Micaceous Clay Pottery: Macaila Gallegos
by Don Toomey
Macaila Gallegos was a micaceous potter from the village of La Madera, northern New Mexico. Her parents were native New Mexicans from this same area. In fact, Macaila lived on the family property, and her workshop/studio was her grandmother's former home.
Macaila grew up, married, raised a family, and moved to the Vail area of Colorado with her husband. During the time in Colorado she worked as head housekeeper for a local resort hotel for over twenty years. Macaila's husband passed away in 1990, and she herself retired and moved back to La Madera shortly afterwards.
Upon her return she became interested in micaceous pottery through her neighbor and friend the potter/teacher Felipe Ortega. With Felipe's encouragement and instructions, and Macaila's own inherent artistic ability she was able to master the craft of micaceous pottery making. Macaila was recognized as an accomplished potter in her own right.
Macaila employed the traditional pottery techniques and built her pots from hand rolled coils of micaceous clay. She built and shaped them with a scraper to smooth out and thin the walls of her pots. When the pots were dry enough she smoothed off the surfaces with sandpaper. Next she placed the shaped pots on a stove and heated them for about two hours to drive off any remaining moisture in the clay. The pots were then ready for firing. Macaila used a somewhat more personal firing technique. She used a metal drum for her firing, first placing the pots in the drum and lit a very small fire below the pots for 30 to 45 minutes. As the pots continued to heat she placed more and more wood on the fire until the barrel was covered with soot, at which point she placed on the remaining wood. When the barrel became red/white hot, and all the soot had disappeared, the pots were ready to be removed. Macaila's actual firing process took anywhere from 45 minutes to 1 hour. She claimed she did not lose many pots with her firing process.
Macaila did a wide variety of micaceous pottery types that included: cups, punch bowls, casseroles, cooking and serving bowls of all sizes, pitchers, candlestick holders, bowls with fluted rims, and those with incised designs. One of her loveliest pieces was a typical wedding vase. All of Macaila's pieces have some of the most beautiful copper-colored hue that I have seen.
Macaila was accepted as a participant in Spanish Market in 1995. For the judging/screening process of her work she was asked to submit three pieces. She submitted a large bowl, a candlestick holder, and a pitcher. Macaila indicated that she enjoyed being a part of Spanish Market and especially looked forward to meeting a variety of people and getting to know and see the work of other artists.
Within the last decade micaceous clay pottery as a traditional Hispanic art form has become an important element at Spanish Market, and at various Southwest arts and crafts shows. This has been due in great part to the efforts of Felipe Ortega. He, as master potter and superb teacher, has made us aware of the aesthetic beauty and qualities of this so-called stepchild of pottery. Copper-hued micaceous pottery with its basic utilitarian shapes has captured our imagination, and in the process has forced us to examine it within a different context. It is not only an integral element of the potter's craft, but it is a beautiful and compelling art form. Somewhat ironically, the man who has done the most to initiate and guide this flowering of micaceous pottery had been rejected out of hand from becoming a participant in Spanish Market because his father had Jicarilla Apache blood! In the meantime a number of Felipe Ortega's Hispanic students, as noted above, are active members in Spanish Market.
Don Toomey is a staff writer for Tradición Revista.
Editors Note: The interview with Macaila Gallegos was completed one week before her death in a terrible auto accident. Sensitive to this, we first thought to remove the interview. But upon reflection, the decision was made to include the interview here as a tribute to her memory. Our prayers go out to the family of a great lady.
First published in Tradicion Revista, Volume 1, No. 4, Winter 1996.
Copyright 2002. May not be reproduced in any form without written permission.