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Vessels of Corn, Vessels of Grace, Vessels of Tears
The Secrets of Maya Potters

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The Hypotenuse Galleries (April 18 to May 21, 2005, Bldg #13, 3rd floor, Sinclair Community College) displays the methods, the culture, and the legends of the Maya potters with whom I worked last summer in the mountains of Mexico. In the left gallery (image #1 below), three traditional vessels overflow with corn kernels and are partially buried by them. Corn enabled mesoamerican civilizations to thrive; pottery stored that corn. Along the back, three vessels illustrate how I gradually altered the Maya form using a foot and neck that allowed the earthbound mass of the traditional form to appear light and airy. In the right gallery (image #2), "Vessels of Tears" serve to metaphorically recount the savage mistreatment suffered at the hands of Cortez (1529+). A Maya Maiden vessel is shown bound and at the mercy of the conquistadores. Another is shown slain and eyes closed in a coffin. Off to the side, a small chapel presents a serene bas relief of Ixchel, the Maya Moon Maiden, singing in the moonlight. The enlarged banner depicts an enlarged image of Ixchel made 1200 years ago and relates this image to that of the Maiden of Guadalupe. Click for my bio or to send me an email.

Aaron "Wolf" Milavec

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Statements in the Display-Vessels of Corn,
Vessels of Grace, Vessels of Tears

Overview
My modest objective during the summer of 2004 was to discover how pottery was routinely made by Maya potters for two thousand years without a potter's wheel or modern kiln. Ever since Cortez subjected and decimated the Maya peoples in the sixteenth century, Spanish porcelain has been used and fashioned by the colonizers. No one seemed to know, however, where the traditional Maya potters were at work . . .. Slowly but surely, I discovered their remote villages, out there beyond the ends of the bus lines, where smoke from the wood kilns hung on the mountains. The methods used staggered my imagination.
Upon returning, I used my feet and hands to craft Maya vessels. At first I mastered the shapes learned in the mountains (#1). As I progressed, however, I gradually enlarged the pedestal and neck in order to impart a "take flight" lightness to the earth-bound Maya shapes (see #2, #3). I experimented with fluxes that enabled my "floating blue" glaze to separate out into pigmented bands when soaked in the heat of the kiln. The results mimicked the graceful mists sent by Ixchel (the Maya Moon Maiden) over the mountains where these vessels were originally made.

Vessels of Corn
In what is now known as Central America, a thriving civilization once existed that was older than Abraham, that invented the zero, that built stellar observatories, that employed writing-glyphs, and that fashioned urban centers more extensive than Rome. This was largely possible because of the cultivation of corn. Maya farmers (fl. 300 to 900 C.E.) developed strains of corn (maize) suited to the Mesoamerican climate. In contrast to European wheat, corn cultivation yielded 72% more calories per acre, required half the manual labor, and admirably resisted deterioration when stored. Thus corn cultivation (and not slave labor) provided the economic base in which art, literature, drama, science, religion, and sports flourished.


Vessels of Grace
Ixchel, the Maya Moon Maiden, was the patroness of weaving, making pottery, composing music, and of childbearing. For five hundred years, devotions in her honor were celebrated at the open-air temple at Teotihuacan. Ten years after the bloody conquest of Hernando Cortez, an Aztec princess speaking an Aztec dialect appeared to an Aztec peasant, Juan Diego, a recent convert to the religion of the conquistadores. This peasant went on to communicate to the local Spanish bishop the request of this Maiden that a temple be built in her honor. The Castilian roses and the miraculous image (framed) convinced the bishop. The Virgin of Guadalupe had dark skin and was supported by the moon-just like Ixchel. Once her church (temple) was built, the familiar Maya songs originally composed in honor of Ixchel and banned by the Spaniards were once again used to honor the Maiden of these new apparitions.


Vessels of Tears
Once Admiral Columbus discovered the naval route, soldiers of fortune came to the New World to establish their empires. When Hernando Cortez landed in Santa Cruz (Mexico) for the first time in 1518, he unloaded his rag-tag army, their canons, their horses, their firearms and promptly burnt his ships so that his men knew that their was no turning back. In twelve short years, Cortez and his six hundred conquistadores destroyed, either directly or indirectly, ten to twenty million Natives who dared to resist their lust for gold, for women, for conquest. Cortez claimed to be serving God (by making converts) and Country (by amassing gold). One eyewitness, however, Fr. Bartolomé de las Casas, began a one-man campaign to stop the slaughter and to detail the systematic brutality that the occupational forces inflicted upon the innocent Natives in the name of God and Country.
Mexicans who proudly display Maya pottery in their homes and gardens today do so with the understanding that the Mexican culture today finds its identity not so much in the might of the conquistadores but in the playful and artistic ancestors that continue to live in the mountains.

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Testimony of Pedro Bartimeo de Las Casas
"The behavior of Christopher Columbus towards the Natives set a destructive pattern. . . . He seized sovereign territory without warrant, subjugated free peoples without cause, enslaved many of them unjustly, forced the rest to pay tribute, then to serve Spaniards as masters. This caused Natives to die in large numbers" (de las Casas: 17).
"They seized women from their husbands, children from their parents, and they went on a hunt for gold" (de las Casas: 32).
"They think nothing of killing ten to twenty Natives when irritated, slashing away at them, or, for recreation, testing the temper or the sharpness of their swords" (de las Casas: 49).
"They take the husbands to mine gold. . . . The wives stayed behind on what are called cassava plots doing backbreaking work. . . . The result was that the men died in the mines, the women died in the fields. And so, once procreation stopped. . . , the land became empty of people" (de las Casas: 95).
"No king, no emperor, not the Roman Church itself, can make war on them for the purpose of occupying their territory. There is no just cause for such a war" (p. 205).

Attached to the Image of the Virgin
"I desire a church in this place where your people may experience my compassion. All those who sincerely ask my help in their work and in their sorrows will know my Mother's Heart in this place. Here I will see their tears; I will console them and they will be at peace. So run now to Tenochtitlan [Mexico City] and tell the Bishop all that you have seen and heard" (Moon Maiden to Juan Diego).