‘Grounded in Clay’ documentary shows how pottery ‘is central to culture’

Laguna/Acoma Dough Bowl, c. 1830–50, clay and paint. (Peter Gabriel/School of Advanced Research)

Every day, Elysia Poon travels to her own version of Wonderland.

Inside the Santa Fe Advanced Research School, where Poon is the director of the Indian Arts Research Center, the halls are filled with clay pots from all the different pueblos.

Each of them has a story and Poon wants people to listen to him.

This is the mission of the documentary “Grounded in Clay: The Spirit of Pueblo Pottery”. The film will premiere at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, November 19 on New Mexico’s PBS channel. 5.1. It will also be available to stream on the PBS Video app. There will also be an encore screening at 6 a.m. on Sunday, November 20.

Santa Clara Water Jar, c. 1880–1900. (Peter Gabriel/School of Advanced Research)

“It was truly a privilege and a blessing to work with the amazing community members on the project,” said Poon. “We’ve built a level of trust through the project and we’ve all worked through the pandemic.”

“Grounded in Clay: The Spirit of Pueblo Pottery” is a 30-minute documentary that explores the complex and rich stories that surround and unfold in pueblo pottery.

Drawing on exceptional collections of historic Pueblo pottery, in the documentary, Pueblo residents share personal insights that reveal how pottery is a powerful element that sits at the heart of their cultures.

This program shines a light on the deep connections between Pueblo peoples and the clay in a way rarely seen.

The film is part of a national traveling collaborative exhibition of the same name, developed by the School for Advanced Research and the New York-based Vilcek Foundation.

The exhibit is a rare exhibit curated by the Native American communities it represents and is on display at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture in Santa Fe through May 29, 2023.

Elysia Poon, Director, Indian Arts Research Center, School for Advanced Research, Santa Fe. (Courtesy Garret Vreeland/School of Advanced Research)

The exhibit is a first of its kind as it gives voice to over 60 individual members from 21 tribal communities. These members have chosen and written about artistically or culturally unique pots spanning 1,000 years.

The exhibit will move to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Vilcek Foundation in 2023, Houston’s Museum of Fine Arts in 2024, and the St. Louis Art Museum in 2025.

Poon says that by watching the film, viewers will understand the connection pueblos have with clay and pottery.

“It’s an art form that reflects themselves,” she said. “Pueblo pottery comes to life and preserves history. Through this project there is an understanding that behind every piece is a story of people. It comes from the earth and has a deep history.

Poon says a film crew worked on the project for nearly a year.

“We took the time to build trust with the people we spoke with,” says Poon. “It was important for us to capture their story because it reveals how pottery is a powerful element that lies at the heart of culture.”


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