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Pottery artist Clarence Cruz puts an emphasis on regeneration

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - The materials of pottery are ancient, of the earth itself, and they were the subject of an ''Emergence'' exhibit in April at the University of New Mexico. Almost as ancient are comparisons of the potter's shaping art to character building and soul craft.

Clarence Cruz, who received his Master of Fine Arts in studio arts with a minor in museum studies from UNM in May following the April MFA exhibit, is committed to all the facets of his art. His ''Emergence'' installation emphasized the materials of traditional Tewa pottery, which he believes form a bond between land and people; pottery is a partial but highly important expression of that bond.

''The medium of clay allows me to express a sense of connection to the earth,'' he said, in a personal statement accompanying the ''Emergence'' exhibit. ''Pueblo people believe that we originated from the womb of the earth, in the form of clay. ... The physical challenge of gathering the materials from their natural environment creates an intimacy with the material and an intimate connection with the land that provides the materials.'' The regeneration of pottery styles made possible by the materials permits him, as a pottery artist, ''to make a universal statement about the struggle to maintain a respectful connection with the natural environment.''

His works, viewable online at www.towa-artists.com/clarence-cruz/art-work.php, are their own best testimony to artistic talent. They demonstrate five traditional pottery styles: the traditional corrugated pottery of Ohkay Owingeh (formerly San Juan) Pueblo, known as Potsuwi'i incised; increasingly collectible micaceous pottery, after the mica-flecked clay deposits of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in New Mexico; carved polychrome; black on white; and the highly polished black-on-black matte style revived in the 1920s by Julian and Maria Martinez. All of his pottery is fired outdoors according to traditional methods. A pot of his would wear the term ''work of art'' readily enough; but significantly, Cruz is inclined to call it a product of identity.

As a member of Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo in New Mexico and an instructor at Poeh Arts for the Pueblo of Pojoaque near Sante Fe, Cruz makes it a priority to represent traditional pottery as an alternative lifestyle in modern times, drawing especially young people back from the often damaging magnets of American culture. ''That's my goal ... But it's so hard, living so close to the city which pulls them in, and it's hard to pull them out,'' he said.

Pottery is another pathway for them, as it was for him. He calls his MFA studies ''a long haul'' but he stayed the course, a course that clearly took some character-building along the way, along with some of the potter's soul craft to show - and to share.