Chase Kahwinhut Earles makes Caddo pottery. That’s a simple sentence for a complex endeavor that, for the artist, involved years of searching. Earles was always an artist, but he wasn’t always a potter. When he was young, family trips through the Southwest inspired him to learn about Pueblo pottery, but when it came time to make pottery himself, the creative motivation was not there.
Earles did not feel it would be appropriate to imitate Pueblo pottery styles, as he writes in his bio. If he had, those works “would merely be ‘knock-offs’ of real Pueblo Indian artists. Replicas. I’m not a Pueblo Indian. It would be an insult to the Pueblo tribes. It would be like robbing the awesome history and culture they possess and the great and meaningful works of art that are their voice and their record that will preserve forever their people. Their identity. That was it. That was the problem. I realized I had no voice. I felt I had no reason to create art. I then felt that to create art you had to have a meaning and a voice. It had to be something important to put forth the time and effort that would be required, otherwise, it would feel empty.”
Earles had not been raised with knowledge of his own Caddo Nation’s artistic legacy, but when he began to research, he discovered the meaning and voice he had been seeking. He found a mentor in Caddo/Potawatomi potter Jeri Redcorn, who encouraged and taught him.
Today, Earles is increasingly well-known for his original work, and he is also called upon to make replicas of ancient Caddo pottery for educational purposes. Earles works with historic methods, sourcing and preparing his own clay and pit-firing pottery as his ancestors did. He is dedicated to bringing awareness to Caddo pottery through workshops, presentations, and private classes at his home in Oklahoma.
Whose art is interesting/inspiring to you right now?
I’ve honestly been very inward lately, just trying to find the message for our tribe, so I mostly just look at our ancient work, Caddo ancestral work, a lot. There’s so much. I talked to an archaeologist the other day and they said there are about a thousand different varieties of Caddo pottery, and so just trying to take that all in and find what would relate to the people the best and bring across our cultural designs to people.
What are you working on right now?
For next year, I’m trying to gear up to make some large pieces. We’re having an exhibition coming up for Caddo contemporary artists and so I’m just trying to make some large pieces that represent our tribe’s identity.
What is the best advice you’ve received as an artist?
I think the best advice was that as a Native artist, you need to understand your cultural identity for your tribe, but not be stagnant and not stay in the past. To evolve the way we would have evolved that culture forward and make statements and represent your tribe faithfully but try to be innovative and speak to the current environment that you’re in.
Where can people find your work?
Mostly, I do shows and festivals in Oklahoma and other places like SWAIA Indian Market, Eiteljorg…I go to different shows and I try to post it on Facebook (Caddo Pottery by Chase Kahwinhut Earles), but also I have work in a gallery in Santa Fe, Pottery of the Southwest Gallery on Canyon Road. And my website, of course.