A traditional Native American art form, nearly lost to time, is in the midst of a revival
Artist Chase Kahwinhut Earles lives in southern Oklahoma and is a member of the Caddo Nation. He employs traditional methods to create the tribe’s ancestral clay pottery. He researched his tribe’s pottery traditions and discovered a rich history.
“I dove in headfirst and learned everything I could – studied, researched and talked to elders,” said Earles. “I make the pottery the same way we made it 2,000 years ago.”
Each piece is entirely handcrafted. Earles digs the clay on the Red River and processes and prepares it. Once the clay is ready, he hand-coils the design, burnishes it with a smooth rock, and fires it in an open ground pit fire. Then he engraves each piece with its unique design. Earles says the process can take weeks for small pieces or several months for more substantial pottery.
“In the beginning, it was really about showing the public the width and the breadth of the ancient and ancestral Caddo designs. I picked pieces that were unique and specific to our tribe’s cultural identity,” he said. “I feel it’s important to learn the ancient way to reconnect our tribe to our ancestral past and have a foundation to move forward in our artwork.”
Earles says he learned some traditional pottery shapes and made contacts within the archaeological world through Caddo pottery pioneer and tribal elder Geraldine “Jeri” Redcorn. He says Redcorn worked with archaeologists to rebuild the pottery designs and began a one-woman revival of the pottery tradition in the mid-1990s. She even had a piece in the Oval Office chosen by former President Obama.
“I feel it is my purpose and duty to expand our ancient tradition further. Now I’m getting pieces in museums and getting more of our culture out there,” said Earles.
Earles takes commissions, and pieces may also be purchased through his website, caddopottery.com. You can also check out his work through by Chase Kahwinhut Earles on Facebook.