Native American clay artist Christine Nofchissey McHorse uses what many might consider traditional materials and techniques, but she achieves some very non-traditional results.
"When people talk about traditional shapes and methods, I don't believe in such a thing because there's all kinds of ways to arrive at the same place," McHorse told the crowd during last week's opening reception for the "Dark Light: The Micaceous Ceramics of Christine Nofchissey McHorse" exhibit at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft. "I learned from my husband's grandmother, but who knows who taught her and who taught that person. There's so much sharing and overlap, it's just amazing who influences who."
Elizabeth Kozlowski, curator for the HCCC, says there are several things that set McHorse's work apart from other contemporary Native American pottery. "[Her works] tend to be larger and definitely more sculptural. They refer to the vessel so I think she's certainly influenced by her culture and her roots, but because of her form and scale, she's taking it to a whole other level. I think for her it's not about the maybe more functional approach to things. She's using her environment and the landscape as an inspiration and then moving beyond the literal translation of that."
A full-blooded Navajo, McHorse works with clay that features a high percentage of mica. (Her husband and sons help her harvest it from riverbeds and clay pits in northern New Mexico.) Her work, which is dark gray as a result of her firing process, also has something of a sheen to it. "Rubbing the surface creates a shine, a sparkle on the pieces," Kozlowski tells us. "They're really very curvo-linear and that really accentuates the light on them."
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The pieces have single, double and triple walls and the shapes often fold back on themselves. To achieve the multiple walls (which present an extra challenge in firing) McHorse hand coils her clay rather than throwing it on a wheel.
"Her shapes are very organic," says Kozlowski. "They have points and spirals and interiors and exteriors. Most of them are enclosed, you can't necessarily get inside of them so there is a difference from a vessel. They do tend to have that definitely bulbous, linear bottom which references a traditional vessel but they expand from that bulbous bottom into more organic cultural forms on the top."
"Dark Light," organized by The CFile Foundation in Santa Fe and curated by Garth Clark and Mark Del Vecchio, is the first traveling exhibit for McHorse. It features some 20 clay works and several works on paper, all created from 1997 to present.
Regular viewing hours for "Dark Light" at 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, noon to 5 p.m. Sundays. Through May 11 at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft, 4848 Main Street. For information, call 713-529-4848 or visit crafthouston.org. Free.