How did you first get interested in clay?
My mother was a potter and artist, so I began playing with clay at a very early age. I recall making crude ashtrays and sculptures of animals when I was four or five years old. My first serious work was inspired by pre-Columbian and Native American pottery that I saw in Guatemala in 1964 and in 1967. I began experimenting with pit-fire black firing after I moved to Colorado in 1967. I met and talked with Popovi Da in 1968. An accident during a firing n 1968 or 1969 led to innovative firing methods for unglazed burnished pottery that included the first horsehair firing which I first did in 1971.
Describe your studio.
My studio a room in my home in Pilar which is a small village on the Rio Grande in Taos County. The studio is generally a mess.
Describe your work.
I have made a living with my work for more than a half century. I seem to be too much of an oddball for anyone to hire me for a real job. I hand-build pottery and occasionally make clay or stone sculpture. I am largely self-taught and have developed a new coil building technique. I almost never use glaze but add color by using colored slip. I burnish the surface with a smooth stone or with my fingers or with a plastic bag. Firing adds smoke stains from various organic materials: coffee grounds, hair, feathers, flowers, leaves, and other things. I also work with micaceous clay which I dig from deposits in the Tusas and Sangre de Cristo mountains. I work with Taos Pueblo potter Bernadette Track offering native clay workshops using traditional hand-building and firing techniques.
When you are not working in your studio, what do you enjoy?
I draw with pencil and charcoal. I dabble in photography. I write.
Do you play music in your studio? If yes, what do you listen to?
I sometimes listen to classical music while working with clay, sometimes to blues or gritty rock. One day recently I binge-listened to over a dozen versions of "Ghost Riders in the Sky" while building a pot.
What other pottery do you have in your home?
Years ago, my first wife, Mary Blake Witkop, and I would participate in many art and craft fair shows. We would trade pots with other potters. I have quite a few pueblo pots from that time, and pots by several Anglo and Hispanic potters. I much prized an effigy pot by Fred Wilson but lost it to a divorce.
What caused you to join NMPCA?
Joining NMPCA was, of course, a no-brainer. I'm a potter and I live in New Mexico.
By Carl Gray Witkop. Hand-built burnished vessel, smoke-fired with hemp leaves, 2021. 7” diameter.
By Carl Gray Witkop. Hand-built native micaceous clay pot. Pit-fired. 2019, 61/2”. The clay is from Pot Creek area.
Places to view Carl’s pieces:
From the editor:
Carl Gray Witkop is one of 38 new members who joined NMPCA in 2021. Thank you, Carl, for taking time to answer these questions and share your intriguing clay journey with all of us.