“I use Pueblo symbolism in my pottery,” explains Dean Haungooah. “There are so many stories. As an example, the Bear is important to our people.
When the Tewa left Chaco Canyon on their trek to the Rio Grande, they were out of water. They found the tracks of a bear and followed them to a stream that comes into the area where Santa Clara now stands. They could hear the water before they saw it, and they named the stream, translated into English, "Singing Water.”
It was just a year ago that I wrote an email about Dean Haungooah and his beautiful miniature sgraffito pottery. This artist, the son of award-winning potters Art Cody (Kiowa) and Martha Suazo, became a great potter by persevering.
He learned to make pottery early. His mother died when he was a child, and when he was 13, his father passed too. He was lovingly raised by his aunts and uncles, but he was drifting. He lived in the village for two years after high school and, encouraged by his grandfather, he began to make pottery again.
“I learned to pot all over,” he says. “Digging the clay, learning how to clean it, how to shape a pot, how to carve my designs and how to fire them. I started over.”
He then attended American Indian Art Institute in Santa Fe, and while he took courses in other disciplines, he concentrated on pottery.
Now, at nearly fifty years old, he is one of the most accomplish sgraffito artists. He is married to Brenda, a lovely Navajo woman who is a teacher on the Navajo Nation. They live on the reservation near Kayenta.
But during the pandemic, it wasn’t going so well.“I get all of my clay from Santa Clara and the Pueblo was closed. I love going out and finding clay sources, but I won’t make pottery with clay from anywhere else. So, I decided to start painting.”
He has done exactly that for the last year, and we love that work. “Painting made me a better potter, I think,” says Dean. “Just working on canvas was different and it opened me up to new ideas. I think I will keep painting, but I am happy to be making pottery again.”
His aunt was able to get some clay for him about two months ago and he has been busy. And he is doing some of the best work of his life.
He sticks to the miniature pottery and is true to the idea of a seed pot, with small holes that the air can escape through during firing. He will occasionally make a small vase, like this one with the Mountain Sheep.
He also started making a few miniature plates. “That is really a different art,” he says. “I experiment, using different methods. Sometimes I’ll pinch the clay, or sometimes coil it or mix it together with my hands and shape it the way it ends up. It is like my hands become part of the clay.
“I don’t use a kiln because I like the fire, the traditional methods. I do protect the pot with a metal case that I made from old metal pieces because the firing boxes you buy won’t take the heat.
“For fuel, I use Red Cedar, cow patties and horse manure. This turns the pot black, then to get the brown accents, while the pot is still hot, I hold a hot coal over the area I want to change.
"It would be easier to use a kiln, and I learned how to do that, but I like the challenge of traditional firing more. One little piece of sand or air bubble in the clay can cause the pot to break. It is more of a challenge and forces you to really pay attention."
When the pot is made, he turns its fate over to another power. “You say a little prayer, then start your fire and leave it to the traditional elements."