Thanks to the coordination efforts of BCOM Associate Professor of Pathology Richard Selinfreund, Ph.D., and Chief of Staff and Assistant Dean for Multicultural Inclusion Justin McHorse, and the financial backing of an anonymous donor, renowned Native American pottery artist Josephine Seymour is creating a custom olla pot for the Burrell College of Osteopathic Medicine.
The medical school’s main campus building is already home to an extensive collection of Native American and Southwestern art. Dr. Selinfreund envisioned adding to this collection with pieces that specifically reflect the mission and values of the school, including a commitment to improving health care for the multitude of cultures living in the Southwest region. He approached McHorse who then brought Seymour in to the project. “When I was the director of the American Indian Program at NMSU, we invited Josie to campus to meet with the students and view a documentary film she is featured in titled Grab,” McHorse said. “I knew she was the right person to approach with Dr. Selinfreund’s idea.”
Seymour is a member of Laguna Pueblo, which is located west of Albuquerque and east of Grants, New Mexico. She has been a potter for almost 20 years, but said she still considers herself a beginner. In 2011, she gained widespread recognition for Grab, which was shown at the Sundance Film Festival. She has also been featured in National Geographic’s All Roads Film Project and was a featured artist at the National Museum of the American Indian’s “Meet the Artist” program in New York City. She and her husband, Augie, have two daughters and two sons.
“My mother-in-law, a member of Acoma Sky City Pueblo, taught me to make pottery so I could teach my daughter. The pottery is very symbolic and still used today in religious ceremonies,” Seymour said. “She taught me how to be respectful and to humble myself throughout the whole process from collecting the clay to forming the pot to painting.”
Seymour and her family collect clay for her pieces from the desert mesas surrounding Laguna Pueblo. She then creates and paints the pottery in her home workshop, firing many pieces the traditional way in a pit in her backyard. She says that each step of her creation process is done in prayer and with positive thoughts. “My mother-in-law would tell me that if a pot wasn’t working for me that I should walk away and let it rest. It’s important to have a happy feeling in your heart and good thoughts in your mind when you work. We also give thanks to the Mother Earth and pray for the people the pot is being created for,” she explained.
Everything from the shape of the pot to the images depicted have symbolism and meaning. In January, Seymour made the trip to Las Cruces to visit the BCOM campus and get input from students, faculty, and staff on what they would like to see represented in the pot. Based on their input, she is including symbols of diversity, unity, and inclusiveness in the pot, as well as elements that represent the Organ Mountains and the state of New Mexico. Seymour said she selected an olla pot specifically because they are traditionally used for making medicines.
Seymour is currently at work on the BCOM pottery piece, which will be revealed in May 2017.