A Family Once in Need, Now Succeeds

The Story of Birdell Bourdon

Birdell Bourdon is in her late forties and she and her husband Fred have six children. She is an example of an Emergency Fund recipient who, once helped through a rough patch in her life, now has a successful small business that will keep her family financially healthy and help to preserve an ancient art form for us all. In honor of Birdell's success in her fascinating trade, we wish to share with you a brief summary of how she makes her awe-inspiring pottery.

Birdell Bourdon makes Pueblo of Santa Clara Pottery from Mother Earth. She is a potter who is teaching her children the trade like her mother and her grandmother before her. Her deep black pottery is made from natural material obtained at her local pueblo site.

Digging of Material: After saying a prayer of thanks, clay and white sand are dug up on hands and knees using pick and shovel and then dried for two to three weeks.

Cleaning and Preparing Materials: Water is added to dry bits of clay. When it is melting texture, the clay is hand pressed through screens to remove debris like sticks and stones. Dry white sand is also passed through the screens. The clay and sand is mixed in equal parts to form a mud ball.

Shaping: Pottery is shaped using simple tools and by hand. A potter may shape up to 20 pots in a sitting. Deep carved pottery is designed at the shaping stage by cutting deeply into the clay wall, taking out the background and forming a relief in the desired design.

Drying or Curing: The pottery is dried for one to two days in a wood stove. The proper mix of materials will prevent the pot from cracking.


Sanding: Sanding is done to shape the pottery, ensure even thickness, and to make a smooth shiny surface. This dusty process is often done outdoors. Those who take great care in sanding will have exquisite vessels.

Polishing: The family uses brushes and stones that are often passed down through generations. Many layers of slip, or liquid clay, are applied. Then a final coat of animal or vegetable oil is applied to produce the effect of a smooth shiny surface.


Firing: After prayer of white corn meal is made to Mother Earth and Clay Woman, the vessels are carefully placed in a fire box and kindling is place all around and lit.

Temperatures sore to 1600'to 1800' F in 10 minutes and red colored pottery is removed after 30 minutes. Red pottery is changed to black pottery by placing sawdust on the fire. This smothers the fire and causes smoke, which releases carbon that penetrates the porous pottery walls. It take two hours to produce black pottery.

If this brief introduction has sparked your interest in obtaining some pottery, please contact the Tin Nee Ann Gallery on Cerrillos Rd (at St. Francis) in Santa Fe, NM. 505-988-1630.

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