Lorraine Williams-Yazzie

Lorraine Williams

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."

100 West San Francisco Street, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501
(505) 986-1234 - www.andreafisherpottery.com - All Rights Reserved


Navajo Nation

A view in Monument Valley
A view in Monument Valley

Historical and archaeological evidence points to the Navajo people entering the Southwest around 1400 AD. Their oral history still contains stories of that migration as the journey began in eastern Alaska and northwestern Canada centuries after their ancestors made the journey across the Bering Land Bridge from central Asia about 10,000 years ago. They were primarily hunter-gatherers until they came into contact with the Pueblo peoples and learned the basics of survival in this drier climate. Navajo oral history points to a long relationship between the Navajo and the Puebloans as they learned from and traded with each other.

When the Spanish first arrived, the Navajo occupied much of the area between the San Francisco Peaks (in Arizona), Hesperus Mountain and Blanca Peak (in Colorado) and Mount Taylor (in New Mexico). Spanish records indicate the Navajo traded bison meat, hides and stone to the Puebloans in exchange for maize and woven cotton goods. It was the Spanish who brought sheep to the New World and the Navajo took to sheep-herding quickly with sheep becoming a form of currency and sign of wealth.

When the Americans arrived in 1846, things began to change. The first fifteen years were marked by broken treaties and increasing raids and animosities on both sides. Finally, Brigadier General James H. Carleton ordered Colonel Kit Carson to round up the Navajo and transport them to Bosque Redondo in eastern New Mexico for internment. Carson succeeded only by engaging in a scorched earth campaign in which his troops swept through Navajo country killing anyone carrying a weapon and destroying any crops, livestock and dwellings they found. Facing starvation and death, the last band of Navajo surrendered at Canyon de Chelly.

Carson's campaign then led straight into "the Long Walk" to Bosque Redondo, a 300-mile trek during which at least 10% of the people died along the way. At Bosque Redondo they discovered the government had not allocated an adequate supply of water, livestock, provisions or firewood to support the 4,000-5,000 people interned there. The Army also did little to protect the Navajo from raids by other tribes or by Anglo citizens. The failure was such that the Federal government and the Navajo negotiated a treaty that allowed the people to return to a reservation that was only a shadow of their former territory little more than a couple years after they had left. However, succeeding years have seen additions to the reservation until today it is the largest Native American Reservation in the 48 contiguous states.

Large deposits of uranium were discovered on the Navajo Nation after World War II but the mining that followed ignored basic environmental protection for the workers, waterways and land. The Navajo have made claims of high rates of cancer and lung disease from the environmental contamination but the Federal government has yet to offer comprehensive compensation.

As a semi-nomadic tribe, the Navajo never made much pottery, preferring to use baskets for most storage purposes. They did produce a small amount of pottery for ceremonial uses. Once they were settled on a reservation, pottery began to make more sense. After 1950 Cow Springs brownware began to appear on the market. A trader named Bill Beaver was in Shonto back then, encouraging local potters to "make something different" and the market in the outside world responded positively to those different creations.

Rose Williams is considered the matriarch of modern Navajo pottery. She learned from Grace Barlow (her aunt) and passed her knowledge and experience on to her daughters and many others. Today, most Navajo pottery is heavy, thick-walled and coated with pine pitch (a sealer they also use on many of their baskets). Most Navajo pottery has little in the way of decoration but many pieces have a biyo' (a traditional decorative fillet) around the rim. Unlike Puebloan potters Navajo potters do not grind up old pot shards and use them for temper in creating new pottery. Their religion says those pot shards are filled with the spirits of their ancestors and forbids the reuse of the material. Similarly, Navajo religion limits Navajo potters to using primarily Navajo carpet designs in the decoration of their pots.

Navajo potters have also created a panoply of folk art, including unfired clay creations called "mud toys." Other Navajo potters, like Christine McHorse, have graduated into the mainstream of American Ceramic Art and easily compete among the finest ceramic artists on Earth.

Location map for the Navajo Nation

For more info:
at Wikipedia
at Wikipedia
official website

100 West San Francisco Street, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501
(505) 986-1234 - www.andreafisherpottery.com - All Rights Reserved

PolychromegourdjarwithasgraffitoandpaintedNavajocarpetdesign, Click or tap to see a larger version
See a larger version

Lorraine Williams, Navajo, PolychromegourdjarwithasgraffitoandpaintedNavajocarpetdesign
Lorraine Williams
$ 250
Polychrome gourd jar with a sgraffito and painted Navajo carpet design
8 in H by 6.25 in Dia
Condition: Excellent
Signature: LWY
Date Created: 2021

100 West San Francisco Street, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501
(505) 986-1234 - www.andreafisherpottery.com - All Rights Reserved

Rose Williams Family Tree

Disclaimer: This "family tree" is a best effort on our part to determine who the potters are in this family and arrange them in a generational order. The general information available is questionable so we have tried to show each of these diagrams to living members of each family to get their input and approval, too. This diagram is subject to change should we get better info.

    Rose Williams (1915-2015), learned to make pottery from her aunt, Grace Barlow
    • Alice Cling (1946-)
    • Susie Williams Crank & Lorenzo Spencer
    • Sue Ann Williams (1956-)
    • Lorraine Williams-Yazzie (1955-)(daughter-in-law)
      • Stuart Roy (son-in-law)
    Some of Rose's students:
    • Louise Goodman (1937-2015)
    • Silas Claw (1913-2002) & Bertha Claw (1926-)
    • Faye Tso (1933-2004)
    • Lorena Bartlett
    Betty (Barlow) Manygoats (learned to make pottery from her paternal grandmother, Grace Barlow)
    • Elizabeth Manygoats & Jonathan Chee
      • Larrisena Manygoats

Some of the above info is drawn from Navajo Folk Art, by Chuck and Jan Rosenak, © 2008, Rio Nuevo Publishers

Other info is derived from personal contacts with family members and through interminable searches of the Internet.

100 West San Francisco Street, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501
(505) 986-1234 - www.andreafisherpottery.com - All Rights Reserved