Talking with the clay

Or: what was ‘warm hug’?

Deus ex Dextra

I lived with my parents, Paul and Barbara Weiss, at the family homestead above Palo Alto and Stanford, for the first 10 years or so of their pottery collecting. They would go to Santa Fe every summer and do as much damage as possible. The penultimate time they went together, for instance, they bought 17 pots. It took Liz and I a week to match all the boxes and pots to records and shelving. I remember Mom said “Dad doesn’t think he”ll ever make it back there”. Almost true. He died there five years later, in his favorite suite at La Fonda, massive heart attack. He had bought one last pot, from a guy named Tom Tenorio the day before, Sunday. He had eaten a steak, room service, said “That’s the best meal I’ve had all week”, rose to walk or waddle towards the head, and collapsed, out like a light. Age 90. WWII Navy vet, small business owner, husband, father, grandfather, adios amigo.
But the pots are more about Mom in some ways. Ironically, at one point Dad was getting spacy and Mom was still on a continuum — she thought the pots and especially the books with all the genealogies would be good for Dad, to use it or lose it, to stay smart; he also took some courses at Foothill the local junior college — well, the best JuCo district in the nation; (their president later left to work for Obama — Martha Kanter, in fact he knew her from Rotary). But as it happened, Dad got back to baseline in terms of memory and function — he had some depression, which was manageable, whereas Mom drew the card with Queen stabbing The Suicide King’s Sword into a Brisket, and the other Hand Squeezing Palmolive into the Dishwasher. First “dementia syndrome”, then Alzheimer’s, then nine years elapsed people — nice people, not me, though — spooning food into her lips and wiping her ass, alternately, at 87 — not that much in it for her, as far as we can truly know, in the three years between first and second deaths.

But in either the last year or so when they had the pots in the house or the first year or so in the condo, I was visiting them one morning, but sort of a soft-visit, me doing my thing and they theirs, and Mom was checking on her pots and sort of talking, not yet to me and then she said “you must think I’m nuts, I’m talking to the pots?!”

I didn’t think too much of it, it was of a type where the adult child thinks Mom is cute — role reversal — and not “here comes Alzheimer’s” — I was too young to take too seriously that her mother 30 years earlier had called me “my favorite nephew” last time we met.

I took the “talking to the pots” as a cross between talking to your plants — that’s a thing, it gives them carbon dioxide — and a book on her shelf — they had about 100 volumes — Talking With The Clay.

Anyhow, a couple years later, after the Alzheimers was profound, and the pot collection quite impressive — it’s in the DeYoung now – a set of 75 pieces — I wrote a little essay to myself about dementia and the DeYoung — the museum coda itself a much longer story. At Dad’s death I ended up as a co-trustee for Mom including finalizing the deal with the Deyoung which actually started in 2007 and finished October of last year, or six months ago– the gift was done, ultimately and as the cards fell, in four installments.

To wit:

But do the pots recall conversations with Mom?
The story of the Paul E. and Barbara Weiss Pottery Collection of the De Young Museum as told anecdotally by Mark Weiss with Sarah Bailey Hogarty
I want to publish photos of six to ten pots, most from the collection along with some documentary photos and some ephemera or correspondence, perhaps for the De Young blog or perhaps as a pamphlet or chap book, en lieu of or in advance of a more complete publication forthcoming.
I want to pair sets of objects and explain the relations between each other brace, and between each and the collection as a whole; I would need some technical or artistic augmentation; I think Sarah is quite capable in that area.
This comes from a conversation last night at my parents’ dinner table as my sister and I commented on the recent correspondence from the De Young, and a particular pot on the list of things the De Young would like to show soon. We differ on the timetable for the execution of the agreement with the De Young, and some of the particulars. For now it seems that neither a bigger show or a catalog are forthcoming.
(Picture of Dextra Quotskuyva Nampeyo “orange cloud burst pot”)
(picture of Jacob Koopee “collage shards interior pot with orange bottom”
(picture of Barbara Weiss, Dextra and “orange cloud burst pot”, Santa Fe, circa 1994)
1. Dextra and Jake
On August 6, 2010 we were at Andrea Fisher Gallery, Paul, Barbara and I, touring their gallery and plotting. Effie Garcia came by to drop of some of her wares and we chatted with her. Andrea showed me a display case of special items made for her, such as a likeness of her made by Virgil Ortiz depicting Andrea with a whip.
Derek Fisher next entered the gallery carrying a pot. He said he had just gotten back from a trip to Texas to meet a collector who wanted to sell a pot, via consignment. The pot was from Jacob Koopee, a recently deceased potter from Hopi family. My dad said he wanted to see and and would possibly save Derek from having to notify his list of other potential buyers. Sure enough, after a brief inspection, an agreeable price was reached.
The year before, or maybe two years before, or two years running, Paul and Barbara bought a Koopee pot or pots from Martha Hopkins Struever – we owned one or two of the best late Koopees. Derek Fisher’s piece was an earlier piece, had been in a private collection for a number of years, and was priced at a fraction of what the ones in Marti’s show sold for. Marti in recent years rents a suite of rooms in the Hotel San Francisco, for a choice selection of pots and jewelry; it’s been a good place to bump into her artists like the jeweler Liz Wallace, who my parents first met because she was a driver for the tours the Struevers led to the various nearby Pueblos. I recall Mom buying a Liz Wallace butterfly; I bought a copy of her book; I had started to think in recent years that my parent’s sizable jewelry collection might be a companion set to the pots. I’ve made it a point to meet some of the jewelers that they collect, and a I personally own – my one piece of jewelry of any type, beyond my macho steel wristwatch – a Cody Sanderson cuff. I surprised my brother on his birthday with a Pat Pruitt steel belt buckle – it’s pictured on my blog.
At first I thought the interest of the early Koopee was how it contrasted with the later work, but when we got it home I noticed that the slip was the same orange as in the famous Dextra, that had been in Marti’s book. I pulled it from the shelf and brought it to the dinner table to demonstrate this to my Dad, who corrected my use of “glaze” versus “slip.” Apropos of the Christina’s Hellmich’s letter about the Dextra and another round of donations.
(picture of the Weiss collection Koopees with Struever provenance, recent)
I also distinctly recall Stewart Struever – Martha’s husband – sharing with us during Indian Market 2010 his concern about Jacob Koopee; he said he was saddened about the life Jake was living, supporting his extended family, working so diligently on his pots while most of them were otherwise preoccupied. I don’t think I ever met him although I’m fairly certain my parents did. We learned of his passing in 2011 from a letter from Marti, and we made sure the De Young noted his passing in its records and the card on our pot, which was on display on the first floor, right past the giant Gerhard Richter molecule and before the Saxe collection of modern glass.
I bought a black bear fetish from ten-year-old Nicholas Eberlacher for fifty bucks or so. We visited with Jason and Jerome, and their mom. My mom seemed to recognize the widow; we expressed our condolences about Richard Eberlacher – I wasn’t sure if my parents had seen her since the loss, although it’s been a couple years now. They said that Nicholas is the sixth generation of known or named potters, although obviously the lineage could stretch back matrilineally to include dozens or potters, or hundreds. I’ve tried to revive the story of my dad buying a large bear-paw clan pot from Richard Eberlacher, pre-dawn by flashlight at the Indian Market booths, one of his first purchases.
We also in recent years have called on the booth of their cousins James Eberlacher and his daughters Sarena and XXX. I played a role in getting Sarena a gig with the documentary film for the state of New Mexico by Michael Petit. I told him that Sarena told me she was a film major. I cannot afford any of the work of the fully-matured Eberlachers for my personal collection – the Eberlachers are Santa Clara and descendent of Mary Cain.
(picture of the Richard Eberlacher red large vase)
(photo of Jody Naranjo and “The Pueblo Girls” pot, plus its second place red ribbon)
I recall my parents visiting with Jody Folwell at Market, 2011. Again, the potter acted like she recognized and recalled my parents from previous years. Jody, a 60-something farmer and potter, told us of her mourning for her recently deceased husband, who was a Maori from New Zealand. She had plans, she said, to visit New Zealand to help settle his estate and and place a tombstone she designed and carved herself. There was a jug with a picture of a Maori in Native American headdress – a memorial, at the booth. I bought a plate with a spray painted (non-traditional technique and materials, though not atypical for the Folwell/Naranjos) green rabbit stencil from Susan Folwell. That is, I ended up buying works from these two first cousins, from a family my parents’ collection also includes, although my pieces are only marginally comparable.
(I think we have photos of Paul Weiss, Barbara Weiss and Jody Naranjo – maybe in Terry Acebo Davis’ camera – she’s my girlfriend, and a former De Young artist in residence, a printer and installation artist)
My parents’ collection – and maybe the De Young – have large Robert Tenorio of Santa Domingo pots. Terry and I have three small pots by a 22-year old potter named Julian Coriz. We met him at the Wheelwright’s gift shop. I am pretty sure he is a nephew or great nephew of Robert; we see similarity in the designs. It might be interesting to publish photos of their respective works.
Better might be to publish photos of the Lisa Holt and Harlan Reano pot that is in the De Young inventory but not accessioned yet. I am forgetting as I write this the exact lineages, but I did meet Lisa and Harlan – and their children – at Market. I first met them at Blue Rain’s reception. I am pretty sure that they have Cochiti and Santo Domingo family. I think I bought a small figurine or fetish from one of their kids – not that my collection is so big that I have an excuse for being unsure. Maybe I just got all their autographs for my notebook.
5. I own a small – two inch diameter – Lonnie Vigil that is at the bottom of his price range – fifty bucks or so – while the DeYoung has in the PEABHW a full size Vigil on display. He is from Nambe, of course, and when I met him he explained the distinction between his pueblo and the metal tray company that uses their name (and we own, and have given as gifts).
6. Terry bought a small mask or face from Santiago Romero who is the 22-year old son of Diego Romero, and a recent Dartmouth grad. He is now being represented by Adobe Gallery, as are his dad and cousin/sister/friend, Rose Simpson. My parents meanwhile own a Roxanne Swentzell bronze of humans emerging from the earth, a creation myth piece, a birth. Santi told us that Roxanne, who was his stepmom for a while, married to Diego, but not his birthmom, helped him figure out how to design or make those faces – as opposed to his coyote line that he, I guess, figured out by himself. I first met Mateo Romero – Santi’s uncle – at Blue Rain in 2010 and we bonded over the fact that we overlapped at Dartmouth for one year, in 1986. I own a poster, and two small paintings by Mateo — one is on loan or a gift to my Mom – it arrived, still wet in fact – on her birthday, March 15, 2011 so I made it a gift to her. Terry surpassed me by buying – on special terms form his wife – a large Eagle Dancer painting from his booth at 2010. (She claims it is now paid off). We cannot afford Diego’s work – the gold is quite costly – although he did offer to do something on spec for me. I own two of his Pueblo Revolt prints, one I bought at SOFA from Steve and Christina Campbell of Landfall Press, who later gave us a full tour, and we posed for photos with them and their boss Jack Lemon. I bought a small pot from Thelma Talachy because she is Melissa Talachy Romero’s auntie. She gave me a special price and a rather warm hug, and posed for a photo.
Melissa works a day job – besides all the kids – for George Rivera the tribal governor who also buys for the Buffalo Thunder casino. We almost met him – we stood in his presence at the reception for the museum that was above Blue Rain – and coincidentally my Palo Alto politics buddy Tim Gray says he knows Rivera in that he had twenty tons of museum grade sculptors’ marble donated to the Cochiti as a tax writeoff for one of his clients. There is a Tim Gray marble sculpture on his lawn in South Palo Alto.
7. I have a rather meticulous letter from a Bay Area collector named Vince Drucker who thanks to Marti toured the Weiss Collection* at Paul and Barbara’s home. He argues for minor revisions to how we date one or two historic Acoma or Laguna pieces and also has strong opinions about the work attributed to Ar-ah-och the famous bedrache potter. (Not “hisi” like Nampeyo, but “he-she” like Boy George or “Some Like it Hot”). Drucker’s work is comparable to the professional Jonathan Batkin, who we think of as a world class expert.
This is a tribute to the passing of John Buchanan, who for a while there, my mom would recall fondly, the time that the agreement was consummated with a sumptuous feast somewhere on the museum site, and how John would keep serving her from a platter. The meal was family style.
My mom also would tell me and others that the pots could talk to each other, and she would talk to the pots, but that we shouldn’t think she was nutty or anything. See also the book “Talking with The Clay.”
When they started this collection one of the purposes was to help my Dad with his memory, which they worried was slipping. It is ironic that due to her Alzheimer’s my dad now has a better memory of the work and the stories than Barbara does.
I wonder also…

(there’s also a ms of my parents talk for their new neighbors at 101 Alma including stage directions “Paul holds up the pot” et cetera)

see also: Tikkun Olam, Jewish concept of the universe is like a broken vessel and our task is to fit the pieces back together.

There’s also, unless I reference it above, potters folding one pot into another or maybe they grind a fired pot and use it for the next pot. Maybe there is no distinction between individual pots; see also: spirit line or spirit break. Also, conversely: ghost in the machine. I’d rather be gripping a Dextra than finger-jabbing an Apple laptop.

Or each has it’s time and place, potion versus poison, dose in the Paracelsus sense. Note: I think the word I will use is “finger-jabbing” i.e. typing, a ram can head-butt, like on a Santa Clara mini pot, and you can “butt-in” to a line at the movie — in the old days, but you apparently, nor in the days of “shelter in place” finger butt a lap top — or I’m the first once to try it. (It turns out it is a word, at least on the internet, but not my type of thing). This is slightly extranous but Tammy Garcia via the Blue Rain gallery, according to gallerist Denice Phetteplace is offering a male “Tara” cast bronze bear, to partner with the “Gia” female sold out issue of 35 that my parents had which is now with my sister Lin. But where is the 72 inch “Abundance” stele? And: I am wondering about the custom-painted pong table at Bones Gate fraternity at Dartmouth created by father and son Romero’s? *The DeYoung has 75 pots gifted from my parents; they are inconsistent about claiming there is a PEABHWCOPP Paul E and Barbara H Weiss Collection of Pueblo Pottery; yet ultimately the bulk of the collection –including the inventory listed in our original agreement plus another 70 or so acquired in their last years — were either passed on to we three children or it looks like they will be sold at auction. So, and this is sort of a philosophy or math puzzle, like the cat, the barber or Russell’s Paradox — where is the Collection? Maybe it’s in heaven or Jew heaven or in the stars you can see some nights above the Santa Fe Opera House though I’ve never been, when the fat lady sings or dad says “I’m not sure…”

Barbara Hayms Weiss March 15, 1931 Chicago
July 21, 2018, Palo Alto (San Francisco, circa 2010)

Andand: from the DeYoung website — it was also written on the wall of the gallery for several years: The Paul E. and Barbara H. Weiss Collection of Pueblo Pottery represents a significant gift of Native American art to the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. Over the last ten years, Paul and Barbara Weiss have traveled throughout the southwestern United States, carefully selecting outstanding examples of pottery, the oldest of which come from the venerated pueblos of Acoma, San Ildefonso, and Hopi. The collection also includes contemporary pieces made by some of today’s most prominent potters from pueblos with longstanding traditions of excellence in pottery making. Pueblo pottery is a dynamic and evolving Native American art form. The combined elements of community and family are integral to understanding this unique art practice. Ancestral patterns and methods are handed down through generations and often identify artists as members of a particular family. The skill and craftsmanship evident in each pot not only demonstrate the talent of the individual artist but also the continuation of a rich cultural heritage that has been unfolding for centuries. Several families have made significant contributions to this genre, and names like Tafoya, Martinez, Lewis, Chino, Gutierrez, and Nampeyo are synonymous with outstanding craftsmanship and ingenuity. (Russell Hartman wrote a white paper in which he pointed out that we had five generations of some families). A representative selection of pottery from this collection is currently on view in the Art of the Americas gallery. Andandand: the collection was noted by Anna Eshoo, who read a eulogy of my mother into the Congressional record: Barbara and Paul moved from their large home in Los Altos Hills to a condominium in Palo Alto, where they continued, via their Donor Advised Fund at the San Francisco Jewish Federation, to support causes that were important to them. They enjoyed frequent trips to Santa Fe, New Mexico for the Opera and SWAIA Indian Market, where they collected stunningly beautiful Pueblo pottery. According to Barbara’s son Mark, his parents ‘‘just wanted America to continue to give opportunities that they got and wanted to back the right people to accomplish that.’’

About markweiss86

Mark Weiss, founder of Plastic Alto blog, is a concert promoter and artist manager in Palo Alto, as Earthwise Productions, with background as journalist, advertising copywriter, book store returns desk, college radio producer, city council and commissions candidate, high school basketball player, and blogger; he also sang in local choir, fronts an Allen Ginsberg tribute Beat Hotel Rm 32 Reads 'Howl' and owns a couple musical instruments he cannot play
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