From 800 AD to the 1700’s Caddo tribal pottery was an incredible and well-known tradition in the North America, traded far and wide even to France and Spain. Knowledge of this great cultural history disappeared as the Caddo tribe consolidated and was decimated from conquistador’s diseases and colonialism. The last Caddo potter, a matriarch of the tribe’s namesake, stopped making pottery around 1908 and the tradition was almost lost. Through his work, Earles hopes to bring that unsung ceramic legacy back to the light.
Most people don’t get to see ancient Caddo pottery because most all of the ceramics were used at the end of its life as a burial offering. In that way, most of these culturally sensitive pieces cannot be put on display for the public to see. Chase centers faithfully and respectfully capturing the skillfulness and intricate details of the Caddo tradition in order to bring to the educate the public on his specific tribe’s identity.
Earles believes it is essential to use the same methods and materials his ancestors used -with little compromise. He digs his own clay, hand gathers the mussel shell that goes into the clay, hand builds, burnishes with a rock, pit fires the pottery in an open ground fire, and engraves the designs after the pot has been fired. These are all important elements to capture the soul and the essence of ancestral Caddo style and identity.
An ardent student of tradition, Chase still deeply believes that his tribe’s representation and communication through the design and creation of pottery would have evolved over time with the introduction of new situations and environments. For that reason, he also strives to balance presenting new ceramic and sculptural interpretations from his own experiences as a contemporary artist with being an ambassador of his Caddo tribe and its ancient cultural identity.
Chase Kahwinhut Earles (Caddo) creates his tribe’s traditional pottery to help educate and carry on the culture of his people. The once grand and widespread tradition of Caddo pottery has now been reduced to a shadow of its former self and almost even disappeared completely. With the help of the only living Caddo pottery revivalist, Earles got started down the path of the potter traditions of his tribe in an effort to help current and future generations of Caddo understand the beauty, craftsmanship, and uniqueness of this ancient Caddo pottery method and culture.
Born in Oklahoma, Earles has been a lifelong artist – his first commission was in kindergarten. He was constantly drawing and painting, but felt he hadn’t discovered his voice and purpose as an artist until he found pottery. A Bachelor’s degree in Computer Art from Savannah College of Art and Design, helped him understand art in the round as it could apply to sculpture and pottery. He pursued pottery as a more hands-on-closer-to-the-earth approach to art, but was still seeking meaning. Searching for a creative direction, he considered creating Pueblo pottery from the southwest-a source of inspiration-but not being Pueblo realized he would be simply replicating Pueblo pottery and not truly creating it. Connecting with his tribe and heritage, he learned of the true grandeur of the Caddo tradition and how it has been lost and hidden from the public. He set forth almost obsessively learning the methods and designs of his tribe, creating works of art that are contemporary, to educate his people and the public about the Caddo pottery tradition.
His tribe’s ancient traditional pottery was hand coiled from clay that was handmade from the local river source. Most notably the Red River and the Arkansas River. These pottery pieces were then hand burnished with a rock to look like glass without any glaze. The final touch before firing is the hand carving of the scrolling ancient designs which included motifs centered around the origin stories of the Caddo people. Objects in the motifs include feathers, serpents, the sun and moon, and the everlasting fire.
“What motivates me and challenges me to push the limits of describing our culture in my pottery art is the desire to truly educate people about what sets our tribe’s tradition apart from all the other Southeastern tribes and to reveal to people the extent of which the Caddo’s tradition was cherished by everyone across the nation in prehistoric and historic times.” -Chase Kahwinhut Earles.