While today we might see ceramics in TikTok thirst traps or on-site at All Fired Up in Emory Village, there are myriad ceramic pottery traditions dating back to ancient times, complex, beautiful, and incredibly significant to both history and the present. If anyone is the example, it’s Chase Kahwinhut Earles, a caddo artist that is dedicated to revitalize and honor the historical creation of Caddo pottery and to shape a future for indigenous identities in the present day.
Earles gave a talk entitled “Caddo Ceramic Traditions and Trajectories” at the Carlos Museum on September 15th. This event was developed in partnership with Atlanta BeltLine’s Art on the BeltLine Project Goals to make art accessible to all and to showcase and celebrate the work of Southeastern artists along the 22-mile gallery that is the BeltLine.
It will be Earles’ own artwork, a 10 foot effigy of the polar bear displayed on the Atlanta BeltLine on October 29 in celebration of traditional effigy work by Caddo artists. In doing so, Earles hopes to raise awareness of the Southeastern tribes who have been making art in this region for centuries, and specifically highlight Caddo culture and craftsmanship.
Earle’s work as an ambassador of his cultural identity is valuable and necessary, especially since the Caddo pottery was almost lost when a matriarch of the tribe and the last Caddo potter left manufacturing Caddo pottery in 1908. Knowledge of this rich art history began to disappear as the Caddo tribe was undermined and handicapped by colonial powers and conquest diseases. Earles has used some of his pottery to make a critical comment on the limitation of said indigenous cultural knowledge.
To understand and celebrate the indigenous knowledge of the Caddo, Earles’ presentation focused on the history of this pottery, the Caddo people as a whole and his own development as an artist.
Understanding the role and processes of pottery making in the Caddo tribe is and was a large part of Earles’ own construction process, as he had to learn these methods before he could faithfully make pottery himself. While training in drawing and painting at the Savannah College of Art and Design, he worked with archaeologists and members of the Caddo tribe to rediscover the detailed art of Caddo pottery. Earles digs and dries his own clay, building the pots by hand without a wheel, then firing them in open wood fires. As someone who has attempted to sculpt clay vessels by hand in my Technical Art History course, I can attest that the process is insanely difficult.
Pottery was used by the Caddo people for both practical purposes, such as water bottles or food containers, and spiritual and religious purposes, such as the bear effigy mentioned above. Children were taught to make simple pottery since they could walk, and even to make small toys and animals out of clay. Caddo pottery was prized and traded from 800 AD to the 18th century, but many people did not see such pottery after that time as it was usually buried with the people who made it when passing by.
The crucial role of Caddo pottery as burial objects means that much of the ancient Caddo pottery found in museums today comes from indigenous burial sites, an incredibly damaging and damaging history of acquisition. Earles addressed this in his presentation, particularly in relation to the exhibition, when he expressed that these culturally sensitive ancient works of art should not be on public display and, if they are on display, must be curated in a way that gives visitors a choice , not looking at work.
Because of the complexity of displaying ancient Caddo pottery, Earles sees recreating ancient pottery as a way to educate the public about the identity and skill of the tribe. To further increase this accessibility, he created Caddo-style ceramics depicting characters and objects from pop culture, from Darth Vader to BB-8. These ceramics are a Part his Indigenous Futurism series, as Earles uses the tradition of effigy to make images from “Star Wars,” a series that itself predates it appropriated indigenous culture and transforms it into cultural and social messages.
An art history major, I firmly believe in the power of art to convey meaning, communicate cultural identity, educate the public, and serve as an outlet for the artist. In his talk, Earles spoke about the feeling of not having an artistic voice, but as he returned to the pottery traditions of his own culture, he connected with that personal voice. Dedicated to reviving Caddo pottery traditions, Earles uses art as a gateway to contemporary understanding and appreciation of Caddo culture.
You can find Earles’ upcoming work at the Atlanta BeltLine or the Carlos Museum, as well as the Dallas Museum of Art, the Gilcrease Museum, and the Spiro Mounds Archaeological Center. The world of Caddo ceramics that Earles opens up to the viewer awaits you!