Letting Go of the Wheel

Visions of a Shaman totem stick, black and white sgraffito

© Carolyn Bernard Young, Visions of a Shaman, 39 x 6 x 1″, stoneware, slip, sgraffito, poplar

After more than 20 years as a potter who loves the wheel, both my hands have developed chronic tendinitis. As it became more difficult and painful to wedge, center, and throw, I resolved to create more sculptural work, while letting go of the wheel.

Inspired by my love of totem poles, my first attempt at creating sculpture that would both reflect my heritage and include my signature sgraffito* work were what I call Totem Sticks – a totem pole for your wall.

Historically, animal totems significant to a family or clan were carved into totem poles. These were often used to tell a story, illustrate a legend, identify a clan, or document tribal history. Although totem poles are usually associated with northwestern tribes, evidence has surfaced that even Southeastern tribes used totem poles to identify clans.

Figure of woman bathed in turquoise with sgraffito dragonfly

© Carolyn Bernard Young, Serenity Heals, 12 x 3 x 3″, stoneware, slip, glazes

Letting Go

As I continued letting go, figurative sculpture was a natural progression. Serenity Heals embodies Woman…the nurturer, family healer, leader of adventures, able to switch gears on the fly, and a vessel of unbounded joy.

Turquoise is the color of healing, and the dragonfly totem is known for joy & adaptability – a perfect combination for this piece.

Dragonfly Garden

Lidded jars and centerpiece bowls have been my trademark for many years. While letting go of the wheel, I began to explore ways to create a vessel form with a slab of clay.

Hand-built footed vessel with black and white sgraffito and bright red glaze inside

© Carolyn Bernard Young, Dragonfly Garden, 6 x 11 x 11″, stoneware, slip, glaze, sgraffito

Dragonfly Garden is one of my favorite slab vessels so far. It has the lovely volume so important for a bowl form, yet it stands alone as a work of art.

Letting go of the wheel is taking me places I never expected to go. As the adventure rolls on, I can wait to see where it leads.

Honoring My Ancestors

The goal of my work is to honor the culture of my ancestors, rising from the dust of genocide to a vibrant community devoted to preserving our history, language, and traditions.

Tikba Ihiya (Keep moving forward!)


*Sgraffito is an Italian word that means “to scratch”. When the clay is firm to the touch, three layers of black slip are applied. As a I carve through the layers of black, the creamy white clay beneath is revealed.




Why is Indian Market Important?

© Carolyn Bernard Young, Lilac Fusion, 20 x 6 x 1″, stoneware, slips, sgraffito, poplar


The 3rd weekend in August every year, Santa Fe is overtaken with more than a 1000 Native American artists, offering traditional and contemporary artwork for sale.

So What?

You may wonder why this is important – what makes it different from any other art show or festival? It is the largest and most prestigious juried art show for Native American artists. Thousands of artists apply, and must provide proof of tribal membership along with high quality photos of their work. The process can take 4 months and there is a lot of nail biting while we wait to hear. It is an honor and a privilege to be accepted.

But Why Does it Matter?

© Carolyn Bernard Young, A Passion for Teaching, 27 x 5.5 x 1″, stoneware, slips, acrylic, poplar

Indian Market attracts 150,000 people to Santa Fe every year. It’s an opportunity to show our work to people who appreciate traditional Indian art and those who want to see what’s new in contemporary Native American art. It gives us a chance to meet face to face with buyers, collectors, and gallery owners seeking to acquire high quality art. The stories, the laughter, the appreciation for what we do – it’s simply glorious!

Is it Hard?

Yes! We work all year to have a body of work that we are proud to share. Travel, hotels, booth fees, booth fixtures all add up to a $1,000 or more before we even get started. Set up starts at 4:30 am on Saturday, for a 7 am opening. The Friday night preview party allows patrons to see art entries the day before so customers are lined up at their favorite booth to get first choice on Saturday morning.

And Finally…

Because it’s how we make our living. Making art full-time is a major commitment. We are fortunate – and profoundly grateful – to be able to do what we love – but still, it’s a business for us.

Come See Me

If you’re coming to Indian Market this year, I hope you’ll come find me on Lincoln Street, Booth 769 LinE. And please – don’t forget to have fun!

Find out more, and get a list of participating artists, at www.swaia.org.


So what the heck is a Totem Stick?

© Carolyn Bernard Young, Wings of Joy, 32 x 6 x 1″, stoneware, slips, acrylic, crushed turquoise, mounted on poplar

A Tribute

Totem Sticks are my own design, inspired by the magnificent totem poles of northwestern tribes like the Tlingit. Totem Sticks are an homage to those massive works of art – and you can hang it on your wall.

Totem poles were a sign of wealth, often constructed in front of the home of a Chief – to show ancestry and social rank of the family. They were also created for many other reasons. A totem pole might be created to record the history of a clan or family, illustrate a legend, welcome travelers and identify ownership of property, and even as a way to mark graves or honor a person of importance. Animal totems (spirit animals) significant to the family or clan were carved into the pole.

Tlingit totem pole
Courtesy of Lordkinbote at English Wikipedia via Wikimedia Commons

Totem Poles for Your Wall

So I decided to make a totem pole that could hang on the wall, using the spirit animals which have long intrigued me. By drying the clay to firm leather hard, I can break it into shards, apply the black slip, and carve the totems or spirit animals. For the bars and geometric shapes, I use soft leather hard clay to cut the shapes, then coat with black slip and carve. Each small piece is individually coated with slip and hand carved by me, then fired to 2167 degrees for durability.

Assembling the sculpture brings me such joy! As I select just the right piece and arrange them on a poplar “stick”, I often think of the totem poles that so inspire me. Next time, I’ll share some insights from people who created their own stories around a totem stick.


Did You Hear What Happened at Red Earth?

© Carolyn Bernard Young, Healing Magic of a Teacher, 42 x 6 x 2", stoneware, slips, crushed turquoise, acrylic, poplar

© Carolyn Bernard Young, Healing Magic of a Teacher, 42 x 6 x 2″, stoneware, slips, crushed turquoise, acrylic, poplar

For the very first time, I entered my work in the “Sculpture” category – one of my new Totem Sticks titled Healing Magic of a Teacher. And it won 2nd place!! Yippee! I don’t even have a professional photo of it because it sold too.  But here it is, hanging on the wall of my booth.

So What, You Say?

You may recall that I decided at the beginning of this year to move away from the wheel and into more sculptural work. It was scary for me. All sorts of questions nagged me every day in the studio. Could I still do sgraffito? Would this new work be accepted? Will my designs be any good?

2nd Place is Pretty Good

So, I’m thinking 2nd place is pretty good, huh? The competition was stiff and I was flabbergasted when they called my name. Did I mention it sold too? Along with a whole dang bunch of its brothers & sisters.

Doing My Happy Dance

Some might say “it’s only second place”, but not me. I’m profoundly grateful that my work is progressing in a new direction AND that it resonates with you.

I’m a happy girl!

Oh, and By The Way

A Warrior’s Prayer won First Place in Contemporary Pottery. Still rocking the wheel thrown work, just not as often.

© Carolyn Bernard Young, A Warrior's Prayer, 9 x 7 x 7", stoneware, sgraffito

© Carolyn Bernard Young, A Warrior’s Prayer, 9 x 7 x 7″, stoneware, sgraffito


Remembering WWI Code Talkers

©Carolyn Bernard Young, "Big Gun", 9.5 x 6 x 7", stoneware, sgraffito (Red Earth permanent collection)

©Carolyn Bernard Young, Big Gun, 9.5 x 6 x 7″, stoneware, sgraffito (Red Earth permanent collection)

Memorial Day is a time to remember those who gave their lives in service of our country. Travel with me today back to World War I. It’s near the end of the war, late in the fall of 1918, in the French countryside. The Germans have tapped American phone lines and every communication of battle plans is intercepted & decoded. Command leadership is desperately trying to communicate sensitive troop movements.

Forbidden Language

Two Choctaw soldiers in the 142nd Infantry Regiment are speaking quietly in their native tongue. Colonel A. W. Bloor overhears and asks what language they are speaking. The soldiers fear they are in trouble because, back home, Choctaw children are being whipped in school for speaking their own language. Instead Colonel Bloor asks if they know of other Choctaw soldiers in the regiment. They know of several at company headquarters, so Colonel Bloor grabs a field telephone and asks them to deliver a message in their own language. Thus, the Choctaw Telephone Squad was born.

Code Within a Code

Nineteen Choctaw soldiers from the 141st, 142nd, and 143rd Infantry Regiments were deployed along the front lines and command posts to relay vital information. Since the Choctaw language didn’t have equivalent military terms, a code within a code had to be quickly developed. “Twice big group” in Choctaw was used for battalion, “eight group” was a squad, “scalps” were casualties, “fast shooting gun” meant machine gun and “big gun” was field artillery. The Germans were baffled and it gave the Americans a crucial advantage.

This experiment was so successful it was copied in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam using Choctaw, Comanche, Cherokee, Navajo and other Native American languages.

Medals Struck

Choctaw MedalThe Code Talkers Recognition Act of 2008, was signed into law by President George W. Bush on November 15, 2008. This law recognizes every Native American code talker who served in the United States military during World War I or World War II, with a Congressional Gold Medal specially designed for his tribe. The Choctaw medal depicts a soldier using a field telephone on the front, with the Choctaw seal on the back.

Medals were retained by the Smithsonian Institution, but a duplicate was awarded to each code talker in a long overdue ceremony in 2013.


The Names

The 19 original Code Talkers were:

  • Victor Brown
  • James Edwards
  • Otis Leader
  • Solomon Louis
  • Walter Veach
  • Tobias Frazier
  • Robert Taylor
  • Jeff Nelson
  • Calvin Wilson
  • Mitchel Bobb
  • Pete Maytubby
  • Ben Carterby
  • Albert Billy
  • Ben Hampton
  • Joseph Oklahombi
  • Joe Davenport
  • George Davenport
  • Ben Colbert
  • Noel Johnson

We owe a debt of gratitude to these men and all the brave soldiers who have fought and died for our freedom. Yakoke! (Thank you!)



Counting Down

Installation Day

Installing wall pieces

Installing wall pieces

Still too high? Yes, but I love them!

Still too high? Yes, but I do love them!

Spirits Rising, an exhibition of my work, opens April 3 at Red Earth Art Center in Oklahoma City. This is wildly exciting for me so I hope you will bear with my exuberance. Installation day was Friday, March 31, and I thought you might enjoy a couple of “behind the scenes” photos.

Tooled Leather and Turquoise

My newest works are sculptural wall pieces, with texture instead of sgraffito, and inlaid turquoise – yummy!  The oxide washes I use give the clay the look of tooled leather and a rustic feel that is totally different from my black and white sgraffito work. The series of female figures are called Spirit Sisters and the guys are called Warrior Brothers.

Let me introduce you to two of them.

Tvshka Homma (Red Warrior)

©Carolyn Bernard Young, Tushka Homma, 13 x 5 x 1", Stoneware, oxides, crushed turquoise

©Carolyn Bernard Young, Tvshka Homma (Red Warrior), 13 x 5 x 1″, Stoneware, oxides, crushed turquoise

In 1861, the Choctaw Nation reluctantly sent more than a thousand warriors to fight with the Confederacy in the Civil War.  They became known as fierce warriors.

Near the end of World War I, Choctaw soldiers were asked to use their native language to send coded messages about troop movements, battle plans, and supplies. They were the first Code Talkers.

Tvshka Homma means “red warrior” in Choctaw and is the capital of the Choctaw Nation (shortened to Tuskahoma by the Post Office).

Hollo (Feminine Essence)

In Choctaw culture, women were likened to Mother Earth. Givers of life and sustenance, they were revered. Family lines followed the female side, rather than the male. She was the property owner. When she died, her property did not revert to her husband, but went instead to her children and biological family. Even the children went to her family, not to her husband.

© Carolyn Bernard Young, Hollo, 14 x 5 x 1", stoneware, oxides, crushed turquoise

© Carolyn Bernard Young, Hollo (Feminine Essence), 14 x 5 x 1″, stoneware, oxides, crushed turquoise


Choctaw women have been known pick up the weapons of a fallen husband in battle and continue the fight. They were tough!

Join Me for a Closer Look

If you’re in the area, I’d love for you to come to the Opening Reception on Wednesday, April 5, 5-7 pm at the Red Earth Art Center, 6 Santa Fe Plaza, Oklahoma City.

Come on down and bring a friend!


One Woman Show

© Carolyn Bernard Young, Ishki (Mother), stoneware mounted on board, sgraffito

It is with breathless anticipation that I announce my solo exhibition, Spirits Rising, opening April 3.

Opening Reception

I am pleased to invite you to the Opening Reception April 5 from 5-7 pm at the Red Earth Art Center, 6 Santa Fe Plaza, Oklahoma City. If you are not in or around Oklahoma City, I hope you will share this invitation with friends who are.

Rising from the Dust

Spirits Rising began as an altered vessel – a winged serpent carved on the front and my vision of rising spirits on the back.  These spirits speak of the culture of my people, rising from the dust of genocide to a vibrant community devoted to preserving our history, language & culture.

Next the spirits appeared on a lidded jar and I knew they must break away from a thrown vessel to have a life & stories of their own.  It seemed to me as if the Spirit Sisters & Warrior Brothers leaped to the wall of their own accord.

A New Adventure

Spirits Rising embodies a new adventure for me, working with stoneware clay in a new way.  As I move away from wheel-thrown work, I will continue to tell the stories of my tribe, my family, & the history of our country in the form of wall sculpture,  figurative sculpture, & ceramic collage. I am thrilled that the clay still feeds my soul and makes my heart sing.  The adventure has barely begun and I can hardly wait to see where it leads!

Red Earth

© Carolyn Bernard Young, Circle of Life, 4x20x3", stoneware, sgraffito, mounted on poplar

© Carolyn Bernard Young, Circle of Life, 4 x 20 x 3″, stoneware, sgraffito, mounted on poplar

It is an honor to have my work in the notable Red Earth Art Center, home to a permanent collection of over 1,100 items of fine art, pottery, basketry, textiles and beadwork – including the Deupree Cradleboard Collection, one of the finest individual collections of its kind in North America.

The show runs April 3 – May 30 and admission is free. The center is open Monday – Friday, 10am – 5pm.


Warrior Spirit

©Carolyn Bernard Young, Warrior Spirit, 12 x 5.5 x 7.25", stoneware, sgraffito

©Carolyn Bernard Young, Warrior Spirit, 12 x 5.5 x 7.25″, stoneware, sgraffito – Available at Worrell Gallery in Santa Fe, NM

Daily Fight to Survive

Hummingbird is known as a warrior spirit with healing powers, and one of the strongest totems. The tiny hummingbird embodies the spirit of a great warrior. His daily fight for survival shows us that success is not only for the large and powerful. Etched in stoneware, this hummingbird will live on forever.

A Burning Desire

The bright orange finial adds a feeling of flame – that burning desire to thrive – and the graceful flight of the magical hummingbird. Inside you will find a matching orange glaze, making it food safe.

The feather pattern around the top is associated with prayer because of tribal beliefs that prayers are carried to the Great Spirit on the wings of an eagle.  On the back is the Choctaw diamond pattern, indicating our deep respect for nature.

Available at Worrell Gallery

This wheel thrown, hand-etched, lidded jar is available at the Worrell Gallery, 103 Washington Ave, Santa Fe, New Mexico. Please call (505) 989-4900 for additional information or visit their website.

Contact Carolyn at 817-269-5375 or carolyn@earthtoart.com



My Heart Isn't Blue

Happy New Year!  Recently I read that the second Monday in January is called Blue Monday because of the let-down after the holidays.

©Carolyn Bernard Young, My Heart Isnt Blue, 10.5 x 4 x 3", stoneware on metal stand

©Carolyn Bernard Young, My Heart Isn’t Blue, 10.5 x 4 x 3″, stoneware on metal stand

A New Adventure

For me it has been a time of transition to a new body of work and a new way of working. Thrilling? Yes! Scary? Yes, of course! Change brings many problem solving opportunities and I thought you might enjoy hearing some of the kinks and quirks in the life of a ceramic artist.

There Were Kinks

When a ceramic piece will hang on the wall, all the problems associated with hanging it have to be resolved before I start making the piece. This involved a number of tests, trials & errors (emphasis on errors), but I came up with something I think will work well & be easy for the collector to hang. (See image below right.) So my new series of wall pieces are off & running!

And Some Quirks

Next I wanted to make small figurative sculptures displayed on a metal stand. The first problem was how to fire a piece with a tiny bottom – it needed support. So I made form from clay (called a chuck) that worked well for firing both in bisque and with glazes (see image below left).  Next, after combing the internet and failing to find what I wanted, my sweet husband found a local welder who was willing to work with me and make the stands I designed. I love finding local folks to support my business! The photo shows the first sculpture on a mock-up stand – the final one will be similar with consistent edges.

Work in Progress, Hanging System

Work in Progress, Small Figure

Work in Progress, Small Figure

But In the End

My Heart Isn’t Blue is the first of what I hope will be many of these wonderful figures. A friend recommended the title and I think it fits perfectly. And it deftly describes the first two weeks of the new year for me…my heart isn’t blue, it’s bursting with excitement! How about you?


Movin' On Out

Spirits Rising BACK

©Carolyn Bernard Young, Spirits Rising (Back), 7.5″x7″, stoneware, Private Collection

Last month I gave you a little tease about my new direction…but just so you know I’m serious…I’ve sold two of my pottery wheels, making room in the studio for a third work table and two sculpture stations. (Hint: expect to see Spirits Rising (right) appear in different forms.)

The Mechanics

Right now I’m working through the technical issues of how the wall sculptures will be hung and how the figurative sculptures will be displayed – it’s all very exciting and so much fun!  Since my husband is a mechanical engineer, he has been a big help in working through some of my crazy ideas. Once again, I am reminded just how lucky I am to do what I love.

A Gift to Myself

At this time of year, it feels like I’ve given myself a huge gift…to pursue my passion in a new direction – and I feel absolutely giddy!  I can’t wait to share this big adventure with you in 2017. So tell me, what is your passion and how will you nurture it in 2017? Share it in a comment below.

With gratitude,

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