Vasefinder Nationals 2006
Exhibitor 42

Roberta Griffith

Otego, New York

Title: Pre-Columbian Odyssey: Virgin of Xochitécatle

Year of Creation: 2005

Glaze: Slip glaze (very muted) bisque fired to cone 04, post-sawdust fired

Clay Body: Stoneware with iron

Dimensions: Height 4.5 inches, Length 22.5 inches

Artist's Statement: I have been fascinated by Pre-Colombian art, architecture and artifacts for many years. In January and February 1996, I traveled to Mesoamerica to visit both important and less well known Pre-Columbian sites. My itinerary took me through Mexico, including the Yucatán peninsula, Guatemala and Honduras. I especially wanted to sense the spatial relationships among buildings, pyramids, and panoramic vistas, such as those encountered in places such as Monte Alban, Teotihuacán, and Cacaxla, as well as to view sculptures and ceramics. In addition, I visited many large and small museums and galleries where I encountered amazing Pre-Columbian art and artifacts.

A place that has remained in my thoughts since this trip is located the outskirts of the modern day city of Tlaxcala, Mexico. This locale has two Pre-Columbian sites situated almost on top of one another: Cacaxla, with its fabulous murals, complex architectural remains and small museum, and a short walk from there, Xochitécatle. This site, consisting of four pyramids, is believed to have been used mainly for religious purposes, although not a lot is actually known. One of Xochitécatle's four pyramids is round, which is quite unusual in Pre-Columbian construction. I climbed to the top of all four pyramids. At the platform of the main one, where the famous view of three major, extinct volcanoes may be seen, I encountered a security guard. He was the only person around. He took it upon himself to ensure that I saw all there was to see.

When I told the guard I was a potter, after descending the main pyramid, he showed me a tiny, dark museum at its base that is not normally open to visitors. It was filled with small ceramics from the site. Of the ceramics on display, the most fascinating were 13 or 14 very small, flattened ceramic figures with removable figurative heads in the abdomen. The images of the tiny figures, with their even smaller removable figures in the belly of each, have remained with me so indelibly that I have recreated a series of sculptures from my memories of them. This particular ceramic sculpture, with calla lilies placed in the belly, alludes to one of the multiple layers of symbolism attached to the female figure as a receptacle.


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