Large Blackware Vessel by Carmelita Dunlap, San Ildefonso Pueblo
Large Blackware Pottery Olla, c. 1980 Carmelita Dunlap, San Ildefonso Pueblo hand coiled clay, natural pigment 17" high x 11" diameter
Creating blackware pottery is a long and difficult process that requires patience and skill. Through trial and error famed San Ildefonso potters Maria and Julian Martinez rediscovered this forgotten art. Most importantly, they found that smothering a cool fire with dried horse dung would trap the smoke. This method of fire reduction caused the red-brown clay pots to turn black.
Creating blackware was one aspect, mastering the decorating techniques was another. How do you decorate this style of pottery when you can’t polish a design into a black background? Through experimentation, Julian discovered that by mixing clay and juice from the Bee plant, he could create a paint or “slip” with which he could decorate the pottery. When fired, the mixture burned off leaving behind the matte decoration.
Carmelita Dunlap(1925-1999) was the daughter of Juanita and Romando Vigil of San Ildefonso Pueblo. Her mother passed away when Carmelita was very young and her mother’s two sisters, Maria Martinez and Desideria Montoya, raised her. She took turns staying with Maria for a few months and then with Desideria for a few months. She learned to make Southwest Indian Pottery by watching Maria and Desideria at work.
Carmelita lived in California in the early 1950s while her dad worked for Walt Disney Studios. In 1955, she moved back to San Ildefonso and began seriously focusing on pottery. In 1974, she was one of the pueblo potters invited by President and Mrs. Nixon to visit the White House and one of her large pots was displayed at that time at the Smithsonian Institution.