Jo Ann Rackliff-Richmond—I became interested in the art of pottery making in 2002. What started out as a hobby soon became a passion. I took pottery lessons from Larry Thompson, an adjunct instructor at Northeastern State University and an artist. I first saw his work at an art show and appreciated his talent, so I wanted to learn from him. After about four months of lessons and practicing on my own, I began to branch out and develop my own style of pottery making. Whenever I could, I would take lessons to improve my skills and knowledge. Anna Mitchell, an elder master potter, taught me how to use the paddle to shape and size, how to use a slip of different colored clay to put color on the pots and how to burnish to get a better finish. A person is considered a master potter because he or she has been a potter for over twenty years, gained recognition and won awards, and taught others the art of pottery. Jackson Narcomey, a Creek painter whom I met at an art show, continued to encourage me and pushed me to enter contests and participate in shows. This helped me gain confidence and network with other artists. I entered art shows and won awards at museums across the Southeastern United States. With my pottery and baskets I have gone to shows in Alabama, North Carolina, Illinois, Arkansas, Tennessee and Oklahoma. The shows are juried, which means your art must be approved as quality art by a board before you will be invited to participate. I plan to attend the Native American Art Show in Santa Fe, New Mexico, next year. Santa Fe is known as one of the biggest Native American Art markets in the United States.
Originally, my sisters and I began this venture together. It was somewhat comforting to have the support and encouragement of each other, and there was the feeling of “safety in numbers.” However, we disagreed about the direction we wanted to go with our business. We decided that it was best to go our separate ways. Striking out on my own was frightening, and it would have been safer to quit. But I was determined to move forward. My efforts were rewarded when I was invited to a pottery gathering in Alabama. This event was over five days and included as many as thirty artists. Southeast potters from all over the United States met to demonstrate and attend workshops on history and the significance of pottery from the 1700’s to the present. Seeing this much talent in one place and being considered on the same artistic level was overwhelming! It was then (2004) that I realized my own worth as an artist, and I realized that, yes, I could turn my passion into a successful business!
Even though I had some success in this business, I felt a need to continue to learn as an artist and to incorporate more of my own culture into my work. I went to more workshops and learned about the cultural aspects of pottery. Here I was exposed to museums that housed pottery dug from actual ancient mounds. The beauty of those timehonored pieces inspired me to work harder to promote the Cherokee culture in each piece I designed. I had the privilege of learning from Patsy Hanvey and Tammy Bean, Southeastern Potters, who replicate pottery for museums. My pottery is traditional Cherokee pottery, that is, it is hand formed, incised or paddled, and pit-fired after the ways of the early Cherokees. For each pot, I dig the red clay myself. The wood smoke burns into each pot, giving it an aged look. Because it is all handmade, no one piece can be duplicated exactly—every piece is distinct and unique. After examining my pottery, one archeologist, Dr. Kelly at the Cahokia Mounds Museum, Collinsville, Illinois, proclaimed that it was the closest he had seen to pottery dug from the mounds—high praise!
Because of my perseverance and willingness to keep learning, I have been rewarded through my business, and I have been honored to show my work at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C., as well as the American Indian Society Inaugural Ball and Pow Wow.
It is a brave person who, in spite of obstacles, continues to pursue her dreams. Nothing is easy that is worth doing, so my advice to those who are just getting started is to continue to persevere. Keep learning and growing as a person. Have an idea, think it through, and work toward that goal. Take time to learn—be patient. Difficulties will come, but with time comes knowledge and wisdom. Always keep in mind “This is my dream.” No one else has the vision, motivation, or dedication to make it come true.
EDITOR’S NOTES: Jo Ann is one-half Cherokee and she has been married to her husband, Dusty, for thirty-eight years. He supports her in her endeavors but takes a “hands off” approach as far as the running of the business is concerned. They have a daughter and son, three granddaughters and another baby on the way. Jo Ann says that so far none of them show very much interest in art, but they are still young. She has aunts, uncles and cousins who are master craftsmen in Cherokee art.Through Jo Ann’s accomplishments, she has been recognized as an award winning potter and basket weaver. Jo Ann has been invited to the Native American Art Show at the Cahokia Museum in Collinsville, IL as the “featured artist”. She was also one of the featured artists in the Native American Women Artists of Oklahoma “Voices in the Tall Grass” art show at the Pioneer Women’s Museum in Bartlesville, Oklahoma in 2005.
Networking at art shows builds her clientele and gives her a chance to meet collectors and buyers from all over the U. S. and even overseas. Curators from museums and art show coordinators look for artists to invite to their own art shows. These shows are a major part of her success.
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