its widest point; each spout emerges gracefully from the bowl, one angled upward at either side, each with a flowing outer lip and an inner lip that extends upward into a braided handle, symbolizing spirits united and intertwined. The entire vase stands 9.5″ high; it measures 7-3/8″ across the spouts at the widest point; and the bowl is 5″ across at its widest point (dimensions approximate).

Micaceous clay
$575 + shipping, handling, and insurance
Size, weight, and fragility require special handling; extra shipping charges apply

In this instance, the handle is shorter, its arc lower, in keeping with the bowl’s somewhat smaller size. At the bowl’s midpoint, she has sculpted the perimeter line into sharp relief, yet it remains utterly smooth — no lip, no overhang, just a perfect smooth line of demarcation to offset the bowl’s two halves from each other. The spouts are wrought to similar effect, the point at which each joins the bowl clearly defined and still smooth and silken.

The second vase, besides being larger, is also slightly more elaborate, with lines designed to highlight the shimmer of the mica in the clay. From its description in the same gallery:

Olivia Martinez Large Wedding Vase

Water is life, and breath, and love. Olivia Martinez (Taos Pueblo) honors them all with this traditional wedding vase. Made of hand-coiled local micaceous clay, it arises out of a large round bowl nearly spherical in shape, with a gracefully angled ridge around its widest point that gives the impression of a lid. From the bowl emerge twin spouts, each flowing upward into a narrow inner lip that arcs over the top, entwined in a tall braid to represent the union of spirits in marriage. The entire vase stands 14.5″ high; it measures 9″ across the spouts at the widest point; and the bowl is 7″ across at its widest point (dimensions approximate).

Micaceous clay
$775 + shipping, handling, and insurance
Size, weight, and fragility require special handling; extra shipping charges apply

This larger vase is my favorite of the two, although not for its size; rather, it’s the subtle detail work that makes it. The braided handle is higher, with a much steeper arc, as befits its taller spouts, but that is not, to me, the salient point, either. Rather, it is the subtly graceful shapes of the vase’s body, the curves and angles and sense almost of motion that accompany it: gently flared spouts that flow smoothly into the top of the bowl; the bowl itself, the upper half resting gently atop the base with the slightest of overhangs, its edge sharp enough to catch the light.

In our cultures, such vases are used as symbols of love itself — of the ability to work together, in unity, to create a loving whole. It’s a beautiful concept, one fully consonant with both the fiery passions of courtship and the warmer embrace of marriage. Like the water they hold, they are elemental works of life itself.

~ Aji






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