Lonnie Vigil (Nambé)

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Aug. 5—Measuring more than 2 feet high and 2 feet wide, the monochromatic micaceous clay jar by artist Lonnie Vigil (Nambé) makes a bold impression. Its black surface glitters with mica, "like a thousand stars suspended in a clay sky," writes artist Nora Naranjo Morse (Santa Clara), who selected it for Grounded in Clay.

Its form undulates with a fluid sense. It's an amorphous pot with a rustic, handmade quality.

"It's almost like it moves as you turn it," Vigil told Pasatiempo. He's visited the jar in the collection of the School for Advanced Research many times over the years. "I'm thinking that it's probably going to be one of the pieces that will remain as an icon of our work. And when I say 'our work,' I mean myself, my brother, who would help me with it, and all of our ancestors. It's generational."

Vigil isn't boastful of his pottery-making skills, but he recognizes the jar's importance as a representative of a continuing tradition. Following in the footsteps of the women who mentored him, Vigil harvests the clay by hand, sifts it, mixes it, coils and shapes it, before the resulting pot gets pit fired.

"The work I create as an individual — and I come from a long line of potters in my village — doesn't belong to me," he says. "It belongs to the whole community."

Vigil's pot feels masculine, and Naranjo Morse calls it "the grandfather vessel."

"When a clay form is centered, the potter knows it early on; it is a feeling, a knowing of balance that begins at the very first coil," she writes. "The base of Lonnie's grandfather vessel is surprisingly small, but it supports the clay wall, which fans out dramatically toward the hips of the form. And this is where the magic is created: the wall at the hips takes a sharp turn toward the opening of the vessel. The clay coils are layered, suspended in graceful movement toward the neck. This architectural feat is made more poignant by the fact that it is balanced by hand and feel — not by a machine, but by hands that moved in absolute concert with material."