One of only two living Caddo Native Americans who have devoted significant time to learning and practicing ancient Caddo pottery traditions, Chase KahWinHut Earles, is coming to the 2015 Texian Heritage Festival to share his knowledge of the Caddo pottery legacy, as well as his personal journey reviving that legacy and samples of his pottery, at the October 17 Festival. The Caddo legacy in Texas includes a legacy of highly polished, skillfully designed and ornately decorated pottery dating to 500 BC-800 AD. (See www.texasbeyondhistory.net.)
By KahWinHut Earles
For the larger part of my life I was raised away from my Caddo heritage and culture, but my journey into the world of Native American Art because of my inspiration to create our tribe’s pottery, would become my re-education and rediscovery of my culture, from its earliest origins to its modern history.
When I found and reached out to the only Caddo member who was still creating our Caddo pottery, Jereldine Redcorn, I realized she was the sole person responsible for reviving our old traditions into the new. What I would come to find out is that the last known Caddo pottery produced unbroken from our ancient past, was by a Whitebead family around 1908. Upon reaching out to Jeri I found she was very generous and excited about helping me get started. It then became my goal to help the Caddo tribe further our restoration of our ancient pottery culture.
As a child my family took on vacations to the Southwest: New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado, almost every year during the summer school break. We visited places like Old Town and Santa Fe, New Mexico; Durango and Mesa Verde, Colorado; Sedona and Tlaquepaque, Arizona; and many other places.
I grew fond of the culture of the Southwest, particularly as it pertained to art. I was an artist growing up, drawing and painting feverishly partly for myself, but partly to please my art teachers. My art was definitely influenced by the Southwest’s style, which was unquestionably shaped by its culture and history surrounding the Native Americans and Pueblo Indians. I remember going on trips making notes of what would be cool to try to reproduce or create when I got home. It was inspiring, but reproduce is the key word here.
Later on in life, after getting married, we vacationed in the Southwest along the same familiar routes and I realized that I loved the sculpture and the pottery. I started really taking a look at the Pueblo pottery and the stylized sculpture from the independent artists who displayed their work in the many galleries.
I discovered early on that art is a luxury, so it’s the last to come and the first to go
Again, I started taking notes and making scribbles of things I would love to create when I got home. Though I never realized any of those ideas, I was definitely inspired. Could I have started creating something immediately I surely would have, but life seemed to have other ideas for me. It’s not necessarily that I never got around to it; it’s more like there were more pressing matters or financial things to work out before I could start “playing in the mud.”
A decade passed, and I still had not created any art, drawing, painting, sculpture or otherwise. I felt like I had lost touch with any inspiration to create art. I questioned why there was no inspiration anymore, no desire to create any art. I liked building things, but artistic expression, was not there anymore.
But, when I was finally able to go on another vacation to the Southwest, I was inspired even more.
We had just moved out onto our own property with two acres of land with a creek and trees, and I felt it was a great place to start working on my art. Looking back it was pure coincidence that we moved to the perfect place to support creating pre-contact method Caddo pottery and pit firing them the old way. I made note of every pot I came across, Acoma, Zuni, Ildefonso, and many others.
I asked many questions and started researching the way to create these works of art by myself. I looked into how they made the clay and how they formed the pots. I looked into how they decorated them, and how they painted them with boiled beeweed. I researched how they burnished the pots to a fine polish and how they fired the pots using semi-traditional methods of pit and smoke firing.
There were so many questions, but I started learning quickly from many different resources. I bought some clay, and some Rocky Mountain beeweed, and gathered wood. I wanted to start right away.
Well. I never started. Something plagued me. I could not bring myself to make a space for my pottery and actually start sculpting something, anything. It wasn’t important to me. It didn’t matter very much. I didn’t know why. After being so inspired, I didn’t know why I was so indifferent now. It was always one thing or another. Just ways to pass the time and ignore that nagging in me that wanted to start my art back up again and create something special.
Well that was just it. It would have been cool to make Pueblo Indian pots. Cool. Pretty. But not special.
As a matter of fact, I thought to myself, they would merely be “knock-offs” of real pueblo Indian artists. Replicas. I’m not a Pueblo Indian. It would be an insult to the Pueblo tribes. It would be like robbing the awesome history and culture they possess and the great and meaningful works of art that are their voice and their record that will preserve forever their people. Their identity.
That was it. That was the problem. I realized I had no voice. I felt I had no reason to create art. I then felt that to create art you had to have a meaning and a voice. It had to be something important to put forth the time and effort that would be required otherwise it would feel empty.
I am Caddo!
So I posed the question to myself, did our Caddo tribe make pottery? Creating pottery would have meaning to me personally only if it was Caddo pottery. I wondered if we ever made pottery. Surely we did. It seems like most ancient or older societies made some form of pottery. Even if we did, since I’d never heard of it, I thought it had to be crude, minuscule, unskilled, insignificant, or at least, it wouldn’t be rich in depth, style, form, or historic significance. Nothing like the Pueblos, I thought. But I still wondered.
I had no idea how wrong I was!
I had no idea what the Caddo people created and were known for creating. Like me, hardly any Caddos knew about the wealth of their pottery tradition and heritage. Apparently Caddos had created an enormous breadth of finely skilled pottery. Apparently there are many museums with collections of ancient Caddo pottery, and there are collectors with detailed knowledge to verify authentic Caddo pottery.
Jeri told me there are museums in Europe with our ancestor’s pottery, furthermore she recently had a gallery showing in Germany. The ancient pottery was traded during colonization of North America. Apparently the pottery of the Caddo homelands was some of the most refined and sought-after pottery in all of the land at the peak of their civilization.
I wondered where all this skill went, and if anyone was left who knew how to create it. I also wondered where all the Caddo culture and the history surrounding it had gone, and if it was lost.
I searched and studied and soaked up all the knowledge I could about our tribe’s prehistory and pottery culture. I soon realized that it would be a difficult journey digging up and deciphering and comparing notes, and figuring out what was old knowledge and what was new.
But since we are in the age of the internet, I googled Caddo pottery, and the first person to pop up was Jereldine Redcorn! Once I was able to find and meet with her, and learn of all the things she had done to revive the Caddo pottery tradition, I knew I had found my calling and my voice.
I was a Caddo Indian and I was going to help revive the traditions and history of Caddo Pottery so that it could be carried on and not lost.
For the first time in my life I felt like I really had a reason to create art, and a voice behind which to inspire it. This would be something real, and something meaningful. One of the things I have learned having started creating pottery especially in the pre-contact methods, is that it requires a lot of patience. Something I really didn’t have beforehand.
I learned about the world of Native American art. There are a lot of debates and mixed feelings about ethical and cultural topics. As I continue on down the road with the goal of helping bring our once grand pottery tradition back into the light, I have realized like never before the patience I must have regarding these issues.
I have also learned the difference between being a cultural ambassador to your tribe as it pertains to education, archaeology, and revival, and being an individual artist in the fine arts world. They are two very different things. Much like having one foot in the white world and one in our Native world, I feel like I have one foot in the world of our tribe’s cultural accuracy and identity, and the other in the very confusing, tumultuous, debated, and oft times selfish world of Fine Art, specifically as it pertains to Native American Art.
Today, I create my tribe’s traditional potteryto help educate about and carry on the culture of my people.
The once grand and widespread tradition of my people’s Caddo pottery had been reduced to a shadow of its former self and almost disappeared completely. With the help of the only living Caddo pottery revivalist, I got started down the path of my artistic expression of our tribe’s traditional pottery to help current and future generations of our people understand the beauty and craftsmanship and uniqueness of our ancient pottery methods and culture.
Born in Oklahoma, I believe I have always been an artist, from the day the art teacher in kindergarten pulled me aside to draw something for the school. From then on I was always drawing and painting, but until I found pottery I really didn’t have a voice or a reason.
Even as I decided to pursue pottery as a more hands on approach and a closer to earth approach to art, I was still lacking meaning. I had considered creating Pueblo pottery from the southwest as that is what
Only after I connected with my tribe and my heritage and learned of the true grandeur of our tradition and how it has been lost and hidden from the public, was I able to set forth almost obsessively learning the methods and designs of our tribe, creating works of art that are modernized, to educate my tribe’s people and the public about our tradition.
All of my tribe’s ancient traditional pottery was hand coiled from clay that was handmade from the local river source, which most notably included the Red River and the Arkansas River.
These pottery pieces were then hand burnished with a rock to look like glass without any glaze. The final touch before firing was the hand carving of the scrolling ancient designs which include motifs centered around the origin stories of my Caddo people. Objects in the motifs included feathers, serpents, the sun and moon, and the everlasting fire.
What motivates me and challenges me to push the limits of describing our culture in my pottery art is the desire to truly educate people about what sets our tribe’s tradition apart from all the other Southeastern tribes, and to reveal the extent of which the Caddo’s tradition was cherished by everyone across the nation in prehistoric and historic times.
For additional information, please visit CaddoPottery.com