Jared Tso (Diné), who teaches ceramics and makes pottery from the road, is a rising star in the world of Indigenous pottery.
During my pottery classes at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, I admired Jared Tso’s pottery—with its beautiful curvature and near-perfect symmetry—as it airdried on nearby shelves. I am honored to have worked in the same ceramic studio as Tso (Diné), where he talked about his artwork and graciously shared elements of his pottery-making techniques as a guest lecturer in my Pueblo pottery class taught by the renowned Ohkay Owingeh potter Clarence Cruz.
In a recent interview with the Sanders, Arizona-based artist, Tso mentioned how productive he has been during the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the previous two years, he has worked from various spaces across New Mexico, Arizona, and even as far north as Canada. In 2021, he taught introduction to ceramics at UNM and a Navajo pottery class at Dińe College in Tsaile, Arizona. While in Toronto, he created elegant pottery in his apartment.
“With the traditional process, you do not need much equipment,” says Tso, reflecting on the ease of making pottery on the road. “Last year , I made pottery anywhere and everywhere.”
Tso says that he has harvested clay from fifteen Southwest locations and that “the clays are all different, they all fire and handle the flame differently.” Tso adds that he has fired his pottery at various spots—while in Toronto, for instance, Tso took a four-hour journey to Shawanaga First Nations territory to pit-fire his pottery. Although he typically uses cedar during this process, Tso has also experimented with birch, maple, and oak; he’s curious how the temperature and flames of these woods affect the pottery’s exterior.
“I’ve always felt comfortable with letting the flame decide the color, where it shows the integrity of the material involved, so I fire always in an open pit or fire in a way where there is a randomness to the flames,” says Tso. “It’s always a surprise when things come out.”
Tso, who earned an MFA in ceramics at UNM in December 2021, says that the program expanded his artistic horizons and enabled him to develop more depth and creative insights, which allows him to think more critically about his creations. The MFA program, he stresses, “Puts you in your head and you have to write and think about your work.”
He has been inspired to create new works following the completion of his master’s degree. “When it comes to building,” Tso states, “I have been trying to push my limits, whether it is building bigger or creating more complex shapes. I have thought a lot about how to bring unique forms into my work that are elegant and still timeless.” Lately, he’s been “playing with white slip to make white pots and having fire clouds come on randomly, which is different from browns, ambers, and reds seen in Navajo pottery.”
Tso completed his UNM thesis project at King Galleries in Santa Fe, New Mexico. His project, titled Tó Ałtaashchíín, is a Navajo term translated by his late father, Darrell Tso, that means “where every different drop, stream, and river comes together. It’s as though there are two lives coming together.” Tó Ałtaashchíín enabled Tso to blend his woodworking and pottery talents to memorialize his father. The installation symbolized stories and conversations between them.
He explains that the installation reflected a time when he felt vulnerable because it was a time of mourning for his father. It was a transitional period as well because he had recently become a new father himself. Reflecting on the intimate interconnectedness he has with his craft, Tso says, “There are so many reasons I’ve fallen in love with clay, whether it be to feel close to my grandparents, my father, my partner, or daughter. I embrace the process.”
Tso’s upcoming projects include making clay helmets inspired by Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, an Indigenous food and vessel collaboration with his partner, teaching a Navajo pottery course at Diné College, and an upcoming group show at the King Galleries in Scottsdale, Arizona, scheduled to take place February 28 through March 6, 2022.