Photography
© Ely Abrums and Laura Walker

Rose Williams

Rose Williams (1915-2015)

Rose Williams, born in 1915, is a living treasure of the Shonto/Cow Springs area of the Navajo Reservation. Rose was an adult when she learned to make pottery, but continued doing so for over three decades. She taught successive generations the Navajo tradition of pottery making—among them Faye Tso, Silas Claw, Louise Goodman, and Lorena Bartlett. Her children, Alice Cling, Sue Ann Williams, and Susie Williams Crank, and her daughter-in-law, Lorraine Williams, are all recognized potters.

The Navajo Way is one of close-knit extended families sharing common Clan relationships based on matrilineal descent. Some clans have become known for particular skills. The Lók’aa’dine’é Clan (Reed People) in the Shonto/Cow Springs area has long been recognized for its pottery making, and many of the present-day potters or their spouses—Silas Claw, Faye Tso, Rose Williams, and Alice Cling—are members of this clan.

Few other potters of the Lók’aa’dine’é Clan were as active as she. Rose is known for making very large vessels, more so than other Navajo potters. It is never known how successful a firing will be. Many pots are lost during this final step of the process of pottery making.

The Diné had a long tradition of making pottery before the 1800s, mostly decorated and mostly utilitarian, but, for some reason, making decorated pottery was forbidden by a Medicine Man so pottery production ceased. Mae Adson, a relative of Rose Williams, explained the taboo against decoration as follows: “The Anasazi started to over decorate their pottery, and the wind destroyed them, because of that. That’s why we are told not to decorate pottery.” (Rosenak, 1994) Pottery production was eventually revived in plainware form.

Rose Williams has been known as one of the finest of the older generation of Navajo potters.


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