croft is honoured to introduce our first featured maker, Nancy E. Oakley, a First Nation Artist of Mi'kmaq and Wampanoag descent. We discovered Nancy's exquisite pottery while travelling in Unamaki (Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia).
We asked Nancy for her story and are grateful to her for sharing her background, process and inspiration.
Nancy was raised in Mashpee, Massachusetts, where her father was Supreme Sachem (Grand Chief of the Wampanoag Nation). After art school Nancy moved to her mother's reserve, the Eskasoni First Nation reserve, in Cape Breton to better understand her Mi'kmaq heritage.
Art has played a big role in Nancy's life, beginning as a small child, traditional dancing and making her own regalia and beadwork. She went on to attend the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico where she studied photography and tried her hand at traditional pottery. After graduating she moved to Nova Scotia and studied for a year at the Nova Scotia School of Art and Design, taking courses in weaving, jewelery, photography and pottery.
As an artist she creates culturally significant vessels that imbue her spiritual and traditional knowledge and honour her role as a mother. She creates her pieces by using the wheel or hand building larger sculptural vessels and finds inspiration in nature and the creation of life.
She incorporates traditional Mi'kmaq pottery techniques and practices in her creations. Her vessels are polished by hand using river stones and smokefired outdoors in fires made from spruce tips, seaweed and sawdust. The smoke leaves beautiful, unique imprints on the clay. These pieces are later embellished with traditional Mi'kmaq black ash basketry, intricate beadwork and/or the spiritual element of braided sweetgrass trim. She has also begun to delve further into recreating traditional pottery techniques of the Mi'kmaq, by hand harvesting and processing local clay and traditionally firing pieces in an open fire.
You can find a selection of Nancy's pottery at croft and we invite you to shop online under our Pottery Collection or stop by to view her work in-person. Nancy Oakley's pottery is something to behold; soft, curved shapes and earthy tones, beautiful creations that transcend time and speak deeply of the land where they were made.