Turtle Mountain Indian Pottery
At this time the school year at the reservation was April 1 to December 1due to bad weather and roads in the winter. As they had no kilns at this time, school during the summer made it easier to use the cow dung method of firing. Pottery was started with the April 1936 school year. Mrs. Grant taught beadwork, leather craft, clay craft and general art. In the first year (1936) of clay craft they produced 1647 pieces of pottery.
In November of 1936 Mrs. Grant was at UND in Grand Forks to continue work on glazes. She worked out a number of colored and colorless glazes, which would work with the reservation clay. Also by November of 1936 the Belcourt School had two kilns installed. A large one with kerosene burners was installed in the new community building. This made it possible to fire the pottery to a higher temperature and use high fire glazes then was possible with the cow dung method. Also a small electric test kiln had been installed in the arts and crafts room. This made it possible to make quick tests of clays and glazes and was also use in research along those lines. Later on Emma Parisien a former student was responsible for making the glazes.
In January 1937 pottery (clay craft) was added to the adult education evening classes.
Mrs. Grant writes in September of 1937 that there were a large number of outside visitors that came to Belcourt that summer. One of the things they were shown was the arts and crafts department. The pottery, basketry, beadwork and finger weaving exhibits attracted lots of attention. There were quite a large number of sales of Indian handicraft to the tourists.
The children did all of the preparing, from digging the clay, cleaning it of foreign particles, drying it to the proper stage, aging the clay, and wedging (the kneading process) the clay for use. All of the work was done with the simplest tools and the cost of preparation was kept to the minimum. The child got to take home the first piece that they made. The other pieces that the child made were displayed in the craft room and if they were sold the child got to take part of the money home and the other part was used to buy more supplies.
All of the work was hand molded. That is, a potter’s wheel was not used. They used the thumb method and the coil method to make their pieces. Two types of finishes were used, some pieces were polished (burnished) and others were glazed, before firing. Designs were either scratched or painted on the surface. The type of clay found on the reservation and the hand molded, combined with the native Chippewa designs developed a pottery which was attractive and somewhat different from other types of pottery that were on the market at that time.
Some of the items that were made are plates, bowls, table top tiles, tea tiles, wall plaques, lamp bases, candle holders, ash trays, candy dishes, trinket trays and novelty paper weights.
As of now, we are unable to determine the date that the pottery program was discontinued. In an interview we were led to believe the pottery program was in existence for only several years, possibly closing in 1942.