Primitive Pottery Encampment
In March of 09, the WFT hosted a Primitive
Pottery encampment. The goal of the
weekend was to learn more about primitive
pottery and the people who made it.
This event all came about within the lovely
modern-day environment called the internet.
We were conversing on the topic of pottery,
attempts, failures, advice and the usual be-
moaning heard from friends, when out of the
blue our newest child of our group drops a conversational stick of dynamite. “My father
has written many an article on primitive
pottery and every piece he’s helped me fire
has always turned out”.
After much prodding, Amanda confessed
that her father was an expert on primitive
pottery of the Freemont and Anasazi’s and
wrote and taught frequently including events
such as Rabbitstick.
Well, needless to say, that comment
attracted sisters, like special human by-
products to flies. Thus, cornered, Amanda
and her father, John Olsen, offered to teach
the WFT a weekend course on primitive
pottery, in the way of the Anazai’s.
The date was set and word sent out. So,
in March, the WFT descended on John Olsen
at his home. John, a quiet and shy gentleman,
was subjected to the sisters of the WFT with
only Shawn Webster to add testosterone to the environment.
Most arrived the evening of Thursday,
March 13tb, set up camp in his lower property
in Apple Valley, Utah. The terrain was Mesa
Verde, high desert, and abounded with yucca,
low humidity, clean air and history.
John allowed us to set up on his lower
property and even had hand built a “pocket
kiva” for guests to stay in.
To make the event nice for the sisters, we
signed up to do the meals in team, so we
would not have to spend excessive time
cooking and cleaning.
John came by
and after dinner led us all into the kiva for
historical stories along with libations provided
John Olsen’s sharing the history of the people of kivas.
More stories by Jill
The first full morning, found the WFT,
pounding quartz for 4 solid hours! John
seriously understood the Anasazi and wanted
us to learn how they made pottery. We
spent the morning searching for quartz and
pounding it into course sand to mix with wild
clay as a temper.
Jill and Sandra pounding/pulverizing quartz to sand.
Amanda searching for quartz
Just as despair and renditions of “chain
gang” was being sung, John informed us we
had the required quantity of ground quartz
for our clay. John gratefully saved us days of
hardship by processing wild clay for us and so
we moved onto the next step.
John had collected, washed and separated
wild clay for us, a process that can take up to
a full week to complete.
The afternoon found us back at work with
the clay. We all took turns kneading the
quartz into the wild clay to temper it, to keep
it from cracking or exploding (like many of
our previous attempts) in firing.
Clean wild clay setting up.
. Sandy kneading clay and temper mix.
Jill pounding Wild Clay.
Finally came the time to build our pots!
John instructed us in proper technique.
Kathy making her pots
When we were finished, John took the
leftover clay and created a work of art.
John working on corrugated pot with Jill rolling coils for him.
John's finished pot
As the sun set, we returned to our camps to
enjoy a beautiful evening with dinner and fun
In the morning, the pots were still damp.
John placed them on his pot bellied stove to
warm and finish drying. While we were
waiting, John offered to take the group on a
field trip to harvest wild clay in the local area.
We thought it so much fun; we gathered
gallons in little very time.
Jill digging wild clay
John then mentioned we were within walking
distance of a pre-historic occupation site.
It didn’t take much begging to convince John
to take us on a tour. Sister’s walked in pre-
historic sites and found evidence of man’s past occupation. One sister found an arrow point,
while other sisters found petrified remains of fingerprints of a people making waddle for
sealing theirs homes.
Group outing with John
John took us to two other sites to look at
and enjoy. We even were able to look for
pottery shards at some of the site.
Unfortunately, we were so enthralled, that we
forgot to take pictures, except this one of
Kathy and Sandy standing above a Kiva site
which had recently been studied by local
(Federally protected, and no we didn’t take
anything from this site!)
Ahhh… the beauty of the southwest!
By the afternoon, we were back at camp
and ready to prep the pots for firing.
First a first was build to warm the firing site.
Pots were added to the outside to slowly
warm them up.
Preheating the oven! Notice pots on outside of pit.
Pottery placed in center with fire moved to outside.
Slowly moving fire inward as pots become hot
until then are able to be covered by coals
Slowly the fire was moved inward toward the
pots as they warmed up. Once the pots were
sizzling hot, they could then be covered by
hot coals and then finally by the wood and
This took all afternoon to get through this
stage. As the sun began to set, we covered
the pots with firewood and prayed a blessing
that our pots would survive. Remember, we
just made them the day before.
After watching the fire cook our pots, we
finally retreated to our camps for dinner and
more fun and conversation.
John had 2 unfortunate friends who stopped
by to visit that evening along with the 2
archeologist neighbor. The guests were
congenially offered a “French Kiss” to welcome
them to our camp. With that practical joke,
they almost ran, but good manners precluded
them from being so rude and they were
rewarded by a superb dinner.
The next morning found us all on pins and
needles, wondering whose pots may have
survived the firing.
Debate was had on the few commercial
clay pots versus the completely primitive
pots we had made that weekend.
We jealously watched for anyone leaving
camp to get a cheater’s peak, until finally
John joined us for breakfast.
Finally, he asked if anyone had checked to
see what pots might have survived. Well, that
was it…. We raced to the fire pit and
anxiously waited while John pulled one pot
after another out of the ashes. To our great
surprise, not a single pot broke. This included
the commercial clay pots that were brought
to the camp to be fired.
John asked us all to test our pots to
determine if they were finished firing by
touching it with our tongues. If it was tacky,
it was well fired.
Kathy testing her pot
Fastest tongue in the West.
I tried several times to catch Mary licking her pot
and couldn’t catch her in the act.
After all the success, it was time to break
camp and pack up to head home. It was a
great weekend, we learned ton’s of
information, developed skills and had a great
Join us next time!
Until next we meet!
Article written by Sandra and Amanda