My English name is Brenda
John, but the creator knows me as Yakolihwale (she pushes the issue
across the floor). I am Oneida, Wolf clan, Mother, Daughter, Sister,
Aunt, and potter.
I was first introduced to
clay in high school when budget cuts eliminated the 2-D art teacher.
Painting and drawing classes were no longer available, so I was forced
to explore other art forms including ceramics, jewelry and leather
tooling. I was talented in art, but it would be another 8 years before
I discovered my passion for clay.
Following high school, I
attended Triton Community College in Illinois studying fine arts.
Though I did my assignments, I wasnít motivated to continue the work
outside the classroom. I left Triton after a year and later returned
to college at UW Green Bay where I earned a Bachelor degree in human
development. While there, I took various art classes for my enjoyment,
and my sanity. One of those happened to be ceramics because it worked
with my schedule, and that was it, I had found my passion.
After watching a video on
Maria Martinez, the professor asked me about Oneida pottery. At the
time, I wasnít familiar with the pottery of my own people, so I began
researching Iroquois, Oneida, Seneca, Mohawk, Onondaga and Cayuga
pottery. Most of the information I gathered was from the texts of
anthropologists, and conversations here and there with members of the
Oneida community. By this time, I had already been working with clay
for years. Beyond my cerebral knowledge of ceramics, my hands had an
understanding of clay. And through trial, error, and repetition, I
began making traditional Iroquois style pots.
When my grandmothers made
pots, they didnít have the luxury of time to decorate as I do. They
needed the pots for functional purposes. Their decorations were more
geometric and abstract forms. While I am called to do as my
grandmothers did, many of my decorations are very literal and
detailed. They are reflections of my life as an Iroquois woman today.
My traditional style pots
are always hand built, never thrown on a potterís wheel, and the
bottoms are mostly rounded. Though I researched many different styles
of the Iroquois people, my work tends to resemble the Mohawk in style
and shape. The form itself comes easily, but the adornment is more
difficult, particularly my literal pieces. That kind of Adorning is
like making a commitment to the pot, changing it from a piece of
pottery to a piece of sculpture that is worthy of its origin and its
form. I see my work as a marriage between traditional and contemporary
styles, between pottery and sculpture. I am continually evolving and
exploring and I still research the traditional pottery, but I also
find myself taking more risks with my art.
I am very thankful to the
creator for this gift. When you hold my pots, they feel good, very
comfortable, and natural in your hands. I was taught letting your
spirit guide you through life connects you to the past, present and
future. When I create a pot, I have that spiritual connection to my
grandmothers before me. I feel them watching and guiding me. Sometimes
their influence is so strong I feel as if it isnít really me, but
someone from the past working through me. My pots grab you and take
you through a journey that connects today to life before Europeans