Central States Archaeological Societies
Central States Archaeological Societies
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Appendages of Clay

by Charles M. Sutton

Central States Archaeological Societies 2014 April Journal

Harrisburg, Illinois

An Edward S. Curtis (1868-1952) photograph titled “The Potter Mixing Clay.” Curtis documented more than anyone else the Native Americans and their ancient ways. His photographs, though often staged, give a unique and vanished glimpse into the lives and ways of Native Americans. His eye was exceptional for capturing the raw beauty of the Indian in his historic settings. He took portraits, action shots, and attempted to reach all areas of the United States(including Alaska) to obtain as many images as possible. His photographs were published in a 20 volume set The North American Indian. These were published from 1907-1930, and financed by banker JP Morgan and his son. The Great depression ended the project, and Curtis spent the remaining years of his life trying to make a living from farming, gold mining and other endeavors. Curtis is now considered one of the great photographers of the 20th century


The broken bottle had served well as her cup. Saddened were the Old Ones when misfortune had shattered its crown. But a disfigured woman with gifted hands had inherited a trust. She had found beauty where others could not.

As a youngster, her grandmother had presented the heirloom, once the likeness of an ancestral potter, to the child, entrusting her to find meaning in the affair. Now, its purpose being fulfilled, it was lifted skyward in ritual…a sky where geese streamed in reverent formations, their voices crying the revelation of Mother’s earth, “Come…complete the journey, O departed soul. For in the end, all things return into One.”

With a solemn chant and some sacred words, the effigy was lowered into her hands. For decades, the potter had used the cup, its headless form quenching her every thirst, then somehow, fulfilling so much more. Now, it would accompany her into afterlife…an eternal voyage, sailing headlong into the bliss of everlastingness.

“Bottle Boy” she had called him…as if he had walked upon the earth. Yet, his legs were affixed and motionless, fired appendages of clay, while she possessed a Godly gift, transcending earthly ways. She was but a potter, coiling everyday ware, while he sat beside her, cross legged, content to exude the prowess she imagined. As her hands toiled the clay, she envisioned the potter of old, mentoring, teaching, and offering the chill of her face, the warmth of companionship. Often, conversations were imagined, and not a word did he speak. But she cared not, for her “Master” was he, whose instruction and fellowship were illusion…pure fantasy, where his every imagined word, was hung breathlessly upon.

It was he who critiqued her contours and technique, on matters of mixtures and such. It was he who forgave asymmetrical form, missteps, and slips of the trowel. Her misgiving of pose he never noticed, or mentioned, nor questioned the slight of her air. He just sat as she labored, boasting his bottle, and uttered not a solitary word. Forever catching her falter, and forgiving her errored way, it was he who filled her dreams, her friend of fired clay.