Normally, I would be less than thrilled by another woman sticking close to my husband during a dinner party. Not so when ceramist Karen Kahe Charley sat next to my husband and didn’t leave his side all evening. I kept myself occupied enjoying the flickering candles and white flowing curtains in the restaurant as dusk fell.
Rather than flirtation, I saw it as a quiet affirmation of the research my husband had just delivered that afternoon at a conference. It hadn’t gone over well with a lot of people. A male elder felt compelled to speak right after my husband finished his presentation. He made it clear my husband was an outsider, and claiming the predominately female makers of Hopi pots might bring something of themselves to their painted designs was abhorrent to him. The designs were traditional, many deemed sacred, although women weren’t privy to their sacred meanings. Rather than depicting the artists as taking down spiritual dictation and accidentally creating a sacred vessel on occasion, my husband noted what distinguished one artist from another within the visual template she was given.
No one would openly disagree with the elder. And my husband didn’t, either, but I could tell it was his worst nightmare. The respectful look on Ms. Charley’s face when speaking with my husband that night said something different, that he had described exactly how you might innovate while also conveying a traditional idea. You might develop a style and command of technique that are uniquely yours and recognizable.
Many months later, I contacted Karen Charley and ordered one of her bowls for my husband’s birthday. I know her choosing to sit beside my husband that evening was a great comfort to him.
Bio—Karen Kahe Charley names her mother, Marcella Kahe, as her mentor. She’s been a potter since 1980 after having three children. She has been awarded Best of Show, Best of Division, and Best Traditional Pottery at the Museum of Northern Arizona and at the Santa Fe Indian Market. Karen Kahe Charley was born into the Butterfly-Badger Clan in the village of Sichomovi at First Mesa.