Lorraine Williams-Yazzie

Lorraine Williams
Navajo design on an orange pot

Lorraine Williams-Yazzie was born to Donald and Lillie Yazzie on the Navajo Nation in November 1955. She grew up in the Sweetwater, Arizona area, near Kayenta and Teec Nos Pas. Her father was a traditional Navajo medicine man and her mother was a traditional Navajo herbalist. She was not raised in close proximity to any tradition of pottery making: she began working with clay as an adult.

She married George Williams, the son of Rose Williams, the Matriarch of Navajo pottery. At that time Lorraine was adept at beadwork, sand paintings and weaving but "I didn't know how to draw," she once said. "And you don't want to compete with your in-laws. Rose didn't draw at all, so I decided to try drawing on the clay. By mistake I made a hole in one pot so I went ahead and cut it out. Now I make cutouts regularly."

Lorraine has had epilepsy all her life. "Everyone around me thought I had a taboo. No one believed that I really had epilepsy… I found that working with clay kept it away."

She decorates her pottery with a combination of commercially made and natural pigments. She fires each pot outside, separately and upside down, for about three hours with a lot of wood for a very hot burn. Navajo pots are historically coated with hot pine pitch after the firing to give a shiny, more impervious finish.

Lorraine says that Navajo pottery was historically made only for functional and ceremonial use and for trading purposes. Pottery was not made for sale on the Navajo Nation until the 1980s when galleries and traders came looking for it.

She was featured in Susan Peterson’s book Pottery by American Indian Women - The Legacy of Generations. As a result of this book, an exhibit showcasing pottery by these famous women, which included works by Lorraine, toured leading museums across the United States. She was also invited to the National Museum of the American Indian at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. to demonstrate traditional Navajo pottery making.

Lorraine participates in shows at the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Tucson Museum of Art, the Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff and the SWAIA Santa Fe Indian Market. She's won Best in Show ribbons at the Heard Museum and at the Museum of Northern Arizona. She's earned 1st and 2nd Prize ribbons at Santa Fe Indian Market, the Heard Museum and the Tucson Museum of Art. Her favorite shapes are tall neck vases and wedding vases, her favorite designs are based on Navajo carpet designs. She's told us she gets her inspiration from her mother-in-law, her granddaughter (Raven Roy) and the everyday life that surrounds her.

She sometimes signs her work: "Lorraine Yazzie." Sometimes she signs with an LWY logo and other times she uses "LWY-Rain."

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