The Loaded Trunk was founded by Jonna Robison, an interior designer with a deep curiosity and passion for traveling the world, connecting with artisans in different cultures and sourcing unique and beautiful objets d’art. Published seasonally, the magazine features a curated collection of travel, lifestyle, nature, art and design inspiration for a life well lived.
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“When you look into the bowl it’s like looking at the Santa Fe night sky,” a shopkeeper told me, as I admired the hand-formed micaceous clay pottery at a gallery. I had never seen anything like it before. It was as if I was viewing a starry sky, including the Milky Way. The sight stopped me in my tracks, having never seen such things before.
Micaceous clay pottery gleams with a fine glittery effect because of the mica in the clay, which is found in volcanic regions at elevations above 8,000 feet, including the landscape in and around Santa Fe. Potters use Native American pottery methods from over 700 years ago to create these pots and vessels. Unlike othr types of pottery methods, these ancient methods enable one to cook food directly on the fire, as Native Americans have done for centuries.
Micaceous pottery is unglazed, so the finished material is truly organic. Those who cook using these pots say the clay actually enhances the flavor of the dish cooked within, imparting a sweet, earthiness. The clay is alkaline and balances the acidity of the food cooked within it, infusing it with a more complex flavor. I tried it for myself, making two batches of stew side by side, one in a micaceous clay pot and the other in a cast iron pot. I can report that both my husband and I could actually taste the difference! The stew cooked in the clay pot indeed had more depth in flavor.
Interestingly, mica is known to have insulating properties, so hot food stays warmer in these vessels, another feature that sets it apart from its clay counterparts. You can even pick up a hot pot without hot pads and your hands won’t get burned!
The process of creating micaceous clay pottery is arduous. The vessel are hand formed from micaceous clay, using the traditional coil method. Then it is smoothed, scraped, sanded and polished with slip. Finally, the vessel is then with smooth stones, before firing. The vessel is fired on an open fire and a finished piece is a gleaming earthy brown, sometimes with “fire clouds” (distinctive markings from the fire). When oxygen is deprived, the piece turns entirely black. Sometimes potters attach a horse hair on the extremely hot vessel, which immediately singes, leaving behind a black wavy line.
Yolanda Rawlings learned the art of micaceous pottery from the late master potter, Felipe Ortega. Among the many one-of-a kind vessels she creates are shallow bowls with a very organic shape and nature that represent the rolling hills in the landscape surrounding her home. She also creates traditional bean pots, which she describes as the quintessential indigenous shape of micaceous pottery. Yolanda explained to me that the bean pot is the ideal vessel for cooking anything requiring a longer cooking time, such as soups and stews, since the belly of the pot keeps flavors in and the neck reduces the risk of boiling over. Her pieces are lovely and unique. I have been growing a small collection and love cooking with them, as well as serving food in them. They truly make food look and taste better!
“Cooking and using these micaceous clay vessels is a true connection to the Land of Enchantment. Earth, Wind, Water and Fire intersect in the making of the vessels.” -Yolanda Rawlings
March 2, 2022
The Loaded Trunk is a travel and lifestyle magazine founded by Jonna Robison, an interior designer with a deep curiosity and passion for traveling the world, connecting with artisans in different cultures and sourcing unique and beautiful objets d’art. Published seasonally, the magazine features a curated collection of travel, lifestyle, nature, art and design inspiration for a life well lived.