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Hands That Create Art and Soul
Article first published in Vol. 10, 1992.
By Elizabeth A. Carney
"With my hands I take my Mother Earth and give her shape. The heat for my Father the sun gives her life, and The rainbow of my New Mexico sunset gives color to her child.
Every piece I make is a piece not taken away, but replaced in my life and with the blessing of the Great Spirit I live."
Gonzales thinks he is the only potter that uses clay from Mt. Cristo Rey. However, this clay from the volcanic mountain needs white clay added to it because Gonzales says it turns pumpkin orange and "I'm not making pumpkins here."
Gonzales has the natural ability to remove dirt from the peak and turn it into something beautiful. "The clay tells you what it wants you to do with it," he says. When he acquires the clay from the mountain, he leaves behind a pot. " I feel like I'm taking the best of the mountain and should leave my best behind," he explains. Gonzales says each pot he creates is a piece of himself. This that happens to him during the day or even events on the news might help him design the pot.
Gonzales works in front of a chair that has a water pump with a pulley attached to it. On top of this sits a mold made of plaster of Paris shaped from a basketball. He shapes a coil of clay and builds his pot around the mold. With a round piece of plastic that serves as smoother of sorts, he creates his beauty. "You create the shape with each coil. It is more personal when you make a pot that can sit on own without any decoration. Then you have something," Gonzales says. Pottery making has a technical side. "Balance is a trick," Gonzales says.
"If you do not feel the walls of the pot, you get a lopsided pot. God only knows how I get them the balance. You take away and take away and scrape until you get it."
To impart texture on the pot's exterior, Gonzales uses everyday objects such as sticks, combs and saw blades. However, some pots have designs built into them. Gonzales may construct a pueblo dwelling at the top or around the middle of the pot. If he designs a pot without texture, such as seed pots, he uses a quartz stone to smooth the surface. To paint the pot, he mixes his own colors from different clays or stones.
Gonzales' pottery sells well, both here and in such stores as Macy's in New York and Nieman Marcus in Dallas and even in Europe. Locally, his work is represented by Village Jewel and Mayatex. Still he remains in Sunland Park and advertises his art on large cardboard signs along McNutt Road.
Though he felt honored, he turned down New Mexico Magazine's request for an interview, finding it embarrassing to discuss the close association between his art and his inner nature. He is a quiet, unassuming man, finding it difficult to talk about his abilities. But he is proud to show visitors each piece he has made. Even if his pottery didn't sell, he would continue to work.
Gonzales is currently working on plans for a plaza in Sunland Park that will showcase local artists. But for now, take Paisano Street downtown heading west, exit on Racetrack Drive to Sunland Park and follow the white and black homemade signs to George Gonzales' studio. Prepare yourself for a feast for the eyes and soul.