|Felipe Ortega is recognized as a master potter in the Jicarilla Apache tradition by the Smithsonian Institution. He is widely known for his mastery of micaceous clay ceramics and his charismatic teaching style. He conducts classes out of his studio in La Madera, New Mexico, and at Northern New Mexico Community College in Espaņola. Micaceous clay is a self-tempering clay in which tiny but abundant flakes of sparkling mica strengthen the clay body and insulate ceramic walls for superior cooking performance. Sodium occurring naturally in the clays serve to season food and give it a full-bodied flavor. Mica clay is also extremely forgiving during the forming stages of production but is hard and durable after drying. Because of its insulating properties, mica clay vessels vitrify at low firing temperatures, making the process of outdoor pit-firing economical and feasible. Once fired, mica pots are strong, and if cared for properly, they can out-perform any favored cast-iron skillet. Feline's work can be seen at the Zocolo Gallery in Santa Fe and at the Owl Peak Studio, where he lives in La Madera. Felipe traces his roots through the Ollero band of the Jicarilla Apache and Hispanic settlers to northern New Mexico. Many cultures have utilized the rich mica clay deposits that are part of this landscape in order to form exquisite ceramic wares, but Jicarilla and Hispanic potters today take particular pride in the historical roots surrounding their use of this clay in culinary pottery production. Historically, the Jicarilla depended upon the production and sale of micaceous cookwares to Pueblo peoples, Euroamericans and Hispanic settlers. Jicarilla wares were likewise traded into Pueblo households by trusted friends and acquaintances where they were used in celebration and also in ritual. Today, Felipe takes care to maintain the ties he has inherited and developed by providing for Pueblo and Hispanic feasts, and kiva ceremonies. Family and community virtues of wellness through cooking are a way of life at the Ortega household. In the kitchen and dinning rooms, micaceous pots are valued members of the family. They are not mere objects. Rather they are individuals, created from the artist's hands, charged with bringing flavor and health to the food cooked within. I have often been asked how it is that Felipe can "sell" a thing that he considers to be his child. The answer is quite simple. He entrusts his work to people he hopes will allow this child-object to live on, season, mature and eventually age on the stovetops and tables of their homes. Nonetheless, Felipe is often commissioned to do specialty pieces that are non-culinary, but these are fashioned beautifully to replicate prehistoric and historic utility wares such as jars and calabashes. Felipe teaches the art of Jicarilla pottery in an open-door policy where tradition is embraced as dynamic change. "Let anyone come and learn these techniques," he says, "and maybe they will go on to start traditions of their own." And so it goes day after busy day at the Owl Peak Studio and Bead and Breakfast in La Madera, New Mexico where Felipe teaches, not the art, but the philosophy, behind Jicarilla pottery production.||
The Artist's hands in watercolor
Cutting fresh-baked bread for feast day.
Visit Ortega Collections at the University of Michigan, browse through the steps of making a Jicarilla pot, or read an essay about Mr. Ortega below.