It was getting late when the doorbell startled my wife and
I into a scramble, as we dashed down the hall to be sure that
no unsuspecting eye caught us in our "house attire."
I quickly pulled on a sweatshirt and ran my hands through my
hair. We were just about ready for bed, and I had been lying
lazily in front of the television, catching up on a little "Jay
Leno," when our visitor came. It's not that often that we're
surprised late at night, but once in a while someone will stop
by - usually in need of a favor or some help. We have somewhat
of an open-door policy, so I welcomed another opportunity to
be of service.
As I opened the interior door, I saw our friend and neighbor,
Gary Polacca. As you may already know, we're big fans of his
work, and I'm always excited to see what he's working on next,
but Christmas had me strapped. So I was a little worried when
I saw the precious little bundle, wrapped in baby blankets, tucked
snugly under his arm. I knew I was going to love the piece -
probably enough to make it a part of the "permanent collection"
as I sometimes do - but I also knew I wouldn't be able to afford
something this large and elaborate. I was really sweating it
as I invited him in to sit down. Any other time of the year I
would have been able to justify one expense or another - pull
a few strings on the ol' family budget - and alleviate my friend
of his pottery. I must have thought of a thousand excuses in
a minute and a half.
He took his seat and I took mine, and we made small talk for
a little while. The sharp contrast of the yellow cotton cloth
against his dark jacket kept grabbing my attention. Like Pandora's
Box, I really wanted to see what was inside, but I knew it would
be to my ruin: both beautiful and deadly - to my pocket book.
I figured that if I didn't ask, maybe he wouldn't tell, but eventually
we reached a point in our conversation where a natural segue
made itself available, and he reached for the treasure beneath
his arm. As always, I was amazed by its beauty and imagery. His
murals and themes are always so unique and provocative. He asked
me if I recognized the figures featured prominently around the
pottery's surface. I replied that I did recognize them - I recognized
them as taboo to the Hopi, and as I wondered what his meaning
was in creating this piece and bringing it to me, I asked him
to elaborate on it's more fundamental significance. I had heard
him explain the story before, but my memory of the incidence
had faded, and I was eager to hear him tell it as I knew only
he could. As he proceeded, it reminded me of the many times I
was fortunate enough to listen to the migration stories that
his father, Tom Polacca, used to recount to us. For a moment
I felt like he was here again - it was good to be in his presence.
I could see how Gary was responding to his father's passing by
truly "carrying the torch."
The designs were primarily abstract Hopi themes of clouds,
water, and corn, but the central figures were clear depictions
of the Hopi One-Horn and Two-Horn priests - figures who generally
strike fear and suspicion into the hearts of traditionalists.
I knew Gary had been brought up as an initiate, and that his
uncles, from the Second Mesa village of Shungopavi, were leaders
and priests among these various upper-order societies. I knew
he knew their ways, but had decided to travel a different road.
Still he maintains a great degree of reverence and respect for
his traditional heritage. So why would he cross a line like this
and manifest a pottery for which neither his own people nor the
non-native collector, would have an explanation for or understanding
of? As we continued to talk, I began to realize that this
was really at the root of his visit.
He his concern to me that both natives and non-natives would
misunderstand this piece, and that it would take a certain amount
of spiritual discernment and understanding to correctly interpret
it. So I simply asked him "why;" why did he make the
piece? His answer was bold, "Because I am not afraid. Because
I understand it. It is a part of me." He went on to explain
that Hopis, like many people, are afraid of those things they
do not understand. But once there is an understanding, then the
eyes of our enlightenment are opened and we are able to see things
for what they really are, and not just as the symbols of things
they represent. He went on to express an additional concern for
his people, that they might not be blinded by tradition, but
able to see the world around them and correctly and usefully
incorporate and interpret their own teachings into life in this
modern world. "Without understanding, our traditions are
in vain," he said to me.
So why the piece? Why something potentially controversial
that will surely be misunderstood and overlooked for what it
really is? He tells me that he hopes people will take notice
and ask the questions that need to be asked. Whether we are Native
or non-Native, do we understand our own traditions? Do we ask
the questions that need to be asked? In the end, it is the opinion
of both myself and my friend Gary Polacca, that all of the human
race will someday discover their mutual roots - a shared heritage,
obscured by centuries of jealousy, greed, and misunderstanding.
As he picked up his pot, he wrapped it securely back into
the folds of the cloth, and without ever asking me to purchase
it, he left. It was a profound experience that I was grateful
for and an "object lesson" that I will never forget.
But before he left, he said "If I didn't have to sell them,
I would keep every one. They would line the walls and tell the
story of my life." The next day he brought it into the gallery
and let go of another piece of himself.
Thanks for reading,
Brandon (aka "The Permanent Rezident")
"One-Horn & Two-Horn
Priests" by Gary Polacca (8 3/4" H by 7 1/2" D):
To inquire about this piece, please contact