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Stevens trains mentees in ancient pottery form

Posted on Jul 5, 2018 by
General News

From left to right: Jennifer Stevens, Eric Doxtator, Stephenie Muscavitch-VanEvery and Alana Dallas.

Jennifer Stevens led three mentees in a time traveling journey through 1000 years of Oneida history over the course of 100 hours of training.

“I train them in the method of hand building potter, but I also give them … some of the historical background from 1125, close to 1000 years ago, to 500 years ago, pre-historic, historic periods and then also encouraging them to expand to contemporary as well,” said Stevens.

Stevens has been working with pottery for 20 years specializing in recreating historic Oneida style ceramics such as storage pots and pipes. She was awarded the Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation Mentor/Mentee Grant which paid for her to train three mentees: Eric Doxtator, Stephenie Muscavitch-VanEvery and Alana Dallas. The group worked in the Oneida Nation Arts Program cottage.

“Hand building pottery is not easy. It can be time consuming,” said Stevens. “I’m very pleased with their work. They’re a lot further along than anticipated.”

The mentees had varying degrees of experience with working with clay from beginner to use of a pottery wheel. Doxtator has a degree in media arts.

“Since it’s hand building you can’t really rely on a wheel to center things,” said Doxtator. “Couldn’t rush though if you wanted it to be stable and symmetrical and beautiful.”

Muscavitch-VanEvery dabbled with pottery before the program.

“I joined the program as a beginning potter; in fact I didn’t have any experience. When I started the program, I was unsure what to expect,” she said. “As class began, we learned not just how to do the pottery, but we also … received in depth knowledge that Jennifer had collected over her 20 years of working on pottery and the research she had done. It was really beautiful to listen to all of her research.”

Dallas was intrigued by the history of the art form.

“Over the years trying to build stronger connections with our culture, I’ve had different opportunities to work with clay in an Oneida specific kind of way, but this is the most in depth experience that I’ve had,” she said. “The biggest takeaway would have to an appreciation for my ancestors.”

Stevens challenged the mentees to complete three to five pots in the 100 hours of training. One pot was to be in the pre-historic style which has an egg shaped bottom, the next the historic period with collars and other decorative elements, and one contemporary.

“It was very interesting when we started laying out the time line to see what did pots look like when the Peacemaker was here,” said Muscavitch-VanEvery.

“I think the technique that I struggled with that everybody had struggles with is attaching the collar, or ding the upper level beyond the neck,” said Dallas. “Effigies were my biggest struggle because I have never done attachment pieces.”

Both teacher and students had high praise for each other.

“To see how gently her hands would work on the clay and still be … forming it, it really represents her personality. She was very gentle with us, but still making a huge difference in our ability in what we were able to do,” said Muscavitch-VanEvery.

“It’s been a pleasure to work with all three of them,” said Stevens. “They were open and receptive … They have given me high standards to future students.”

There will be a presentation for the program Saturday, August 4 at 6:00pm at the Radisson Hotel and Conference Center.

“This art form is not about us, it’s about our community, it’s about our history, it’s so much deeper than that. You have to have the personalities and the individuals that have that openness and awareness to be able to value those things, because that’s what makes the pottery beautiful, it’s not how it was created, it’s the feelings that you put into it,” said Stevens.