Bernice Naranjo is an award-winning pottery artist and mother and aunt of some of the best-known and most-awarded potters of our time. Her work is noted for elegant forms, superb sgrafitto (etched) designs, and lovingly rendered nature motifs.
With an assured precision, she has etched an amazing picture of hummingbirds and wild roses – a traditional Pueblo motif which symbolizes pollination of crops, delight in the new Spring, hope for a plentiful harvest to come, and just plain beauty. Birds and flowers are depicted in recognizable and artistic detail, in an enlarged scale. This unusual, close-up view gives the usually sweet subject a startlingly dramatic edge. The more common, dainty and flowing design is transformed into something bold and striking.
Her ability to “draw” on the clay is prodigious – look at the various forms, and types of carving. Bernice has painted a complex, meticulously detailed, naturalistic picture on clay, with a push-pin, or other low-tech tool. The varied depth of the sgrafitto strokes create a look of three-dimensional form in the flowers. Beautifully detailed branches, leaves and petals curl up and around the whole piece, in an asymmetrical arrangement.
Plenty of unadorned space is left, to emphasize the contrast between highly polished and densely etched areas. Every etched stroke is visible in some areas, with more delicate etching patterns in others. The birds’ wings are decorated with different designs that are, in fact, lyrical and curved. Graceful curves are countered by straight lines, within the larger, meandering pattern. This larger-than-life scale makes us feel the same size as the hummingbirds, looking at the flowers from their perspective.
The pot itself is hand-coiled of hand-dug and-mixed clay, polished with a hand held stone, and pit-fired. Ranging from warm, coffee bean brown, to peach-y beige, the hues in the jar result from coating the base clay of beige with a red clay slip, which turned that rich dark brown when the pit-fire was smothered with dried horse or sheep manure. The design was etched into the cooled, stone-polished surface at the last.
Stately and imposing in size and tapered form, this piece is a terrifically handsome blend of tradition, tweaked into a modern look, by a recognized, award-winning matriarch. By the way, don’t look for a formal signature; Bernice “signs” her work with an incised little circle with two lines and a dot, discreetly placed on the surface, here, toward the bottom.