When you think of Navajo pottery dark pine pitched pieces usually come to mind. However Bertha Tom makes her pieces much more like the surrounding Pueblo potters. She uses ancient Anasazi designs to decorate her fabulous work, and many of them can be huge. This talented artist sits down to visit with us and talk about her art.
1990 to Present
Anasazi style pottery, large
FIRST YEAR MAKING ART:
Your pottery is so different from any Navajo work I have seen before. Was your mother or father a Pueblo?
No, I am all Navajo.
The designs on your work, where do they come from?
I use Anasazi designs that come from old pottery shards I see on the ground around my home. The shards will only represent a small part of the design, so I will pray to see the whole design.
When did you start making pottery?
My grandmother made traditional Navajo pitched pottery and that is who taught me how to make coil pottery. It was 1990 when I completed my first piece.
Your finish is so different from traditional Navajo pitched pottery, where does it come from?
I have a real good friend that lives in Hopi. This is a slip she uses for her pottery, it comes in a white and gray.
Take me through the process of making a piece of your magnificent pottery?
It starts with cardboard. I will form the shape of the pot I am going to make from cardboard, that is so it will be a perfect shape. Then I will get the mud and begin to roll it out into snake shapes about the length of my arm. After that I will start to form it against the cardboard and smooth it out. When the shape is done I will apply the slip to the pottery.
How about the paint?
I purchase the paint from a pottery store in Albuquerque. I forget the name but know it when I see it.
Since you began how many pieces have you made?
Probably over 200 of them.
I have seen some huge pots made by you, can you remember the biggest?
I have done lots of big pots. I don’t remember the tallest but once I made a large bowl that was 32” across..
Have you ever taught anyone how to make your style of pottery?
My brother wanted to learn but he didn’t have the patience to continue.
Where do you take your pottery to sell?
Every year I do a demonstration in Sedona and have customers there. I also have a very good customer in Albuquerque, and of course here at Perrys’.
Do you make pottery fulltime?
No, I also do jewelry for a manufacturer here in town. I have been doing inlay work for over thirty years.
That is amazing, do you do any other type of art?
My grandmother also taught me how to weave so I make rugs, pillow sets. I don’t sell these but decorate my home with them.
Did your grandma sell her rugs or pottery?
No, she always told me to never bring them to town. If I sold them then people would learn my secrets on how to make them, but I need money.
thank you , your pottery is beautiful
I will bring you a piece of my inlay work so you can see it, thank you.