Cochiti Kiua

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Aug. 5—When two pots from the same region share aesthetic qualities with another, despite a vast time frame existing between them, we see a continuum, a passing down of knowledge through generations. The Cochiti Kiua polychrome storage jars that Patricia Marroquin Norby (Purépecha), curator of Native American art at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, chose for Grounded in Clay share many design elements. They look like they could have been made by the same hands.

In "Bee Plant, Butterflies, and Borders," Norby's essay accompanying her selections for the exhibit and catalogue, she writes, "These two storage jars were created nearly a century apart, and the visual dialogue between them is compelling."

Norby notes that the designs are painted with hand-harvested, ground, and boiled bee plant, which blackens when fired, contrasting with the white slip.

"On one jar, rain, clouds, birds, and pollinating insects — specifically butterflies in a state of transformation — reference water and the sky," she writes of the 18.5-by-20-inch pot. "On the other [18 by 20 inches], a seedling emerging from the red earth is greeted by the light and warmth of the sun as swelling rain clouds hover above."

The imagery on both pots reflects themes of renewal. The designs are painted on the belly over the white slip, and broad bands of red encircle them, as do two pairs of thin parallel lines (near the bottom of the pots and at the base of their necks). Norby reflects on how these bands, broad and thin, echo the stratified earth of the Río Grande Valley's cliffs and mesas.

Norby's own Purépecha community in Mexico also creates hand-coiled pottery with nature-based imagery. The resonance between cultures inspired a memory:

"Once, when I was visiting my great-grandparents' pueblo outside Pátzcuaro, I bought a large clay jar painted with rows of fish, raindrops, and mountains. The woman who made the jar wrapped it in layers of a Mexican newspaper, then carefully placed it inside a cardboard box. On the plane heading home, I flew over 2,000 miles (3,200 km) carrying that clay pot in my arms. High above settler-imposed international borders, I held images of water, sky, and earth."