Micaceous Clay Pottery: Debbie Carrillo
by Don Toomey

Debbie Carrillo, the wife of the well known santero Charlie Carrillo, is an accomplished micaceous potter. Debbie was born in Española, New Mexico of native New Mexican parents. Her father is from El Rito and her mother is from Abiquiú. Her elementary education was in a parochial school with the nuns at Abiquiú, and she attended high school in Española. She never took any art classes while in school. Members of her family practice traditional Hispanic arts and crafts. Her daughter Estrellita paints retablos and son Roán creates both retablos and bultos. Her two uncles are also involved in arts and crafts: Jimmy Trujillo is a straw inlay artist and Floyd Trujillo does unique bone carvings.

Debbie became aware of micaceous pottery through the research by her husband on historic pottery. Debbie notes that her grandmother had nice micaceous pots in her home, but she never gave them much thought. Although Charlie was the one that got her interested in micaceous pottery it was Felipe Ortega who taught her the craft, and she has only been doing it seriously for the last five years. Debbie only had about three days of actual instruction with Felipe and in that time she absorbed all the basics and was able to produce four pots she thought were quite decent.

Debbie purchases her processed clay from Felipe, which is much easier for her, especially with the ongoing demands of two teenagers for her time. She uses the rolled coil clay method for building up her pots and employs a scraper to burnish both the inside and outside of her pots in order to smooth them all over and bind the clay coils with one another. The pots are then set out to dry after which she then water-scrapes them, and the pots are again set out to dry. Once the pots are dry she uses a piece of sandstone to smooth off the pots, and then additional burnishing to finish them off. Debbie notes that this can be a long and tedious process. Presently it takes Debbie a few hours to shape a decent sized pot. She employs a wood fire for the firing process and this is accomplished on a grill in her backyard. When she has a good supply of coals on the bottom she then places the pots on the grill and covers them with more wood. Debbie says that the preparation of the fire is what takes time whereas the actual firing is only about 15 minutes, and that once you have gained some experience you know just when the process is completed.

The only decorative item that Debbie does with her pots is to make a fluted rim. She notes that in the past these were strictly utilitarian cooking pots, so one used them as such and it was no great concern as to what they looked like, you just cooked with them! She does make lidded pots and claims they are not the easiest things to do. The largest bowl she has made was a lidded casserole about 18 inches in diameter and 7 inches in height.

Debbie Carrillo was accepted as a participant into Spanish Market in 1992 after she submitted three pots as samples of her work to the screening committee. The biggest problem she had with the Spanish Colonial Society was to convince them that micaceous pottery making was indeed a Hispanic craft. This was accomplished when her husband Charlie was able to demonstrate with archeological evidence, in his doctoral dissertation, that micaceous pottery was a viable Hispanic craft for well over a century.

Don Toomey is a staff writer for Tradición Revista.
First published in Tradicion Revista, Volume 1, No. 4, Winter 1996.
Copyright 2002. May not be reproduced in any form without written permission.