Ronald Rael, CEO and Co-Founder
Professor of Architecture, University of California Berkeley
Virginia San Fratello, Chief Creative Officer and Co-Founder
Associate Professor of Design, San José State University
Historically there are sixteen pottery-producing Pueblos along the Rio Grande valley of Northern New Mexico as well as the Western Pueblos of Acoma, Zuni and Hopi. Each of these pueblos produce a distinct type of pottery that reflects that natural materials available to them. Traditionally, pottery was hand coiled, scraped, sanded, painted (with mineral or vegetal pigments) and finally pit fired outside. Evidence of micaceous clay pottery dates back to at least AD 1300 in New Mexico. Mica-rich deposits are commonly found in volcanic, high-elevation regions such as the northern Rio Grande area. The tradition is most closely associated with the Taos and Picuris pueblos, but it was also used by the Jicarilla Apaches and other Native communities. Though in recent decades it has gained recognition as an art object, and contemporary Native artists are now working with micaceous clay, it is still predominantly considered a utilitarian craft.
These traditions were lost to many of the descendants of Hispanicized indigenous populations of New Mexico due to colonialization and slavery practices among both Spanish and Indigenous populations. Artist Ronald Rael, whose family has lived in the Northern New Mexico/Southern Colorado region for millennia, with Virginia San Fratello, a 3D printing expert, worked together to rediscover and unearth these traditional practices for themselves to produce ceramic objects that explore traditional indigenous ceramic practices combined with robotic coil techniques.
Each ceramic object is 3D printed with a natural micaceous clay from the Manzano Mountains of Northern New Mexico, and the tops of the serving bowls are finished with a wild micaceous clay hand dug by Rael & San Fratello in the La Madera Mountains of Northern New Mexico. The pieces expose the robotic coiling methods developed by the artists that reflect the hand coiled methods traditional to the region and other surfaces are all burnished by hand using small stones and leather. The pieces are pit-fired using locally harvested red cedar in a 3D printed adobe kiln in Rael’s ancestral village surrounded by the San Juan and Sangre de Cristo Mountains in the alpine desert of the San Luis Valley. The clay is naturally orange and sparkles because of the mica in the clay. The black areas are caused by oxygen deprivation and smoke during the firing, making each piece unique.