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Traditional Dine' (Navajo) Pottery


The Broken Pot*
(In memory of Faye Tso, 1934­-2004)

Unmendable, the soft-baked clay
dark with fireclouds can only partly join again.
The ram's legs are askew, its body stretched,
the rainbow bands off-center,
nothing as it was.

Inside, the fire burned so hot
the base became like glass--
jet black and stark as Coal Mine Mesa
where the clay was dug.
These shattered pieces also will not fit.

Her time has passed.
And yet the thumbprint left within remains,
the earth-red arc, the handles like her hands that shaped
and gripped life hard--this thick-walled heavy pot,
the storm, the rain it called,
the sheep it fed.


(©10/1/04 Carol Snyder Halberstadt)


*Early this year, and months before her passing, I purchased this pot by Faye Tso, which she had made in 1970. It arrived from Albuquerque broken into many pieces. I've been piecing it together slowly, but it will never be able to be wholly restored. After I heard of Faye's passing, I wrote this poem to honor her memory.

Faye Tso, herbalist and healer, was one of the master Dine' (Navajo) potters. "Relocated" from her home on Coal Mine Mesa, she always returned there to dig the clay and gather the pinyon from which to extract the pitch resin that coat and seal traditional Dine' pottery. Her work has been exhibited at the Northern Arizona University and Heard museums, and is featured in The People Speak: Navajo Folk Art, by Chuck and Jan Rosenak (Northland Publishing, Flagstaff, AZ, 1994). I took this photo in her Tuba City "relocation" home, September 2000, just after one of our hay runs. Faye Tso also raised fine churro sheep, and her family is continuing the traditions of potterymaking, healing, and sheepraising they learned from her.

Traditional Dine' pottery being fired. (photo courtesy Faye Tso)

Pot Drums
They are the sea-filled Earth
colored by flame,
the burnt sienna
and soft umber
of the hand.

They are plain, and stark-
turned pots like mountains,
a wave of water opened at the rim,
brown and charred, fire-clouded,
scrubbed with stone
and bright with piñon pitch.

Their hollows beat through taut skin
the bare bone of a folded stem
bent round to render
the heart sound
out and in.

(©10/27/00 Carol Snyder Halberstadt)

Group of pottery by Faye Tso.

MBMP-134. Faye Tso. Traditional Dine' hand-coiled, pit-fired, pinyon pitch-coated round bowl with incised water wave, 4 in. high x 3.75 in. diameter opening. NFS.

MBMP-129. Faye Tso, Pot with 2 Yei figures and water wave in relief, 8.25 in. high. SOLD.

MBMP-131. Faye Tso. Pot with raised water wave motif, 6.75 in. high. SOLD.


Write to: Black Mesa Weavers for Life and Land, P.O. Box 543, Newton, MA 02456
or email carol@migrations.com to place an order, or for more information.

Copyright © 1998 -2004 Carol Snyder Halberstadt, Migrations. All rights reserved. Black Mesa Weavers for Life and Land and Migrations are trademarks of Migrations.

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