Something Borrowed

Travels abroad that inspire Ann Schunior’s designs
Traditional cultures, ancient and present day, are the bedrock of my pottery. I overlay traditional designs—geometric patterns and animal imagery—onto everyday bowls, plates and mugs. Sometimes I stray from purely utilitarian forms to make more sculptural pieces with surfaces that mimic cave walls and rock faces.
 
When I went to Sirigu, Ghana, in 2007, I saw mud dwellings decorated with geometric and zoomorphic forms and had one thought: The Kasena people live in giant pots!  Later, as I sat on the ground with Akanvole, one of the Sirigu's senior potters, and watched her make hand-formed pots decorated with the same geometric designs, I came to understand how closely their homes and their pottery are related. Since then I have traveled a lot to: Nigeria to see resist designs on indigo-dyed fabric; Oaxaca to visit the ancient site of Mitla where the brick work forms complex patterns and weavers still incorporate these designs in their rugs; Uzbekistan where Islamic geometric patterns cover the tiles of Silk Road architecture and present day ceramics.
 
I come home from each trip energized. Sometimes my pots are more about geometry. Often they are about the animals from petroglyphs of older cultures. The giraffes on my pots come for Tassili n'Ajjar in Algeria, the goats come from Native American rock art in California's Coso Range, the dancing shamans from Uzbekistan's Sarmish Gorge. Whatever the origin of my designs, I'm aware of the extent to which I'm borrowing from others.
 
In 2001 I spent a couple of days with Rustam Usmanov, a potter in Rishtan, Uzbekistan. As I was leaving, I asked what I could do to repay his kindness. “Come help me in Santa Fe,” he said.  He meant, of course, Santa Fe's International Folk Art Market. The next year I was a volunteer in his booth. A few years later when Rustam couldn't make it to Santa Fe, I worked with Jabu Nala, a Zulu potter from South Africa. Jabu asked for different kinds of help. We worked on display and pricing. Now we're in contact all year, thinking about what pots she should bring and what other shows in the US she might do.  Last December she came to Boston, where I live, and participated in the Cultural Survival Bazaars. We spent an afternoon in my studio, laughing as she used a potters wheel for the first time and then showed me how she makes her perfectly round coiled pots.
 
What I do is small, but it's a way for me to say thank you. It's a way for me to remember that my work is not mine alone. Women and men have  made pots for thousands of years. Some of those I've been fortunate to meet count themselves as fifth, sixth, seventh generation potters. Some tell me their families have been potting “forever”. They share with me. I help them where I can. We learn from each other. It all there in my work. 
 
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